U2 - Twickenham Stadium - Saturday 18th June
A little bit like anal sex and black pudding, seeing U2 live is one of those things you always think you should try but aren't sure how well it's going to go down. But here we are, standing outside Twickenham Stadium in a queue to end all queues on the hotest day of the year, waiting for a chance to finally catch Bono and the boys in action.
It should be noted for our younger readers (do we have any younger readers?) that before Bono had God on speed dial U2 once used to be a scrappy punk act with a great line in catchy pop hooks, delusions of grandeur and the balls to match. And although it's great to hear Electric Co. and I Will Follow there's little evidence of that old punch drunk determination here tonight. This is a SHOW and U2, these days, know how to do BIG SHOW.
Walking into Twickenham Stadium is a breathtaking experience. Twin screens stand atop two enormous speaker towers and between them aluminium sleepers create a video wall that's at least 50 feet high. It doesn't seem to dwarf Doves whose sound is made to ring out across large arenas, nor Athlete whose polo shirt friendly pop tunes are well received. Wires does send a genuine shiver but this is not what we're here for.
With A 10.30 curfew it's an 8.30 Unos, Duos, Tres, Catorce and we blast into the rocktastic heights of Vertigo. All good so far. The screens are split into four, each section showing a member of the band. The Edge beams throughout, his dream come true; Adam Clayton looks happily stoned with the air of a man who's thinking: Man, I've really had a LOT of sex recently. Larry Mullen Jr, on the other hand, looks decidedly unhappy being on film. And Bono. Well Bono loves the camera as he slides into every note and every close upall.
Sunday Bloody Sunday and Beautiful Day ring out across the field keeping the faithful howling, clapping and dancing. It's pretty bloody awesome and when the massive screens rain lights down over the intro to City Of Blinding Lights and the crowd roar their approval it's easy to see how Bono has become such a self confessed megalomaniac. But it's soon apparent that all is not well in Denmark.
And the problem is the enormity of the show. Like us you may have been fooled into thinking that Bono doesn't have eyeballs. Well he does. We know, we've seen them. Fifty feet high. Bono removes his trademark shades for Sometimes you Can't Make It On Your Own, a tribute to his late father. We're not doubting his passion in allowing us to see his emotion on such a personal song. But when that emotion is beamed at you in such a bombastic operatic way it's hard to see where the message ends and the SHOW begins. And this will haunt them throughout. Between an utterly gorgeous stripped back Running To Stand Still and a predictably mammoth bout of hysteria in Pride the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights scrolls up the wall behind them. It's a powerful statement of equality but we can't help wondering where the equality is in a £60 ticket, or an audience that seems to be almost entirely white middle class. Later Bono wears a headband with the word coexist created from the Islamic Crescent, the Star Of David and the Cross. It will also flash up behind him. He pulls the headband over his eyes to mimic a frightened political prisoner but it's all a little Jesus Christ Superstar, repeated night after night without diversion from the page. It's a far cry from This is not a rebel song.
The moments that do stand out are the unscripted ones. Bono takes a silver heart-shaped balloon from the front row and releases it into the sky; watching as it drifts up into the heavens. A girl is pulled from the audience and given a camera which, because she's so nervous she can't frame properly. So we get The Edge's legs or Bono's forehead. It's a rare and welcome moment of unscripted honesty.
If we can strip the sloganeering from the tunes, which granted is pretty hard to do, the music is still generally great. There are a few dodgy choices: Yaweh and Miracle Drug are a little dreary but there are punchy, noisy stabs through Zoo Station and The Fly and a powerhouse second rendition of Vertigo to round the night off; the sudden onset of darkness darkness giving the astonishing lighting rig full reign. Standing at the back of the venue in order to make a quick (but ultimately futile) escape the sense of energy is jaw dropping. The blast of power from the stage is matched and doubled by the frenzied, evangelical voices of the crowd. It is an incredible sight to behold.
But the buzz of the moment is tempered by the memory of the Stalinist poster style images of the band rising into the Twickenham skies and it's hard not to think of U2 as some benign version of Pink's band at the end of The Wall. There's no doubting their professionalism, their integrity, or the fact that they've written some great tunes but if they really want to get their message home, y'know, sometimes less really is more.
Now where's the lube?
Cheers to Dave for the pic