On Friday I fulfilled a life long ambition. After years of waiting and too many failed attempts I stood in Dublin to witness the home-coming of U2. As the rain fell I stood with my brother in Croke Park watching the greatest band in the world play the greatest gig of them all. This review is in Hot Press by Neil Murphy. He pretty much sums it up.
Once more with feeling: we’re at a place called Deja Vu. The location, the weather conditions (light summer rain), the local hero bill (The Radiators as little punk rock bugs from another planet, Snow Patrol as a stadium Husker Du) and festival atmosphere could be a virtual replay of the last time U2 played a full set at Croker when they were surfing the Joshua Tree swell.
Eighteen years later they’re home on the back of the Atomic Bomb boom, and the whole city feels like it’s being sucked into a flux whose epicentre is located in the north side superbowl (mind you, the toilets are squeaky clean compared to last time).
They look and sound pumped but unfrazzled, jagged Edge-d, the rhythm section tending towards swing rather than sequenced rigor mortis, Bono’s body language boxer-bolshy, ad-libbing snatches of the Pumpkins’ ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ and The Who’s ‘I Can See For Miles’.
But once ‘Elevation’, ‘New Year’s Day’ and ‘Beautiful Day’ have established a secure beachhead, something unscripted happens. They give ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’ a shot and get lost in its twists, thrown out of sync, stuck in a middle-eight they can’t get out of before the last chorus provides an emergency exit. Big bands just aren’t supposed to busk it like this.
But U2 are never going to be Babyshambles. When they plug the big screens in, the lenses get switched from grainy verite to magic realism. ‘City Of Blinding Lights’ is the best thing they’ve done lately, a self-conscious but nevertheless champagne-eyed reworking of old school ‘Unforgettable Fire’ panorama-lama. Later, Edge takes a solo verse in ‘Miracle Drug’ in a set that often sees him assume a back seat to the newly extroverted Clayton’s catwalk moves, and the last third of ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own’ has Bono singing his insides out in an act of white soul exorcism that makes the skin go goosefleshed.
To their credit, U2 haven’t surrendered to their own back catalogue a la The Who or The Stones, even if they’re prone to plagiarising their younger selves. They remain, as ever, a complex organism. After Zoo TV, U2 gigs became as much about the brain stem as the nerve endings, and it’s been impossible to attend subsequent tours without looking for multiple meanings and sub-texts within sub-plots. As ‘Love And Peace Or Else’ gives way to ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and a bloodshot ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’, you start wondering about Baghdad bunker and Abu Ghraib allegories (Bono on his knees, blindfolded, muttering off-mic and slipping in snatches of ‘Please’), while a monkey-voice in your ear says, 'chill dude, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll'.But ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ finally makes sense not just as a show-stopping set-piece but a song. Heard in the shadow of an imminent Live 8, it seems to rewrite itself as an old-fashioned pantheistic hymn to God’s other country.
Tonight it’s impossible to resist the tune’s Spielbergian scale.House lights full on, Mr Hewson looks like he’s being borne up by 80,000 voices. Sure the guy has a God-complex, but I like that in a rock star – nobody ever castigated Jesus for being God with a man-complex. Mind you, the Knights Templar crusade of ‘Pride’ always makes me hanker for the Zoo and Popmart funhouse mirrors whose double images and contradictions are a far more artful means of propogating the virus of dangerously good ideas.But then, it’s the privilege of a free westerner to be able to read the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights on a big screen and ponder its place in a rock ‘n’ roll show when you’re not confined to house arrest or stuck in a malarial hole in the ground.
The Vertigo show doesn’t reconcile the two U2s; it alternates them. It’s a different band that returns to play an encore of ‘Zoo Station’ and ‘The Fly’ before ‘With Or Without You’ (Bono looking like a leather-fetish bullwhip cop patrolling the beat for white meat), and to be honest, it’s a band I like better – dirty, furtive and doubtful.
They quit with ‘Vertigo’ reprised, and when you get to the bottom you go back to the top of the slide, the beginning being the end, the end the beginning, round and round like Jimmy Stewart falling into the vertiginous whirl.
Like I said, Deja Vu: 2.