- 14 May 20
Five years ago today, U2 kicked off their worldwide iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour with a show at Rogers Arena, Vancouver. To mark the occasion, we're revisiting Hot Press's reflections on the aftermath of the opening night – originally published in 2015.
The morning after U2 triumphantly opened their iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour in Vancouver’s Rogers Arena last Thursday night, your vaguely discombobulated Hot Press correspondent was having breakfast with the legendary RTE DJ Dave Fanning, his gorgeous wife Ursula, and some fellow Irish journalists and broadcasters in a four-star hotel just a couple of blocks from the venue.
Gloriously grumpy at the best of times, Fanning was particularly so on this occasion. With an eight-hour time difference between Vancouver and Dublin, he’d had to rise unfeasibly early to do an RTE radio interview about the show. “The first bloody thing they asked me about was Edge falling off the stage!” he sighed, wearily shaking his head as he forked up some bacon and eggs. “I mean, for fuck’s sake! It’s the opening night of U2’s first world tour in a few years, and it was one of the best shows they’ve ever done – better than anybody expected. But all anybody in Ireland wants to talk about is the guitarist slipping off the fucking ramp!”
For the record, nobody breakfasting at the table had actually witnessed Edge’s fall – which happened to the unbridled delight of lazy headline writers the whole world over (‘THE EDGE MISSES THE EDGE!’ etc.). Very few amongst the near 20,000-strong Rogers Arena audience did. Of course, thanks to smartphone cameras and social media, millions have now seen it… and some of them probably sniggered.
In reality, it was only remotely funny because luckily no bones were broken. The consequences could have been serious – not to mention seriously expensive. Had Edge broken an arm, the accident could potentially have completely scuppered a major world tour that, before it had even begun, had already endured more than its fair share of mishaps and misfortunes. From Bono’s bike crash to the sad death of Larry Mullen’s father just as the tour was about to start – and with lots of other bad shit in between – U2 had basically limped not to the finish of iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE, but to its Canadian starting line.
Even so, against enormous odds, they delivered in spades. From blistering show opener ‘The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)’ to the classic ‘Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, and with 22 songs in between, their two-hour set – which featured seven numbers from thirteenth studio album Songs of Innocence – was heart-stoppingly dramatic, visually stunning, madly imaginative and hugely entertaining. What more could you ask for, from a band that could so easily just play a heritage set of hits and rake in millions? The Eagles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, AC/DC… not one of those bands could do what U2 keep doing.
Edge’s fall came as the band, still playing, were leaving via the lengthy walkway stage one by one. If memory serves correctly, the guitarist was first off with Adam, Larry and Bono still to go. I do remember wondering where he had suddenly disappeared to, and was there a trapdoor in the middle of the circular eXPERIENCE stage, but there was so much else going on that I didn’t have much time to ponder the matter.
Immediately afterwards, thanks to the insatiable demands of the internet, I had to dash back to the hotel to frantically write a live review for hotpress.com. I wasn’t even aware that Edge had tripped off the stage until several hours later. Given the creative brilliance of what I had just witnessed, I’m not even sure it would have warranted much of a mention.
Incidentally, during that review I described Bono’s stage persona as being reminiscent of Dennis Hopper’s Frank character in Blue Velvet – “slightly sleazy, slightly dangerous.” I stand by that, because Bono is acting as much as he is performing. With his black clothing, blond highlights and purple shades, the now 55-year-old looks like ZOO TV’s MacPhisto character brought down to earth (following a bicycle crash). He was fucking amazing on that stage, proving himself yet again to be one of the all time greatest frontmen in rock ‘n’ roll.
As we were having breakfast, a middle-aged American woman, wearing a U2 t-shirt, sitting at a nearby table heard our Irish accents and came over to us. Introducing herself as “Lorrie from Wisconsin,” she spoke passionately about her love of U2 and all things Irish. Although she considered herself late to the party, having only gotten into the band circa Achtung Baby, she still referred to the band’s fanbase as a “family.” She mentioned that she’d been holding hands with the people standing beside her at the walkway stage when they played ‘Every Breaking Wave’. “We just said to each other, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if this moment could last forever!’”
She was enormously enthusiastic, heartfelt and genuine. Then she mentioned her cat – and the fact that her cat hated U2 because a new tour by the band meant that Lorrie would be going away quite regularly. It was the kind of confession that leaves you speechless…
After she’d left, talk turned to the subject of U2 fandom. There were several cynical types present, but everybody confessed to a genuine liking for the famous Dubliners. Having had dinner with the band – sans Larry – the night before the show, I think all of us had genuinely been a bit concerned. Was Bono going to be able to deliver following his accident? Was Larry going to be able to contain his grief? Was Edge going to trip off the stage? (Actually, no one thought of that). Even a bunch of jaded hacks, me included, wanted the band to go successfully to the well one more time.
The truth is that it still feels amazing, somehow, that a bunch of Dublin teenagers, who formed a band whilst still at school, have gone on to become one of the biggest bands in the world. What’s more amazing is that they’ve stayed together for almost 40 years. And what’s even more amazing still is that they so obviously really care about what they do.
U2 have been a big part of my life. It might not seem like the most erotic setting imaginable, but I lost my virginity under an Unforgettable Fire poster. So I’m a fan of theirs not just for the music, which means so much to me for so many different reasons, but also their attitude. Having come of age in the grim religious surreality of Direland in the 1980s, Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam were always massively inspirational figures to me.
I’ve genuinely never harboured any ambitions to be a rock star, but I did want to live an interesting life and go to interesting places and meet interesting people. Even before I met them for the first time, U2 showed me that that was entirely possible. My career guidance teacher at school recommended the army. But I think he was trying to be smart.
Still, some U2 fans are obsessional. There had been a hardcore group of about 30 – from places as far afield as Japan, Switzerland, France, Australia, South America and the UK – sleeping in tents across the road from Rogers Arena from Monday, despite the fact that they all already had tickets for both shows. When I asked them why they were queueing three nights in advance, they told me it was because they wanted to be first in the door and right up beside the stage.
“You probably think we’re mad,” one of them said to me. There was nothing to do but smile in response.
For me personally, the Vancouver show was an energising blast. A badly needed reminder of why I love who I love, and why I love what I do.
Many long hours later, much of them spent in the sky over the Atlantic, I was sitting on the Go Bus from Dublin Airport to Galway when an apologetic text from Gavin Friday came in. As ever, Gavin has had a hand in the production of this show. He had been sitting just down from me in Rogers Arena, a few seats across from Bono’s wife Ali Hewson and Adam’s wife Mariana Teixeira de Carvalho. Although we’d waved at one another, Gavin was far too busy frantically scribbling production notes to come over and chat. He has been advising the band throughout their month-long rehearsals, but the opening night of any U2 tour truly is the Naked Lunch (“A frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork” – as Kerouac memorably told Burroughs). Rehearsals are all very well, but you don’t know something really works until you see how the crowd reacts.
“Sorry didn’t get to see Ya,” Gav’s text read. “Was looking after the Baby!” A text or two later, he explained, “It takes usually 6 shows before the Baby can really be Achtung!”
A little while later an email arrived from another camp insider. “Amazing gig tonight,” it read, about the band’s second Rogers Arena performance. “Band played tribute to B.B.King with ‘Angel of Harlem’. And they played ‘One’.”
On their opening night in Vancouver, U2’s Baby already looked pretty fucking Achtung to me – but by the sound of things, even two shows in, this journey into the unknown is beginning to pick up momentum. I have a sneaking suspicion that iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE is going to be absolutely unmissable by the time it hits Irish shores. Fasten your safety belts…