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U2 / Noel Gallagher- London Twickenham Stadium, July 9th 2017.   Print  E-mail 
Written by Graham Reed  
Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Time is a train - it makes the future the past. But do you glorify the past when the future dries up?

We were somewhere around Balham, on the edge of the suburbs, when the paranoia began to kick in.Its 1820 on a sunny, warm summer evening in urban London, and I'm stood outside some identikit stadium. I'm looking forward to seeing Noel Gallagher (of Oasis) play. Its the first time since 1997 I've seen a member of Oasis onstage, so understandable I'm looking forward to it. He is onstage in ten minutes, and It doesn't look like I am going to make it in in time.

As I said, we were somewhere outside of Zone 2 when the paranoia kicked in. Six weeks earlier, 23 concert goers were killed in Manchester.Security are taking no chances then - and No matter what Noel Gallagher sings, It's not just Sally that can wait.Its the thousands of customers locked outside the venue, awaiting bag checks in queues.

So whilst Noel comes along and starts singing, thousands of us outside hoping to watch him - are still outside hoping to watch him. In many ways, it is unfair to review a gig where you miss half of the songs due to delays you had no idea even existed.... but that is the card thats has been played. However, in some ways what I miss is songs I didn't know, hadn't heard, and would have been new to me.

By the time I make my (cheapest of those available) seat, Noel is just striking up the opening chords of "Champagne Supernova". Replete with a band that was 60% of Oasis (in guitarist Gem Archer, and drummer Jay Sharrock), this isn't Oasis, it is Noel-asis.

It somehow feels as if the post-Oasis band Beady Eye had somehow got the talented brother back in, and dropped all the rubbish new songs, for slightly newer, actually good new songs. And also being watched from far far away at the back of a stadium with the sun bearing down on them without any video screens, is far from the ideal viewing experience.However, it is many of the songs you know and remember, now played in a different way, that stand out When Oasis played, they would usually have an acoustic section for Noel to sing in, but in a support slot, its all electric, all of the way. A now electrified "Half The World Away" is still a brilliant song, but in doing so is stripped of its' subtlety - the signature part when Noel taps on the body of the guitar is now swamped by it all. Similarly, it is the inevitable "Wonderwall" - still in its same setlist position as when Oasis played it, three quarters of the way in - that is brings the best response. The same paced and nowhere near as loved "Little By Little" is a surprise (having been played live for the first time in five years).But with so few new songs, it is more of a look back (in nostalgia) rather than a looking forward. But ultimately, it is the songs people know and love that make the impact tonight, not the solo songs - and the crowd response makes that abundantly clear.Noel Gallagher seems to have forgotten he has written some fast songs, and seems to have based his setlist on the basis of every song being in the same tempo and in the same key. It makes it difficult to tell the difference between any of them if you don't already know them.

On the other hand, between bands, I set myself a challenge - how to recreate the authentic full "Tourist Rip-Off experience" the easy way. So Cue the most expensive burger I ever had. A 13.95 Burger meal from a burger van parked on tarmac outside a stadium,after going in to watch a popular beat combo.At least that one actually listed the prices - none of the others did. Not even the Domino's van - listed the prices, Which is even more worrying.Food prices at such events are the food equivalent of Soho clip joints. Simple price gouging and exploitation of a captive audience, who have no alternative. It left a sour taste in the mouth, and not just because of the price.So yeah, beware the Great British Burger rip off. Not to mention the ten minute walk from the top to the bottom of the stadium just to go to the toilet and eat.Mostly this was caused by discovering that Twickenham newsagents don't stock sandwiches when arriving after the local supermarkets were closed.

To describe this U2 gig as "eagerly awaited" might be an understatement. For a start, it is the first time most people have had chance to see them for the best part of a decade. The 2015 Innocence and experience tour only ever visited indoor arenas, and tickets were borderline impossible to get; also due to the design of its staging, which involved a video screen suspended from the ceiling of the venue across the crowd at a 90 degree angle to the stage (like a T shape), it would have been impossible to translate to open aired venues.

