Normally, when U2 roll into town with their latest tour, its hype and anticipation has already been cranked up to, well, quite frankly, 11! For more than 20 years now, U2 have pushed the envelope on scale and visuals like no other band. We’ve had Trabant cars, satellite television, phone calls to The White House, giant glitter-ball lemons, and a 100-foot high structure, to name but a few, so it’s become expected from a U2 show to have something to dazzle and amaze us. I guess it’s a kind of big, electronic musical circus!
This time, however, they somewhat slipped into London through the side gate without much fuss, and pitched up their tent in London’s O2 Arena (which, ironically, is a huge tented structure), to deliver us their latest instalment.
This was a very different U2. Dubbed their Innocence and Experience tour, it was a stripped back and mellowed out. Bono had left the alter egos at home, and this one seemed to be more about the music. That’s not to say it wasn’t visually stunning and spectacular - it was - but it was clever and smart, this was U2 all grown up.
The set up was simple enough: a main stage with a walkway dividing the standing crowd leading to a small second stage; two huge see-through video screens ran alongside the walkway, in between which stood a platform for Bono and The Edge to wander around during a couple of numbers, and it was used to great effect. During The Fly, the band had completely disappeared, and it felt like an intermission until the next song, Invisible, began, where a soundwave broke the on-screen graphics, and began to reveal all four band members inside. Very cool indeed.
Bono still remains the ultimate showman, and knows just how to have an audience eat out of the palm of his hand, but he was more toned down, open, and emotional. He delivered a very touching and personal rendition of Iris – a song dedicated to his mother – where beforehand, he revealed how he felt when she died when he was only 14, and so turned to rock and roll and the band to fill the hole in his heart she left behind. Also, an incredible version of Every Breaking Wave (with Edge on the piano) nearly brought me to tears. It was a raw and powerful performance all night from all of them, and the sound in the O2 was really on point: so clean and crisp, and better than I’ve ever heard them before.
The night was more special for a couple of lucky fans who were pulled up on stage, the now standard dance with a woman to Mysterious Ways this time around; and then two brothers came out the audience to play guitars on Angel of Harlem.
“The Edge always gets nervous when we try this!” Bono said, with a smile. He even swapped jackets with another guy he dragged up for City of Blinding Lights, and handed over his sunglasses. He had them back a song later insisting that, “we would have let him keep them, you know, but they’re running a tight ship in wardrobe now, and I’ve promised to stop giving these away because they can’t get them anymore. It’s not the expense, it’s just we can’t get them!”
There was a good mix of the new and old songs blended together. I really like their early stuff, and with such a rich back catalogue to draw from, you never know what you’re going to get, plus they’ve varied the set list up every night on this tour. Happily, though, some old classics were still in there. You’d feel a bit cheated if you went to a U2 show and didn’t hear Bullet the Blue Sky, Pride, With or Without You, and Streets; and I certainly wasn’t going home disappointed!
On this night, we also had Noel Gallagher join them for I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, and an impromptu snippet of The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, which closed the night.
Hands down, they were utterly phenomenal. It was two hours of total joy which left you breathless and wanting to see it all over again.
For me, they still do this better than anyone else. They blend great music with a stunning visual distraction, which works incredibly well. U2 somehow continue to capture our imagination, yet at the same time constantly steal our hearts and minds!
As I made my way outside to queue for the tube, I was spoilt for choice on my favourite track of the night to hum all the way home. Out Of Control won out in the end over Miracle of Joey Ramone, in case you were wondering! Sadly, we only get to see them about every five years. The wait makes it all worthwhile, but you really want to see them perform more regularly because they are a great live act.
Taking a huge outdoor stadium tour worldwide is understandably arduous and expensive, and naturally it coincides with a new album release, but there’s enough material to take an Innocence and Experience style tour out on the road and shake it up every year or two, and I’m sure no U2 fan will be complaining. Hell, if they wanted to repeat exactly what I saw tonight and bring that back every year, then count me in – take all my money now! I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the big, brash, mega stadium monster, but if this is how it is from now on: intimate, low-key and indoors, then that's fine with me.
Review by Colin Pigott