U2 live in Croke Park, Dublin
Review Snapshot: Well what's more fun than 80,000 people chanting anthems in Ireland's sporting Mecca on a summer's evening? A lot if you read the papers this week. Despite worries about the stage not being fully utilised, the prospect of preaching from "St Bono's Book of Glib", and an album still seeking its place in the wider public's consciousness; it was a blistering performance musically, if a little short. U2 seized the day and won out in the end.
The Cluas Verdict? 7.5 out of 10
Are U2 the biggest and best band in the world? Are they a corporate entity living on past glory? Or are they an incredible group of perennial live performers who don't know when to quit trying to be relevant and just enjoy the show? The answer is probably a little of each of the above. This reviewer doesn't believe the much written garbage from certain elements of the Irish media who slate the latest offering as useless. No Line on the Horizon is not without its merits and contains a number of tunes that could live comfortably with any of their contemporaries.
The crowd are predictably various in age. It makes for an interesting atmosphere. There is a large multinational presence with flags from all corners in the crowd. U2 are global, like no other. The first thing that struck this reviewer was the impressive stage structure. The gargantuan orange fingers of the "Claw" jutted out of different points in the crowd. Unfortunately the second thing that struck me was the empty grey concrete stand of the Hill behind the stage. Despite what others may say, it did take away from the aesthetics and visual impact of the stage structure, especially if you had a pitch vantage.
Dublin's four most famous living people take to the stage at 8.50. "Breathe" kicks off the night. It's an energetic and curious opener. The song itself is average on the record, but as with U2, live it gets a new lease of life. Plus, Bono's voice is in great nick. The title track from the new record follows. From a personal point of view, this should have been a single from the record. It's in the chorus of "No Line..." that the crowd starts to buzz. Admittedly there isn't very much "singing along", indicating the intentions of the crowd to hear the choice cuts from the U2 songbook.
"Get on your Boots" while probably not one of the bands strongest hits, gets a boost live. People are jumping. Its meandering guitar riff and thumping rhythm get the capacity crowd going. "Magnificent" is up next and as widely perceived as the highest point on the new record it goes down a storm. It's clear the band are extremely well rehearsed and there are no hitches. Bono's voice comes to the fore and there is a sense of purpose in his voice. "I was born to sing for you" he says and the fans believe it.
U2 have never been a band to shirk from selling their wares, and have the guts to try new things. Hence the opening four tracks coming from the Luke-warm received (critically) new album. It's sort of ironic that the next track "Beautiful Day" is the song that brought the band back in from the half empty stadiums of the POP tour.
Its infectious melody lifts the spirits of everyone there and it is indeed, beautiful!
"This song is dedicated to Sinead O Connor", Bono says as the Edge lays the opening wah wah lick of "Mysterious Ways". The entire stadium goes nuts. Taken from the band's richest phase creatively it reminds everyone of why U2 are history makers.
Bono even serenades a young Chilean fan who asks cheekily where he lives…."It's in Kiliney, speak to the missus, she's very understanding" he says to laughter and cheers. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" begins and falls into "Stand By Me". The atmosphere is beginning to peak. It's an 80,000 plus karaoke session. "Angel of Harlem" with a hint of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop T'il You Get Enough" continues the mass sing along. "In A Little While", a gem from "All You Cant Leave Behind" rings out. It's a beautiful little tune and it leads into the loudest screams of the night. "The Unforgettable Fire" burns a hole in the night sky. It's a poignant moment for many older members of the crowd. It's impressive stuff. Bono is in full flight. The ramps at the sides of the stage are used to full effect. "City of Blinding Lights" and "Vertigo" follow with a bongo ridden remix of "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight".
The stadium was electric. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is rung out to the visuals of protests in Iran. The fans go wild. It's a wonderful song and the most popular one of the night so far. Bono ad libs "Rock The Kasbah" through the end of the song which gives it added punch.
And that's when it happened. One hour and twenty minutes in, and Rock Star Bono took a breather for a cigar and a rum and coke while St. Bono emerged. Every charity this side of Rio was sound, checked. A video played showing Burmese democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi who is under house arrest. The cause is admirable, and it's well meaning on U2's part. However getting people to walk around a stage at a rock'n'roll show they paid a lot of money to see, wearing masks is outrageous and crass. It got worse. St Bono wouldn't leave it at that. The "One" organisation got its dues. And then a recorded message from Desmond Tutu (no I didn't think he was in U2 either) followed. It's part of U2's fabric and this reviewer appreciates that, but flogging your charity at people during a rock'n'roll show is crass, inappropriate, and nearly ruined an otherwise impeccable performance.
"Walk On" and "MLK" followed, and St Bono took a hike. Good riddance.
Rock Star Bono was back. "Where the Streets Have No Name" rejuvenated the deflated crowd. The bass line still sends shivers up and down this reviewer's spine. "One" illuminates the sky and it's a rock n roll love in. All is good and beautiful.
The band came back on for the encore. An old school mike was lowered to Rock Star Bono. He dragged on it, swung on it and paraded the showmanship and vocals that made him cool back in 1992. Oh and "Ultra Violet" was the tune! For this reviewer, this would have been a fine point to leave off on. "With or Without You" had to be played for the die hard fans though. And respect is due for the purpose and sincerity the band managed to convey during it too.
However "Moment of Surrender" while certainly one of the highlights of the band's latest offering, was most definitely the pin in the balloon for many. As the stretching vocals reached climax in the chorus, folks began to think about where they were off to for a jar.
Like I said, U2 were never ones to shirk from selling their new wares. Still, the vocals were flaweless and the band sounded tight and very polished. The stage show was immense. U2 continue to be the world leaders in live show performances, but Bono is doing his best to spoil this for the rest of the band with his peddling of personal agendas ahead of doing what he does best.