But another reason why it is so eagerly awaited is that, for the first time, this isn't a tour where U2 plug their new album. It is, for the first time, where U2 revisit the past. Whilst it thus has an air of nostalgia, this means that it also MASSIVELY upends the usual setlist.

If you've ever seen U2 live, or watched one of their live video releases, you know how predictable the setlist can be. "Where the Streets Have No Name"? Always the last, or last but one, song of the main set. Always, without exception."Bullet The Blue Sky"? Oh, heres the edgy political song that we always play in the encore (778 out of the last 890 performances ; it only has only skipped one tour out of the last 9). "With Or Without You"? End of Encore #1/ Beginning of Encore #2.

The very premise of this tour - where the band concentrate and focus on their earlier material, including playing 1987's breakthrough 12 million selling "The Joshua Tree" , means that what you have is 12 songs in a row that are fixed every night. And whilst this may sound limiting, it is very freeing for U2 setlist geeks. And why? Because it means that the traditional spots for songs are no longer in play. Its' like watching your favourite film, only to find it completely reedited into a completely different form ; this reshapes everything.

And to be honest, that change in the setlist was the major draw for me to this tour. Less predictable. less staid. It would be, surprisingly, much fresher. And , on top of that, a chance to hear some of the rarer, earlier songs. Many of us love the earlier stuff, songs like "A Sort of homecoming", which has been played live once in thirty years ; until 2017. Songs like the once-staple "New Years Day", which is now played maybe on less than 5% of all shows.

In between the sets, poetry and words stream across the massive video screen. The show may be less technically groundbreaking than the i+e tour, but it also bears the massive imprint of Roger Waters' tour of "The Wall", where the video presentation stretched across the entire width of the stadium. Poetry rings across the screen - "To have a son, is to have a country", for example - and then, a song rings out. And I get a text.

The text reads simply, "I Pictured a Rainbow" - the opening line of The Waterboys "The Whole Of The Moon", which they have used as the intro song. Out in the distance, a man walks out, across the stage, to the drum kit parked in the middle of the stadium. The Waterboys song stops, and a millisecond later comes the rat-a-tat-tat-tat opening of "Sunday Bloody Sunday". Edge still moves his guitar at 90's degree angles throughout Sunday Bloody Sunday, as he always does. And then "New Year's Day". God, How I've waited, hoped to see this live.

Now, at odds to the high speed dynamic of these first two songs, comes "Bad", which is usually a sprawling epic of a song, building to a big conclusion. It doesn't feel earned quite so early in the show, and also I feel throws the pace off. But honestly, we are now in a position whereby we hope U2 don't play "Bad", which is something I had never imagined saying. But what "Bad" means (and this is the major setlist variable of the night) is that we don't get "A Sort Of Homecoming", a U2 song they have been playing intermittently, and one I have hoped to see live for 3 decades ; especially give its' new electronica arrangement with new harmonics.But Whilst "Bad" seems a little offkilter, there's a little moment when it all clicks. And thats not just because you then know that <> "pride" is following it straight out of the gate.

if anything, this tour seems to be ruled by the maxim of treating "The Joshua Tree", a 30 year album - as new material, as a new album. It also reframes U2 back as a stadium act ; after the grand "In the round" appearance of the 360 tour, where the band performed in the middle of the stadium with the crowd on all four sides, there seemed nowhere to go. This tour allows the band to recement their commercial position as a touring act ; every single show has been a complete sell out - unlike 1997, where the band were playing 60,000 seat stadiums to 14,000 people - and to move back to the back of the stadium, not the middle of it.

Next comes up the 12 songs of "The Joshua Tree" ; the band move away from second stage, the stage set out in the design of the Joshua tree itself, and back to the main stage. A deep red, and its "Where The Streets Have No Name". This is a fresh reinvention for the song - no longer shackled to a jubilant set closer, but unleashed here. And you know something? The stadium erupts. All 56,447 of us. Well, all except the people next to me. It seems my seats, far and at the back, seem to comprise of the most unenthusiastic people on earth.

