Into Live Music: U2 at O2 Arena, London
U2: 23/24 October 2018 at O2 Arena, London
It’s impossible to have any real objectivity about a band you have followed for over 30 years and have seen over 20 times so I’ll not even try. Despite entering the veteran stage U2 are still one of the greatest live acts around. Making massive arena and stadiums shows as intimate as possible while also providing the wow factor with mesmerising productions is a fine balancing act and U2 have always done it better than everyone else. The current tour, titled Experience and Innocence (E&I), is no different. From an opening that beams footage, on a 100 foot video cage, of war and conflict across the 20th century soundtracked by the Charlie Chaplin speech from the Great Dictator to the final moments that saw Bono swing a single light bulb across the B-stage before leaving the arena with little fanfare. It was just stunning from beginning to end.
Of course, fans of the band will be familiar with this stage show as it is identical to the one used for the sister tour, Innocence and Experience, in 2015. The main stage at one end, the b stage at the other, with the walkway and cage linking the two. I’m not sure how they pull off this act of musical illusion but the fact they can make a gig feel intimate with the aid of a 100ft long video screen that splits the arena in two is just extraordinary.
It’s a set that takes in the new songs, the hits, while also bringing back some old favourites and for the purist this tour is the first time Acrobat has been played live. The show opens with the band inside the video cage playing new song The Blackout followed by another new song Lights at Home before retiring to the main stage and running through several classics including I Will Follow, Gloria and Beautiful Day and showcasing that the band can be just a great rock band with the video screen staying dark for the entire three songs before they moved into the Achtung Baby/Zooropa period.
With the decision not to play any songs from the Joshua Tree after playing the album in full on a short tour last year this has opened the door to some older songs making a welcome return including a brilliant Zoo Station, The Fly, highlight of the first night Stay Faraway So Close and almost as stunning Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses. That four-song section was just incredible and really moved the show up a couple of notches.
We were then treated to a comic adventure played out on the big screen. If I’m being picky I could have done without it but it was really just a filler as the b stage was set up for the band with Bono appearing in a top hat and launching into Elevation, Vertigo and Even Better Than the Real Thing. The B-stage let fans really get up close and personal and allowed those sitting way up high in the arena to get a closer look at the band. Breaking down the invisible barrier between fan and band the U2 way.
The aforementioned Acrobat was preceded by the return of an old friend. Bono’s alter ego, Mr Macphisto, appeared on the big screen using technology to superimpose a face onto Bono’s. No phone calls tonight but a list of crises and events that Macphisto has been involved in. Acrobat was definitely one for the collectors and after hearing it live you wonder why it never got aired back in the day. Now if on the next tour So Cruel could make an appearance I’d be a very happy bunny indeed.
Two new songs before we get a revitalised Pride. Last few tours it has sounded a bit jaded but they’ve managed to spark new life into it. During Pride Bono occupies the B-stage, Larry Mullen returns to the main stage and The Edge and Adam Clayton take up podium spots on either side of the arena.
The band come together again on the main stage as Bono slowly walks along the walkway singing another new song Get Out of Your Own Way before the main set closes with New Year’s Day and City of Blinding Lights. During the closing songs Brexit becomes the theme with the European Flag being unfurled and Bono, as he does, giving us his opinion. While many agreed we are better in than out he didn’t have 100% backing which brought a nice edge (no pun intended) to proceedings.
One is the first encore of the night and Bono tells us it is the song that kept the band together. Throughout the show Bono had talked about certain periods of the band and gave a somewhat erratic potted band history but One is a very important song as the band were on the verge of breaking apart before this song saved them. It is still a fantastic song.
Unlike most bands who play safe and fill their encore with greatest hits U2 decide to end with 2 new songs in Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way and 13 (There Is A Light). 13 sees Bono walking down the walkway to a street map superimposed on the B-stage of where he was brought up complete with a miniature dolls house of his home where he opens the roof and out comes a single light bulb which he swings across the stage. A surreal and rather odd moment but somehow it works and, as the light slowly swings to a stop Bono exits the stage and with a ‘goodnight London’, another stunning night in the company of four boys from Dublin was over.
As a footnote to an amazing show I do have to comment on the ticket prices for this tour. While standing was an acceptable £80 most seats fell into the £200/400 bracket which is just ridiculous. If I hadn’t worked hard to get standing tickets I would not have afforded or even been willing to pay that kind of money for a gig, even a U2 one. I get the irony of multi-millionaires asking people to give to the Red campaign and other deserving causes while screwing every last £1 out of the fans. It is just greed pure and simple.
The Blackout / Lights Of Home (St. Peter’s String Version) / I Will Follow / Gloria / Beautiful Day / Zoo Station / The Fly / Stay (Faraway, So Close!) / Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses / Elevation / Vertigo / Even Better Than The Real Thing / Acrobat / You’re The Best Thing About Me / Summer Of Love / Pride / Get Out Of Your Own Way / New Year’s Day /City Of Blinding Lights / One / Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way / 13 (There Is A Light)
Night 2 – only change was All Because of You replacing Gloria.
Stay Faraway So Close
13 There Is A Light