- 19 Jun 18
Comes a time when there is a bit of explaining to do. But who is doing the talking? And can we believe a word of what we are being told? All of this, and a lot more besides, is at stake in U2’s eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE tour, which hit the road in the US a few short weeks ago. An extraordinary technological adventure, it tells the story of a rock ‘n’ roll band, from their early battles in Dublin to striding the biggest stages in the world. Shot through with a chilling dystopian thread, it poses what may be the ultimate question: is there any hope for us at all? Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Willie Williams and Ric Lipson set the scene. And Macphisto adds his two cents worth. Reading between the lines, would you welcome, please: Mr. Pat Carty.
Tulsa, Oklahoma. Situated on the Arkansas River, between the Osage Hills and the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, it was built by the Lochapoka Band of the Native American tribe known as Creeks. But it is best known for a song written by the peerless songwriting duo of Hal David and Burt Bacharach, which was a big hit in the UK for Gene Pitney.
The narrator in the song had been on a long road trip across the American hinterland. Tired from driving all day, he decided he was too bushwhacked to continue and needed some kip.
In all innocence, it seems, he stopped off for the night in an unspecified, distant town and then… well, something happened. To him. Something totally unpredictable and disruptive. A life-changing experience.
“And that is when I saw her,” Gene Pitney sings. “As I pulled in outside of the small hotel she was there/ And so I walked up to her / Asked where I could get something to eat/ and she showed me where.”
And then comes the killer revelation. It’s like a certain Macphisto phoning in and talking to someone else’s wife. Except it isn’t. <i.“Oh, I was only twenty four hours from Tulsa,” he declares, “Only one day away from your arms/ She took me to the café/ I asked her if she would stay/ She said ‘Okay’…”
What happens in that forever unnamed spot next feels grimly inevitable. Shenanigans of a sexual variety ensue. “I hate to do this to you,” the narrator apologises to his wife, who is now summarily consigned to the dustbin of history, “But I love somebody new/ What can I do/ When I can never, never, never go home again.”
To locals, Tulsa is an oil town first and foremost. But to the rest of the world it is a synonym for Marital Infidelity. “Sounds like my kinda place,” Sam Snort had said to me in a pre-trip debriefing. And who was I to argue? He’s a pal of Macphisto’s, after all.
Tulsa is a long old schlep from Dublin town, but I was looking forward to it already...
It Was The Question We Got Wrong
By the time the great and good of the Irish media arrived in Tulsa, we had little choice but to repair to the bar, in a vain attempt to stave off the onset of jetlag. So we did. And what a bar it was. If you have a hankering to see the minutiae of the Big Dog Daddy’s career on display, then ‘Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill’ really is the place to be.
Then again, unappetising as it might sound, Toby Keith’s surely represents an oasis of class and good taste amid the sea of slot machines, manned by Walking Dead extras, that constitutes the Hard Rock Casino Hotel. You can gamble twenty-four hours a day here, although you’ll get turfed out of the bar long before that. The eye-popping sensory overload of flashing neon might seem more suited to the ZOO-TV era U2, than the current, more low-key model. But who cares? Every gambler knows that to lose is what we’re really here for. We might as well get on with it…
On the run-up to the opening night of the eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE tour, hints about what we might expect from the new show had been thin on the ground. I had downloaded the U2eXPERIENCE app, and pointed my phone, as instructed, at the Songs Of Experience album cover to see a brief snippet of an augmented reality Bono croon the opening bars of ‘Love Is All We Have Left’.
That, however, told me precisely nothing about the show. Back at the bar, bleary eyed, I asked RTÉ’s motor-mouth wax-juggler, and long-time U2 associate, Dave Fanning, what he knew. He speculated that elements of the iNNOCENCE tour would be retained, but otherwise he was as clueless as me.
Over breakfast the next morning, I put the same question to Telegraph journalist and former Hot Press-er Neil McCormick, a friend of the band since their school days. He was at a loss too, although we did have fun speculating on future U2 tours. After all, Roy Orbison’s hologram has been selling tickets, and that same week ABBA had announced that they were planning to send out avatars of their younger selves.
All we needed now was to hear that Gene Pitney’s hologram was rejoining The Rolling Stones as support act for the remainder of their world tour. By the time it’s U2’s turn, perhaps it will be Bono’s cryogenically preserved body that will do the honours.