It seems largely redundant to say much about "The Joshua Tree" portion of the show ; after all, the album has sold some 20million copies. Having not heard any of the leaked bootlegs before the show, but looking forward to setlist changes, mean that despite knowing what comes next, it is the section most people are here for. "I Still Haven't Found" is a setlist staple, As is "With or Without You" - though the extra final "Shine Like Stars" verse is sadly omitted, as it is most nights. But it is FRESH. Fresh for having not been inevitably turning up in the same setlist spot of encore #1 for the first time well... ever.

Next after that is the usual, boring, predictable staple that is "Bullet The Blue Sky". Its not just me that has "Bullet the Blue Sky" fatigue. From my high vantage point, it is abundantly clear that the exodus from the arena - people running to the toilets - has just quadrupled. Only reason I don't rush off myself is because, , "Running To Stand Still" is coming up next. And that's always been one of my favourite U2 songs. And quite frankly, If U2 never played "Bullet" again, would anyone notice? No. Hell No. Other songs are available, other songs that make the same point abundantly clear. One of them is coming up shortly, and it is called "Exit".

The version of Exit is prefaced by a clip from a fifties TV show - a clip about a man who calls himself "Trump", a man who proposes to build a wall to keep out others.A man who exploits fear, for his own ends. A man who manipulates others, for his own gain.Its one on the nose, but it predates the 2016 election by half a century. It is a stunning, underplayed song, and without doubt needs to be restored to the set in lieu of the place "Bullet" has held all this years. And then is the closing song of the main set , "Mothers Of the Disappeared" , Whilst regularly played in South America, it hasn't been seen outside that continent in 30 years.Its a perfect closing duo.

> In many ways, it is a U2 fans dream setlist. Lots of songs rarely played, many not played in 30 odd years, and one never played live ever before this tour ; the piano led rearrangement of "Redhill Mining town", which is infinitely superior to the studio version - though sadly overloaded with a pre-recorded horn section.

And whilst it is a very wellput together show.... having most of the B-Stage obscured by lighting towers is pretty rubbish. Which actually brings me to the next point. The use of the biggest video screen in the world is, whilst highly impressive, also massively dwarfs the band themselves. The band themselves are almost ancillary to the screen ; and are rarely represented on it. And thats the crux. From here, you can't see the band, but you can see the video screen. When you have a stadium of 60,000 people, you can be prety certain that some of the people at the back, some of those who have put down their hard earned cash to watch the band, don't up seeing the performers but as dots in the distance. Because the band as so small - and the 200ft wide screen SO utterly dwarfs them, as to be impossible to pick them out amongst the massive overload of data and visuals.

So to pay to see the band, and then swamp the band so the majority of the crowd can't see them? Quite frankly, and let me be blunt here - that sucks. Absolutely sucks. Having a 200ft wide screen doesn't mean you have to dominate everyone's field of view with what is often irrelevant, if beautifully shot, imagery. I didn't buy U2 tickets to watch a video of a coillery brass band. if I'd wanted thgat, I would have bought tickets for "Brassed Off - The Musical". No, I want to see U2. Sure - have that imagery on the screen. But make sure people at the back can actually see what is being performed on stage. It isn't ike you haven't got room to do so ; you could easily divide the screen up to 66ft segments, and show different images on each third of the screen. In fact, when that does happen during one song, it is such a blessed relief. At last! I paid to see the band - now I can see them. Even if only for one song. Instead, lets have a random woman painting on the side of a shed. Yep, thats what I've travelled hundreds of miles, and paid a days wages for.Yes, I'm whinging. But it is a VALID whinge.When I pay to see a band, shouldn't I expect at least to be able to see them?

