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U2 - London Trafalgar Square - 11 November 2017   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Tuesday, 21 November 2017

There’s no point chasing relevancy : chase brilliance and you will be relevant anyway.

Falling less than a month after the final show of the Joshua Tree 30 Tour, U2 have slipped straight into what feels like a slick but efficient ploy to launch their next album “Songs Of Experience” that they birthed (mostly) in 2016 during a tour break. “The Joshua Tree 30 Tour” already feels like a somewhat cynical restatement of their history as a reminder of who they once were, built on the fact that they have – for the first time in a decade – have an album to sell (rather than one to give away). After 2014’s “Songs of Innocence” which was parachuted into your iTunes library, and therefore avoided the need to count chart positions, they now have to work – and are risking meeting the same low sales that everyone else has to live with. U2 are now back at working hard for this.

Therefore, a Saturday night in London sees them at Trafalgar Square : the free show – which sees entrance by competition winners to a 55 minute set – also doubles as a video shoot for upcoming release “Get Out Of Your Own Way”. It’s a cold November night, but U2 are - and always have been – canny businessmen, and combine this with a show played to mostly hardcore fans, as well as a later MTV broadcast of at least part of the show. We are fools, and travel down to London from 9am in Somerset where we were at a gig the previous night. We arrive at Trafalgar Square at 2pm, in time for a hurried fish and chips at Chandos, and catch U2’s brief six song soundcheck that was visible from the street : “Get Our Of Your Own Way” was played twice, alongside “You’re The Best Thing About Me”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “Beautiful Day” and “Get Out of Your Own Way” was played again.

We break for coffee, join the GA queue at 3pm, and are let in around 5pm ; and oh boy, it’s very very cold. After an hour-and-a-bit of waiting, U2 take the stage at 7.15 to a short and punchy set that reprises the bookends of their most recent tour, and replaces the middle with new songs from the album out in three weeks.

Up close, and with less screens, less lights, less tricks, and so forth, U2 are simply a really bloody good rock band. I’ve seen thousands of bands over the years, and well over a hundred in 2017 alone, and these four guys have been playing together for 41 years now without a break or a lineup change – and simply, they know how to do this. There’s nods and grooves, and a confidence that comes from assured, knowledgable ability. It’s good – and refreshing to see U2 as a band, not just a huge corporate entity. The fact they are 4 guys making a racket with planks of wood and computers shouldn’t be underestimated. Everyone is here for the music, and everything else is just wrapping and magic. There’s no big screens, there’s no choreographed speeches (as such), just four people and a stage and some lights and some sound.

They open with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Pride”.. These two songs might be, overall, overplayed by the band with nearly a thousand performances of each of them over the past thirty years, but they are played as if they are fresh. (I’ve heard and seen some performances of “Pride” which have felt tired, and even, a little bored – tonight is not one of them). They are stalwarts of music, as much in the air as hayfever, and its hard sometimes to think there was a time when these songs did not exist. There was a world where “Beautiful Day” didn’t exist – and I remember it. There’s a greatest hits period near the end, where the band play proportionally the largest number of ‘newer’ songs they have in recent memory, with “Elevation”, “Vertigo”, and “One” in quick succession. Even though “One” is now, staggeringly, 26 years old, it is still as fresh as it ever was. In the meantime, there’s also two new songs – the first European live performance by the whole band of “You’re The Best Thing About Me”, and a first-time-anywhere-in-the-world for “Get Out of Your Own Way.”

It’s great to hear U2 play a simple, honest love song. Most of their material is so densely thought through, that sometimes, you need to say what you know but have forgotten to say. To strip back the arch doublethink, and cut straight to the matter at hand. What is more important than love? Why are we here, if not love? What will survive us, but love?

After the summers determinedly retrospective, nostalgic “The Joshua Tree : 30th Tour”, the new songs are necessary in moving U2 away from a novelty act, necessary to show that the band are still doing new things. Sure, there’s an element of pop, an element of still trying to be relevant. But U2 here shouldn’t be followers, but leaders, showing the way, marking the path in being old yet new, in addressing what it is to be old, and mainstream, yet also, kicking back. Asking questions.

For too long, U2 have rested in creative paralysis. This is a necessary step ; feel more, think less, create more, and think less. Sincerity is nothing to be scared of. Embrace honesty. There’s no point chasing relevancy : chase brilliance and you will be relevant anyway.

Sunday Bloody Sunday
You’re The Best Thing
Get Out of Your Own Way
Beautiful Day
Get Out of Your Own Way (encore)


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