“Nothing wrong with that concept,” Sam said to me down the line later. I scratched my head and said nothing. I felt like I was still twenty-four hours from Tulsa. It was time to take a nap.
We Ate The Food, We Drank The Wine
It’s disconcerting, to say the least, for a neophyte, to have The Edge and Adam Clayton walk into the dining room where you’ve just pushed back your dinner plate, but there’s no time for idle gawping. These men are under pressure, one day away from show time. And there’s more work to do. Lots of it.
“It’s all hands on deck”, says The Edge, sipping a glass of red. “This part of the process, when it all starts to come together, is exciting but also frustrating as it’s only when you really see it all in a room, that you get a sense of what’s working. We have a lot of production ideas that end up in the bin, where you think: ‘that really doesn’t work’. You have to ask if it’s not working or if it’s just badly executed.”
Is there ever a worry that the technology will get in way of the songs, drowning the sound with light?
“Finding the creative use for all this technology is the most challenging aspect”, The Edge continues, “it’s such a nuanced thing to find that right blend between letting the songs speak for themselves and using the production to give them more potency and power to connect.”
“The tech is one half of what you’ve got to do”, Adam reflects. “Thirty-five years ago, when we played in Cain’s Ballroom on the other side of town, we were probably the first European band to come through that month, so people were interested. Nowadays, there’s a band through every weekend and they’ve all got bells and whistles, so we like to play with that technology and try and do something different.
“You can’t deny that all this is now part of the vocabulary of these big shows. That being said, when I’m off, I tend to want to put the phone down. I don’t really like getting my information that way, as I don’t know who’s editing it and vetting it. I’m not tied to it all the time. I prefer to go for a walk.”
With other acts and venues trying to quash the use of phones at gigs, why are U2 embracing it with the augmented reality U2eXPERIENCE smartphone app.?
“I don’t really mind the phones,” Edge says. “Our attitude is that it’s going to happen anyway, so we may as well incorporate it into the show. Someone filming a moment is not in that moment. With the app you are experiencing something that is happening live, but you can only experience it through your smart phone. But it’s just at the start of the show, it doesn’t run for the whole event.”
Speaking of Cain’s Ballroom, why start in Tulsa?
“Well, we definitely didn’t want to open in New York or LA”, The Edge answers. “We wanted somewhere with a little less pressure, and we hadn’t played Tulsa in living memory. It also dawned on us that this is quite a conservative part of America, so it’s exciting for the show to be seen for the first time in a place that’s not a typical rock n’ roll centre.” That’s putting it mildly. There’s another factor to consider here: in the 2016 presidential election, Trump took a whopping 65% of the Oklahoman vote. The Republicans have triumphed in every presidential run here since 1968. Were the band aware of this going in?
“The fact that it’s so conservative was not that big a part of the decision,” Edge argues, “but it’s exciting when you think about it. America is not an homogenised country. It’s so diverse, and I’m curious to see what the audience think of the show. This is a part of America that is often misunderstood, but we’re respectful of the conservative part of the landscape. We can agree on a lot, but we’re not shying away from the issues that we feel strongly about.”
So there’s content in the show that might upset some people?
“I hope so,” laughs Adam.
The Edge is a bit more sanguine: “I think it’s gonna ruffle some feathers certainly, although we don’t address ‘him’ directly, we address the issues and ideas that we’ve always been interested in – equality and injustice. I don’t want to talk too much about ‘him’.”
There’s a pause and Adam steps in.
“What’s important to us is to always be aware what’s going on politically”, he says, “and what’s been really interesting in the last three of four years, with Brexit and the American election, is that millennials and people who weren’t that interested in politics are now very interested. When you realise that some very clever people are manipulating the political arena, and the media, you start to ask questions. A vote can be a manipulated thing rather than a heartfelt move in one particular direction.”
“Every time we go in to make an album we try to find a way to get inspired by what’s happening in the culture,” Edge resumes. “That’s the natural way for us to stay relevant and also challenge ourselves, so we don’t get too comfortable. That process is important to the band, otherwise you end up in a kind of cultural Oxbow Lake – everyone else has moved on and you’re back where you were ten years ago.”
With the bells and whistles, playing such a large part in the show, it must be impossible to decide on a whim to do ‘Party Girl’. Is the set list set in stone?