The encore though, is a different kettle of fish. It is an encapsulated 40 minutes in the history of U2, a greatest hits set. So, after 22 years, at last "Miss Sarajevo" gets played live in the country where it was recorded - it is amazing that after 122 performances, it has never appeared on stage in the UK before.And given that this was a UK No.2 Christmas single, thats pretty astounding. To follow this with "Beautiful Day" - thoughly sadly lacking the immediacy of the recorded version courtesy of its pointless ambient intro when everyone knows it is coming anyway - is a grand one-two statement of "look! we are still relevant". As is the jumping up and down euphoria of "Elevation" - which for me has the highlight of the night, when drummer Larry (wearing a Clash "London Calling" shirt) stares out the camera on the 200ft screen, and waves hello. Thing is, when all you have is a 200ft screen playing abstract images, that interaction with the audience is lost. And if one audience thrives of interaction, it is a U2 crowd. But the show doesn't work for the people in the seats at the back of stadium, because that connection with the performers on stage is broken,overshadowed, and lost.Needlessly lost. It is a little moment, but an important one.

"Vertigo" ? A massive hit. Having been absent from a lot of opening shows on the tour, it has been cycled back in. Also, it makes the show a little more contemporary. But it highlights an issue... that "Vertigo" was the last HUGE hit U2 had. It is now 13 years now. And tonight, there isn't a single track less than 13 years old - despite the fact that U2 have released two full studio albums in that time, plus a greatest hits, 3 live DVDs, and some 30+ new songs. It is almost as if an entire decade has been erased from history.

Closing out with a trio of songs from the 18million selling "Achtung Baby", as in "Mysterious Ways", "Ultraviolet" and "One" however feels oddly anticlimatic. "Ultraviolet" is dedicated to - as every other performance on this tour - to the women who have shaped the world we live in. I fail to see however, how Caitlin Moran, Mariella Frostrup or Christine Lagarde , the head of the IMF, or the CEO of facebook makes it in the list, but Valentina Terashkova doesn't. Valentina Terashkova is a name maybe not known to many, but it is she to whom there is a display dedicated at the London Science Museum but a few miles away. And Why? After all, she was the first woman in space. Ever. EVER. A little niggle, but a careless and thoughtless omission.

it is at this point that Bono starts speechifying. I'm acutely aware that time is running out before curfew, in the darkness of this lonely room. Every minute that Bono continues speechifying, is another song I will never get to hear. The orchestrated swell of "One" starts up.

And now I'm going to voice an opinion unpopular amongst U2 fans, ok?

I do wish Bono would just shut up and stop speechifying at the crowd though. Given the choice between his self-righteous babbling and the band playing a a song we've waited for thirty years to hear live again, (" A Sort Of Homecoming") What makes him think we want to hear his hectoring rather than that? Well, never mind that. I only know of people who flew to Dublin to see this show, just on the likelihood that if they were going to play "Homecoming" anywhere, it would be there. At home. Not Amsterdam #2.

And as for another unpopular opinion?

I like "One" on record. I don't like hearing "One" live. Absolutely hate it. Not only do I not think any single live version has ever come close to recorded version - EVER - (not even Syndey 93, though the Lakeland 92 rehearsal is probably the best version. And I know its just one guys opinion, but I think that "One" in this slot represents everything U2 shouldn't be on this tour. This tour is about changing everything up and being unpredictable. So, instead, we get a song that is quite frankly, a dirge live - but always played in pretty much the same position. As the safe, predictable, staid "big hit" to cynically push emotional buttons. And I for one, resist that. So, even though the thought of the rarely played "Hear Me Coming" verse at the end is a good one, the second Bono starts his speechifying, I switch off. And I know I'm not alone in that. Quite frankly, I had hoped for something else. If there is one song that U2 need to change the placement of now, It's "One". It feels rote, predictable, tired to put it in that slot. Everything that this tour tries to shake up, and make fresh, this undoes. Quite frankly, the perfect closer for this show would have been "40" - only played live once (Moncton, 2011) on the 360 tour, and rarely on the i+e tour - rather than this rote, stale retread of a song that feels played out of obligation rather than passion. Its been in the same setlist position for two decades. Last time it felt fresh, to me, was Zoo TV, in 1993 - when it was song #7.

