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U2 - 360 Tour - Dublin Croke Park - 25th July 2009   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Tuesday, 28 July 2009

If you're a U2 fan, seeing U2 in Dublin is THE pilgrimmage.

It's the act, the ultimate expression, I suppose to some, of a kinship with the irish Gazillionaires.

In many ways, it's not even the band themselves : now they are citizens of the world, their accents flattened by 50,000,000 miles of jet travel. Yes, they live here – but then again, U2 live everywhere. The south of France, New York. There's probably a copy of “The Joshua Tree” on cassette floating in the Atlantic Ocean.

So what is the appeal of seeing U2 in their hometown? I suppose it must be that, even for a band as popular and enormous as they are, that firstly everywhere in the world is home, and nowhere is home. If you belong everywhere, there's nowhere that can be alien to you, and with nowhere alien, there's also nowhere home.

But also, for a band that means so much, the question is, why do they mean so much? It could be that in the music itself, many of us feel a sense of home, a sort of homecoming, a community and belonging – even if only on a subconscious, primal, emotional level – that the idea of a band that brings home to you, even they must have a home, and then, seeing them perform at home would be perhaps the most sacred of belonging.

It could be that, to go to Dublin one may understand perhaps even a little bit, better, or feel closer to the music in some way. It could be that seeing U2 in their hometown is to see U2 in their essence, at their most powerful.

But more than that, even if for nothing else, I have experienced the sacrament.

And to be honest, I don't understand why I did it, but I felt that I should at some point whilst there was still the chance.

Walking the streets of the city, towards Croke Park, I wondered. Which one of these houses did Bono grow up in? What can this street tell me about them? Not much, as it turns out. I'm not the kind of person who goes up to Bono's childhood home, or sleeps outside his mansion. I don't know his birthday. I don't care.

What I care about is that the music moves me. Music like this, maybe not exactly this, is my painkiller. It anathetises the cruel world. It releases me. Frees me from the dullness of washing up and shaving and direct debits.

When we're listening to the music, this is who we are. And the music we love sounds like the msuic we would make, if it weren't for my paws being unable to form chord shapes.

Coming into land at Dublin, I can see out of my window the two towers that open the video for “Pride”. Two enormous, parallel 500 foot chimneys in the docks. Near there, I can't see – but I know – there is the Hanover Quay studio they have recorded and rehearsed in for twenty years. Which is about the size of my house, by the way. And next to that, the canal lock that graces the cover of “October”. (The album that has the worst hairstyles in history on it, which is a proven scientific fact).

So this is my U2 pilgrimmage, I suppose. 24 hours away from home, 18 on the ground in Ireland. By any standard, extravagant. But this is once in a lifetime.

We walk the streets of the Canal next to Ennisferry Road. The ducks quack. The grass is a long line of people in U2 t-shirts. I don't see any single shirt older than 1987. And perhaps also oddly, I would say at least 20% of tonight's constituency weren't even born when “With or Without You” was released. Or when I bought my first U2 album, back in the Eighties.

Up ahead, the cold white steel of Croke Park. Years ago, I watched it disappear from view on a train. Thinking that maybe one day, I could experience U2 at home. Maybe. What a mild ambition for a middle aged man. But an ambition, nonetheless.

And here it is. The Claw. The biggest stage in the world yet : 164 feet tall, a gigantic orange spire, a lime green hand, made of bubbles and curves. No wonder they launched it's maiden voyage in Barcelona : the capital of surrealism.

From the small, terraced houses that sit at the side of the stadium, I can see this enormous, absurd moment to human imagination dwarf the suburbs. Down a side road, past the lives just like mine, and ushered in. It seems strange to finally, after so many years, and the great ambition, to be here. T-shirts on sale. And somewhat disgustingly, 6 Euros for 473ml of warm alcohol that you can't even take on the pitch.

With U2 touring so infrequently now, a musical Halley's Comet that appears maybe twice a decade, and also, and more than that, still the original four men who started their musical career as boys, who have known each other forty years and still, the same people, the same ambitions and vision, have come a long way and also, not very far at all. They probably stood on these terraces as children. Played these streets in 1964.

For some, less jaded, more hopeful than me, this is religious. Coming down the pitch-level players tunnel into the ground, hundreds whoop. Cheer. Run. And there it is : The Claw. A musical space ship, taking us away from this earth. Everytime I walk down the tunnel this night, someone cheers, whoosp. The sense of anticipation : the inevitable release. The cheer is not for anything, nor the music, or the people, or anything like that, but for what the music does to us.

8.40pm. In the daylight of a summer's evening, the PA plays Bowie's “Space Oddity”. And then, it happens. The first time you experience U2 in person can be very much as if you are receiving possibily the nearest thing to a musical communion. The drums kick in, and the introduction song, a chiming, hypnotic Zooropa-esque mantra echoes around the stadium. The almost-sold-out venue rises and cheers (bar approx 500 people at the very height of the venue, there is not an empty seat here). This is perhaps, the brain release akin to some kind of less-estrogenic Take That appearance, a materialisation.