“We have sections of the show that are pretty well formed as a set-piece and other places where it’s pretty loose,” Edge responds. “We’ll get used to how it all fits together, then we’ll see where there are opportunities to change it up and try different things. U2 shows are never in a stable condition: it’s either on the way to being perfected or, once we feel that it’s there, we’re dismantling it, and trying different things. There’s always a process of change.”
Adam again: “With the set-list, you start by trying to figure out the new songs to put in. We’re trying to not do anything from Joshua Tree back, so it’s only Achtung Baby and after. ‘The Blackout’ is going to be a firestorm of sonics, but also the quiet, more poignant songs like ‘There Is A Light' are going to be very special in front of an audience.”
I’m assuming the set-list will concentrate then on telling the iNNOCENCE & eXPERIENCE story…
“There is a narrative,” The Edge muses, “but at the same time we don’t want it to be a case of bashing people over the head. There’s a lot to discover, even if you don’t understand the narrative at all. I don’t want people to think they’re going to a piece of musical theatre. The narrative helped inform us about how the songs should go, and, because of that, it’s a show that doesn’t rely too heavily on the greatest hits – there are currently no Joshua Tree songs at all. There are some well-known songs, but we’re playing a lot from this double-album, as it were.”
In a way, U2’s most recent tours form an arc of sorts – iNNOCENCE was a young bad starting out; Joshua Tree was the band conquering the world; and eXPERIENCE has several references to a longing for home.
“The Joshua Tree part of that was not deliberate,” The Edge smiles. “It was more a happenstance kind of thing, but definitely, with iNNOCENCE and eXPERIENCE, there was an arc we were aware of. The iNNOCENCE tour was easier because it was rooted in our earlier history and the beginnings of what the band was about. This time, we’re into a more nuanced thing. What have you got to offer? What have you got to say for yourself, based on everything that you’ve been through?
“I liked Brendan Kennelly’s advice to write as if you were dead, disregard any of the constraints that polite society might put on your work, the worry that you might cross a line or offend somebody: just be honest and up front. There’s a lot of personal material in these last two records that wouldn’t necessarily be something we would want to go into and explain, as that can ruin it. I don’t think we’ve ever been this personal before.”
The end of this arc might seem like a logical place to either stop completely, or at least take a break.
“I think we are going to take a little bit of a break. Definitely a long weekend,” Edge laughs as the car is pulled around to pick the boys up. There is another rehearsal to be done.
Back at the hotel, I mulled the subject of endings with Neil McCormick. Given Bono’s brush with mortality, might U2 consider calling it a day? “I don’t think so,” Neil said. “I once asked Keith Richards the same thing about The Rolling Stones, and he said they’ve never even had that conversation. With U2, I don’t think the idea has ever really come up.”
A Trip Through Their Wires
With the greatest respect, there’s not an awful lot for a visitor to do in Tulsa. Hot Press briefly visited the Woody Guthrie Center but my trip coincided with a school tour of some fifty-odd noisily uninterested students.
Before I beat a hasty retreat, I got to see Billy Bragg’s guitar – and, bizarrely, would end up telling the Bard of Barking himself all about this in a Kilmainham pub only a few days later. But that – like the phone call which denied me entry to the Bob Dylan archive on the same day, or the gathering of U2 fans at Tulsa’s Center Of The Universe who recognised Hot Press and fired questions as if there were no tomorrow – is another story.
And so the BOK Center. It’s a multi-purpose arena, built less than ten years ago at a cost of about $200 million. It towers over its surroundings. The circular structure, with a capacity of just under 20,000, is impressive inside and out.
U2’s stage almost divides it in half. If you attended the iNNOCENCE tour, you’ll recognise the set-up: the main stage at one end, the huge screen, hanging from the ceiling, stretching across the arena’s floor to reach the secondary ‘b’ stage at the other. It looks extraordinary, and it’s not even turned on yet.
Set designer Willie Williams has worked with U2 since the early ‘80s. Zoo-TV, 360°: they all started with his magic pencils. He is aided and abetted by Ric Lipson and the good people at Stufish Entertainment Architects. Ric has worked on everything from last year’s Joshua Tree tour to the Jesus Christ Superstar arena run round.
