U2 came back to London Town, the city where it all started for them ‘on the road’. How times have changed. Sharing a basement flat and playing to crowds of 3o something, to sell out arenas all over the globe. It has been quite a journey and the band were keen to share it.
This tour has been badged eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE, an acknowledgement that they were coming to play their ‘songs of experience’, the title of their most recent album, yet at the same time trying to convince the audience that despite their decorated career, they were still in some way innocent and still learning. Maybe they are as people, but no one who was lucky enough to be at the O2 could possibly doubt their quality, professionalism, musical ability and constant desire to re-invent and push barriers – in short, experience.
This was quite some show and whilst they repeated their incredible act of partly performing from inside a long rectangular cage-cum-screen which hovered across the length of the arena, as they had done on their Songs of Innocence tour in 2015, this seemed like so much more of a spectacle. A step above.
Bono, heaven forbid, seems to have mellowed. Decked out in trademark black, he has been there and done it, he has more than enough t-shirts, and has nothing left to prove and this performance seemed to recognise this stage in his life. Little anger, just a man comfortable in his environment and simply relishing the opportunity to play on stage to a sell out crowd with his best mates. It was well worth the exorbitant Viagogo ticket price, and more. They are iconic and remain a must see, even in the twilight of their careers.
No-one could ever consider Bono of being particularly humble but here he did show genuine humility at times. He regaled tales of the band’s rise and potential fall, plus of an endearing encounter with his older brother who, when he thought that Bono was becoming a little too brash, simply tapped him on the shoulder and reminded him who he really was, simply his little brother Paul. Bono got it, acknowledging what he had become.
When not rocking the foundations of the O2 with his music, he was in a reflective mood. Whether U2 will tour like this again only they know, but the story book nature of this show gave a strong hint that maybe they won’t.
Whilst a U2 gig will never pass without some political comment, this was largely restricted to their, or perhaps just Bono’s, pro-European anti-brexit views. His reference to the rest of Europe’s love of Britain was perhaps a little exaggerated but the sentiment was strong and the reference to the proposed loss of one of the yellow stars from the blue background both symbolic and powerful. Those in favour of Britain remaining in Europe will wish that he had come forward and made such an impassioned plea a couple of years earlier.
But this was a rock gig and any diversion to political issues of the day was quickly drowned out by the familiar guitar riffs of The Edge or Adam Clayton’s bass. Powerful, haunting and electric, sounding as good now as when the likes of I Will Follow and Gloria were first released.
The largely middle aged crowd were in their element, up on their feet, waving and pointing fingers and clapping hands as if back in their teens.
U2 mixed the old and new seamlessly, from the giant hits of New Year’s Day, Pride, One, Elevation and Vertigo to some modern classics such as The Blackout, Lights of Home, Summer of Love and You’re the Best Thing About Me. It was a beautiful day, indeed it’s a beautiful world, and felt even better than the real thing.
In this city of blinding lights and on this reflection on their past, it was perhaps both appropriate and symbolic that the final song, 13 (There Is a Light), featured Bono walking the length of the projecting catwalk to a light in the distance. It was portrayed as the light coming from his childhood home on Cedarwood Road in Dublin. As he reached the small model of the house, he released the light and propelled it into the dark arena like a pendulum and left the stage, his light shining as brightly and boldly as it ever did.