Sunday 19 June 2005

I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside...

Cast your mind back to the 1980s. It was a time when dinosaurs ranged freely across the stadiums of the world, serving up lumpen, plodding rock to the grateful masses. Those times are now gone, and many of the dinosaurs are now thankfully extinct. Today's stadium acts are a very different beast indeed. And yet U2 remain.

As far as archaeologists are able to tell, U2 evolved at some point in the Jurrasic Era, and have proved remarkably resistant to the ravages of time since then. Bands have come and gone, but still U2 fill out stadiums. They had their little crisis in the 1990s, when widescreen, po-faced rock didn't seem enough any more, and they went all post-modern on us and travelled around the world in giant lemons and rang up the pope and things like that. They still sold out stadiums.

A couple of years ago they recaptured the sound that originally made them great, and released "all that you can't leave behind". Irony was not forgotten, but was certainly on the shelf, as the Edge unleashed some guitar sounds he hadn't used since 1986, and Bono hid behind slightly less darkened glasses.... and they hit the road and sold out stadiums across the world.

My own relationship with U2 has had its ups and downs. I bought "Rattle & Hum" on cassette in the late 1980s, but that was just a blip really, as I had no real interest in them. This indifference deepened into a strong dislike at University - a dislike triggered partly by the fact that they seemed a bit, well, forced with "Zooropa". They felt like a proper band who were playing around with their sound and with their audience. Their authenticity was disappearing under a sea of lemons. Another key influencing factor on my opinion was the fact that during this time, my relationship with one of my housemates was deteriorating very quickly. Tina was a lovely, straightforward girl from Birmingham who I had met in my first few days of my first year. We got on like a house on fire. We shared a house in the second year. For reasons I can't really put my finger on, and without us ever really falling out, we stopped liking each other. Quite sad really, but because Tina was an absolutely massive U2 fan, and listened to nothing but U2 all the time, I began to associate U2 with Tina, and couldn't bear to listen to them.

That was a bit of a shame. I still don't rate "Zooropa" very much, but I can remember sitting in my room in my halls of residence listening to the radio when they played "who's gonna ride your wild horses?" off "Achtung Baby", and I realised what a great run of singles had been taken off that album. I didn't actually get out and buy it for many years.

My opinion began to shift around the time of Pop. U2 were still a band in transition, but now my ears were a little bit more open to them. I was studying for a Masters degree in York, and one of my housemates was a lovely, gentle man called Paul. Paul was also an enormous U2 fan, and could wax lyrical about them for hours. We sat and listened to Pop together, and we decided that we both particularly liked "Staring at the Sun". I started to listen to some of their other stuff. I think I even picked up a copy of "The Joshua Tree" around this time.

So then I bought "Achtung Baby" and rediscovered how brilliant a song "one" is. When the last couple of albums came out, I think I pretty much went out and bought them on release. I was converted. Now all I had to do was to see them live.

Finally, after missing out on the "Elevation" tour, I managed to get hold of some tickets for the "Vertigo" tour at Twickenham, and yesterday I got to tick them off my "must see" list of bands.

So what were they like?

They were everything I was expecting. I don't go to many stadium gigs, to be honest. I generally prefer to see bands in smaller venues if I can. That said, I think I can say that I have never been to any concert before where absolutely everybody in the whole venue was pumping and totally in tune with the band. Bono had us eating from the palm of his hand pretty much from the minute the band ambled casually onto the stage and launched into "Vertigo", to the moment 2 hours later when they played the last volcanic chords of their last"Vertigo" again. I turned around at several points during the course of the show, and just marvelled at the sea of people just totally lost in the music. Amazing.

The highlights for me? I thought that the band really began to take off when they played "Beautiful Day", but the set list probably tells its own story...

Vertigo, I Will Follow, The Cry, The Electric Co. / Bullet With Butterfly Wings (snippet) / I Can See For Miles (snippet), Elevation, New Year's Day, Beautiful Day / Here Comes The Sun (snippet), I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, All I Want Is You, City Of Blinding Lights, Miracle Drug, Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own, Love And Peace Or Else, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bullet The Blue Sky / The Hands That Built America (snippet) / When Johnny Comes Marching Home (snippet) / Please (snippet), Running To Stand Still, Pride (In The Name Of Love), Where The Streets Have No Name, One
encores: Zoo Station, The Fly, Mysterious Ways, Yahweh, Vertigo

How many bands could maintain that kind of quality throughout? I don't approve of bands playing the same song twice, mind.... but it was actually better second time around, and it is a corking song....

They were magical. I was expecting "one" to be my favourite bit, but actually it was "Where The Streets Have No Name". There are some guitar riffs that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and that's certainly one of them, especially when it follows a reading from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is accompanied by the flags of Africa scrolling across the screen of lights at the back of the stage. (I realise that for some, that will just reinforce all of the reasons why they hate U2 and Bono in particular - hell, it's the kind of thing I used to hate about them - but I swear it works in context and there is surely no doubting their sincerity, is there?)

Ladies and Gentleman, it appears that not all stadium rock dinosaurs are extinct after all. Catch them whilst you can.

The only thing missing from my day was that they didn't play "Alive and Kicking" or "Don't You Forget About Me".

What's that?



How about "Promised You a Miracle"?



But Bono was once married to Patsy Kensit, wasn't he?

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