“The story always comes first”, Williams tells me. “This all started five years ago and was initially going to be two years – one of iNNOCENCE, one of eXPERIENCE – but life got in the way. Bono fell off his bike, and then they did the Joshua Tree tour, which was initially going to be two shows but ended up being a year, so it’s ended up being a trilogy really. Because the narrative in the albums is so strong, we realised the physical design of the show wasn’t leading the process, which was really unusual. But I’m really pleased. I feel that with this show, we’ve managed to tie up some of the loose ends. It’s still a big rock show – we’re not putting on a musical – but a lot of the themes get resolved.”
“This band are very interested in using technology to push narrative”, Lipson continues. “They don’t have the biggest, most high-resolution screens just because they can, it’s to tell a better story.”
“If the tours had followed each other in 2015 and ‘16, as was the original plan, there would have been less pressure to reinvent the staging,” Williams reflects. “But because there have been two years in between, we felt we had to come back with something different. When you walk into the show, it appears to be the same, but it’s a lot… cleverer. Since the beginning of the iNNOCENCE tour, the technology has moved on so much, so there are a lot of things we can just do better. The screen is nearly ten times the resolution of what it was, 40% more see through and half the weight. Mind you, it is also 40% more expensive.”
Williams was also involved in the integration of the U2eXPERIENCE app into the show.
“The app was really just to see what happened,” he says. “The band are not afraid to experiment. Bono likes to attempt stuff and even when it doesn’t work, his response is ‘well, it could have worked!’ The idea of the app always seemed unlikely to me – would it work, would it fit into the narrative – so I’m quite amazed it went all the way. I was fascinated with the challenge of trying to make it part of the communal experience.”
Is the scale of the show going to fit in the 3Arena?
“Yes, because we’ve sold tickets!” says Williams, half-seriously. “With the iNNOCENCE screen, there was literally about a foot between the end of it and the balcony, and this one is about half-a-metre longer, but we’ll find a way. A lot of the show will be more bespoke for Dublin anyway. I’m lucky: once the show is up and running, I can run away and hide.”
Lipson goes deeper into the mechanics of the whole thing giving Hot Press a guided tour of the stage itself. We start on the ‘b’ platform, which has been upgraded from the previous jaunt.
“There was a large ‘e’ here on the previous tour, but it’s now rebuilt as a video floor which allows us to integrate more visual effects. The previous show started very low tech, but this one is full-on from the start, so this stage is much more integrated.”
From this small stage, we step onto the gangway within the screen itself, which sways as soon as you mount it.
“For the iNNOCENCE show, the screen was almost a prop – the whole theme was dividing the audience, the North from the Southside, the way the band felt divided from the world – so it was a barricade concept: it was a sculptural object that just happened to have some video on the side. As the catwalk is now separate, it can fly inside and below the screen. There’s some beautiful moments within the show where we use that. It creates a more high-tech vibe, which is what eXPERIENCE is all about.”
Stood inside the screen, noticing the marks on the floor telling Bono to stand here and Adam to stand over there, you can begin to see how it will all work. It is practically transparent for a start.
“The screen is carbon fibre which makes it pretty much invisible,” Lipson ad libs, “so when you see the band inside it’s so much clearer than it was.”
The weight must be incredible. How does it all stay up?
“There are sixty heavy moving parts to this. It’s about as heavy as you can get: two hundred tonnes or something crazy like that. If we were in an arena and it was snowing, we might have a problem. In most of the venues you can’t hang too much more, especially if it has to take a snow load.”
Is there more than one of these marvels to make the logistics easier?
“It is just too expensive to have more than one. There’s only one of everything and it will be in St Louis doing a show forty-eight hours from now! Ten hours to put up, four hours to take down – if there’s ever a major fault, the only way to fix it is to take it all down, so the crew have gotten pretty good at it.”
Walking onto the main stage from the screen catwalk is an odd sensation: it all seems smaller than expected. There’s Larry’s drum-kit and there’s Edge’s surprisingly modest pedal board, with long-time guitar handler Dallas Schoo working away close by. But it’s all surprisingly bare.
“We actually got rid of the back line, when we did The Joshua Tree,” Lipson explains. “It was such a beautiful set that the band decided they didn’t want all those amps on stage anymore. Rock ‘n’ Roll has always been about seeing how many blinking lights and speakers you could have, but now they’ve decided ‘we’re doing art’. This band has always transcended the norm and made a new norm. Even though it physically resembles the old show, it’s been completely reimagined.
