Spectacle, experience and expected politicking from the irreplaceable U2.
Thereâs something special in the air tonight. U2 roll into London with their Innocence + Experience show once more, bringing with them a sense of a band who may be starting to enter their final chapter but still remain fighting fit. One of the few artists in the world who are capable of making The O2 feel intimate, the long runway and multiple stages dominate the entire centre of the arena. Clever touches abound throughout. Hanging from the roof of the arena, a gigantic video screen flashes images and messages before the band
appear inside it to âThe Blackoutâ, almost seeming to be part of the display initially before emerging fully in lightning fast flashes of light.
What then follows is an impressive journey through the years, pulling from nearly all of their albums (with the notable exceptions of, amongst a handful of others, The Joshua Tree and most strangely, Songs Of Innocence - both missing perhaps due to recent celebratory tours in their own right). The concept of the Dubliners moving from days of innocence into experience works well, Bono dropping in anecdotes about the early days. â34 people saw us in 1980 at The Hope & Anchor. Tonight isâ¦ better.â he laughs after breakneck renditions of âI Will Followâ, âGloriaâ and âBeautiful Dayâ.
As The Edge rips through the mighty riff to âThe Flyâ (surely one of the strangest number one records of the 1990âs), and the crowd lustily roars along to âWhoâs Gonna Ride Your Wild Horsesâ, the first part to the night draws to an end. A clever animation continues the journey into the days of âExperienceâ, a heady time that Bono tonight freely admits could have spelt the end for U2. Re-appearing at the other end of the arena, a volley of huge bangers are delivered - âVertigoâ, âElevationâ, âEven Better Than The Real Thingâ setting the night off once more before the return of MacPhisto, Bonoâs twisted alter ego during Zoo TV days. Slightly shonky effects notwithstanding, it is amusing to see his return to the fray.
Of course, Bono wouldnât be Bono without some political point-making. âThis is not who we want to beâ he shouts at the outset of âPride (In The Name Of Love) - a song that sees the four band members scattered across the huge arena. Giving an impassioned cry for unity, solidarity and a love for London as one of the great European cities, a huge EU flag drops behind the stage. âWithout you, we are lessâ he states simply before a version of âNew Years Dayâ that suddenly seems to take on a whole new context, even before âOde To Joyâ plays as an outro to hammer the point home.
There is still time for an encore that contains a highly emotional version of âOneâ, with U2 lit up by the glow of a few thousand phone torchlights, shining like the brightest stars in the night. Much like the night itself, its message of the importance of togetherness and the need to overcome our differences still carries the same power and poignancy that it ever did. Words for both the innocent and the experienced, to live by.
Photo credits: Ross Stewart & Danny North - supplied by artist representatives