Four men walk down a ramp. Drums pound and echo. The Edge knees bent, peels a note from his guitar, pushes a pedal and then the symphony – the sound in my head – opens. It's not what I expected : I expected angels, lights, God herself in the sky. Instead I got four blokes and an audience that is enraptured. It's only a matter of time before it happens. In the meantime, we have the sense of suspended belief, that perhaps here we are and here they are, and after all that time, it is finally happening.

And maybe I expected too much. Because U2 are performing well, tighter certainly than the opening night in Spain. And The songs sound fiercer, better, stronger, than they did that night. But U2 have hit a groove, and are no longer dancing out of the grooves with fear and novelty. Bono has his moves worked out, the angles, the second-hand, instinctive stagecraft – hand there, kneel here, point the microphone to the crowd – so much so that perhaps he is on auto-pilot, and in no bad way, has reached the instinctual zone of reaction and action that a footballer occupies his whole life, where there is no space or time to think, just to be. This is “Breathe”. 

No Line On The Horizon” is next : title track from the new album, a wonderful, keening song of spirit that often evolves beyond the need for words to a unspoken melody that soars. The screen above the Claw maintains a minimal, black & white vision of the band that looks like the best concert video ever shot. There's a vision there, a shot of a sea of people as far as Bono can see, all here for the transfusion, and Bono the conduit for something bigger than all of us than maybe doesn't exist.

Still, at least Jesus doesn't think he's Bono.

Get on Your Boots” : and the crowd explodes. It's a daft, silly song about sex that seems delibrately flippant – depth through surface – and it manages to also, sadly press the 'Wanker' button on a select few in the crowd. Every gig has it's very own Gig Wanker, and here we have him – wearing sunglasses, looking at the crowd, not with a sense of wonder or euphoria, or even curiousity, but as the very own, self-appointed, topless, sweaty, hairy backed, moron. Ape dancing, gesturing at the crowd COME ON! - singing to the girls there with their husbands, working the room like a two o clock princess, moving from one wife he has no chance with, to another, to another. Oh, and not knowing anything but the big hits. It's not too long before he disappears on the horizon chasing another female he has no chance with.

There's always one.

Most of the rest of the crowd spend most of the gig watching Bono through the screen of their mobile phone. What is surreal is watching one of the world's biggest movie stars, through a camera on twenty people's mobile phones at the same time, all pointed at a video screen. (I know, I took pictures at the gig, but not at the expense of the experience itself). It's as if ZooTv has become a metatextual parody of itself. More accurately, most people want to document it – I was there – put it on YouToob – and there is nothing wrong with that : as long as you do not miss the experience itself. Life is slipping you by.

The screen slips into colour, and the next song is “Magnificent”. Really, this should be the opener : I was born to sing for you and I haven't got a choice. The crowd is approaching take-off, elevation, leaving the ground. I glance around during “Beautiful Day”, and there's a line in there, a throwaway, a second where Bono sings 'take me to the other place' : and that is the very essence of music and art and life in itself, the desire to change reality, make the world a better place.

“Mysterious Ways” sees Bono dance with a girl dressed in a Chilean flag. She whispers something – possibly suggestive – in his ear. Bono's first instinct is to sing 'Mothers of The Disappeared' (the first time the song has been sung in Europe, ever). So far, so good : U2 have eschewed the usual route of their contemporaries by fading into a nostalgic irrelevancy.

Unlike the other two Dublin shows, Saturday Night is pretty much a Business-As-Usual setlist. The band is tight, oiled, in the zone. At this point, the band have slipped into an almost-rote, athletic zone acting without thought but with feeling : the crowd sings “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For” with such gusto that Bono doesn't bother until half way through. The show changes slightly, slight inflections and visual cues altered night by night, day by day : the final strait of the main set sees the set change, expand, the stage become a cone of light and the songs become some kind of hymn, mantra, or something. The songs become more than they were ever meant to mean, a third dimension that really only ever exists for that moment, the space between the songs, the band, and the audience.

Oh, you look so beautiful tonight
. There's other songs, other themes, but all U2 songs seem to be aspiration, reaching to unite humanity. Like some kind of Gandhi with guitars. “Ultraviolet” is a stunning live experience, the band performing with a passion that is occasionally absent in the songs that have performed 765 times and lost all meaning through endless repetition. It's not all perfect : “With Or Without You” is performed dispassionately – Bono half-talking the words, and barely engaging with the song to let the audience perform it themselves. It seems time for this song to rest.

And there we have it. For the first time in a long time, the 360 Tour is U2 at the heart of the music : not serving a concept, or an agenda, or an underlying theme, not trying to save the world (the speeches are mercifully short), nor trying to tell us War Is Bad, but presenting a bridge between us, and joining people together. We are, as ever, “One”.

In the end, Dublin welcome their exiles. And it seemed that were not actually that many Dubliners there, for many were on a pilgrimmage, and many were as we often are, feeling alien within our own world : in one way, we were all part of the same nation for an evening, and that, perhaps is what we were looking for.


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