Ultimately, U2's "Joshua Tree 2017" tour is an odd move for the band. It works commercially, and it works musically - but as a band member once said (and a paraphrase being unable to find the exact quote) - "If it doesn't work for the person at the back seat, it has failed". In that sense, I feel that visually "TJT 2017" needs a focus away from the graphics, and to focus more on the performance. Just because you can use a 200ft stadium for a single image, it doesn't not mean you have to. Nor does it mean you should. The visual presentation in this sense alienates the audience, and reduces the interaction between the band and the person in the top row. Some say they have seen Bono shrink a stadium before now - I would argue that this show's visual reliance of huge, immense vistas increases the distance, and lessens the band. If I wanted to watch a selection of full screen films, I could have stayed at home and watched it on youtube for free.And Sadly, that it is point at which TJT feels it has gone awry. For all the reinvention, overlooking the experience of the performance and concentrating on abstract lessens, not greatens the show.

Thing is, For a band that seem to want to break down barriers, putting up a 200ft wall and becoming invisibly tiny in front of it had precisely the opposite effect.oddly, the 360 shows - with its emphasis on reducing the maximum distance between band and fan by changing the location of the stage, and is focusing on live feeds of the band on its screens, felt so much more intimate - despite the fact that the crowds were signifcantly larger on every single date. Musically they've never sounded better. But if you've broken the bond between the band and the fan, and alienated them did it work? I don't think so. For the first time in my life, I went to see U2 and I felt I wasn't a part of the gig, that It wasn't interactive. It felt like I'd gone to a gig and watched a video screen, not four guys on stage. And the blame for that lies not with the band, but with the visually overwhelming panorama that acts as if the band doesn't exist, doesn't get shown. You've turned it from a particaptory event into something else - you've had an audience, and turned from being engaged with the men on stage, into passive consumers of abstract imagery (a woman painting a shed, a endless panorama of trees in a desert).

It was a spectacular show, but for me - an unengaging, dull, sterile gig. A performance that felt like it was building barriers , not bridges, between the band and the fan ; whilst the musical portion of the gig was flawless, the visuals didn't just detract from the gig, as much as smother it, neuter it, take it out of the . And in that sense, sadly it failed. A spectacular failure, but a failure nonetheless. Now, if I hadn't been in the the upper tier of seats a hundred feet in the air, I would have had a different experience. But either as the man once said - "If it doesn't work for the fan at the back, then we've failed". I'm acutely aware that had I been on the floor, in the standing portion, I may well have had a very different opinion. But I came out disappointed, and alienated. Judging by the reactions of many of the fans around me, I would say I was far from alone in that too. I can only hope that future shows learn from this, because with a little more thought and consideration - it could be easily avoided.Earlier on, I said about how much the films swamp the band, and said "I could have stayed at home and watched it on youtube for free".Fact is, I actually enjoyed it more that way - I preferred watching the fan made multi-cam IEM videos to being at the show. And Why? because I could actually see the band.

If you want to know where I was, by the way? look for the white square in the top left of the image. Thats where I was. Thats pretty mnuch the back row.

U2 once sang "You glorify the past when the future dries up". I hope this isn't the case.Great band. Spectacular show. But you don't go to see U2 to come out feeling deflated, do you? I ain't bugging you am I?I don't mean to bug ya. The only time the gig came alive for me was when I could see the band, and for 95% of the time, I simply Couldn't see the band. Because of the video presentation swamped them - not just dwarfing them physically, but the content mean it could be anyone on stage. ANYONE. The band became completely anonymous. The band may be playing three chords and the truth, but this was a great band playing on form, ruined by a presentation which both overwhelmed, and under served, the very people on stage. And that ain't the way a gig is supposed to be, is it? When you've got the technology to bring the band to back row, do so - don't further the distance.

So close, and so far away....

Setlist:
Intro - The Whole Of The Moon
Sunday Bloody Sunday
New Year's Day
Bad / Heroes
< Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Where The Streets Have No Name
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
With Or Without You
Bullet The Blue Sky
Running To Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town
In God's Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Exit
Mothers Of The Disappeared
Miss Sarajevo
Beautiful Day
Elevation
Vertigo
Mysterious Ways
Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
One / Hear Us Coming (snippet)

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