“The sections from the iNNOCENCE show that have been retained – because they’re telling the story of eXPERIENCE and iNNOCENCE – have been completely reworked. It’s been rebooted with new technologies and new equipment, including an upgraded sound setup. This album is so much more orchestrated in parts and you get that full effect with this new surround system. This all allows the story to be presented in a more interesting, cerebral way. It’s very theatrical, but in a manly rock n’ roll way.”
The Show Man Gives You The Front Row
The band are still finessing things as show time approaches. We’re allowed to watch them sound check a few songs from a respectable distance on the venue floor. If the fifteen-year-old me were here, he would have exploded by now. The Edge makes constant suggestions and adjustments as the band blast through a very loud ‘All Because Of You’ and ‘I Will Follow’.
Hot Press is leaning against a barricade, trying to write all this down, when a voice asks how it’s sounding. It’s Bono, having moved down the gangway. Without thinking, HP jokingly replies that, “Yeah, it’s all right.” Bono chuckles and moves onto the ‘b’ stage.
When the singer reaches the smaller stage, the band launch into a coruscating run at ‘Until The End Of The World’, allowing Bono to rehearse the ‘spitting water’ bit that was such a memorable part of the iNNOCENCE show. The Edge stands on the catwalk within the screen while Bono gets to his cue in front of a camera on the small stage, spitting out several mouthfuls of water. On the screen he towers over the Edge as he solos. It is a fascinating glimpse behind the curtain.
Our time is up. We’re being led out as the band continue to chip away at problems that possibly only they might ever notice. But before we exit, a now familiar voice behind us enquires as to where we are going. We had been warned before hand that there wouldn’t be any time with Bono, but he shakes hands and thanks us all for making the long journey, working the room like only he, and a very few others, can.
“It’s sort of like doing a Marvel movie except you’re taking it to a different city every few days,” he says. “Worse than that, for me, it’s a Marvel film where you’ve got to method act; you have to get right inside the songs in order to sing them. The show is a technical monster, but it has to have a big bloody heart inside of it. It’s a very unusual way to earn a living.
“It was going really shite in the dress rehearsal,” he adds, “but I think we’ve put some things in place that will make it a little less indulgent. It’s a very personal story, and, because I’m the singer, we use me to tell it, even though it could be Larry or Adam or Edge’s story. Cedarwood Road was a beautiful little street – but, of course, it’s what’s in your head that counts. It probably wasn’t really a war zone in my teens, but it was to me. So it’s a very personal story that I’m trying to take the solipsistic out of, which is kind of impossible. But you don’t want to be too self-indulgent either, ‘cause it’s a rock ‘n’ roll band in the end.”
He’s on a bit of a roll now.
“We played here thirty-five years ago. There’s a place called Cain’s Ballroom, where Sid Vicious famously punched a hole in the wall, and they didn’t fix it: they put a frame around it, and it’s still there. We played there, although we couldn’t drink because we were underage, which is interesting. And we also played the Brady Theatre, which was the first tour with Willie Williams. Willie runs this whole thing, along with Gavin Friday, and Edge’s wife Morleigh, and Ric Lipson, the tech genius: Ric is to cables what the Edge is to strings!”
The band start up again.
“I’m not joking,” he grins. “Edge has sound-checked ‘I Will Follow’ for this tour for maybe six hours, and he’s pretty sure this is the best one yet.”
With that, the singer returns to the stage. We head for the door.
A Spectacle Is Just The Start Of The Show
I finished my review of the show at four in the morning in order to take advantage of the time difference. I pressed send and within half an hour it was online on hotpress.com. It does manage to cover a lot of ground, despite being composed through zombie eyes. Although running to nearly 2,000 words, however, it was not the whole story.
Both The Edge and Willie Williams had played down the importance of the U2eXPERIENCE app within the show, and they were right to do so. It’s an interesting idea, but it doesn’t add an awful lot to the proceedings.
When you take your seat before the show and point your phone at the stage, a waterfall graphic appears. When the show opens with ‘Love Is All We Have Left’, the AR Bono that materialised with the album cover reappears, lullabying from your device, but the real thing is there on the stage. “Well, it could have worked”, as the man himself once said. As Ric Lipson promised, the screen, and the catwalk within the screen, are more integrated into the show than before. For ‘The Blackout’ the band are backlit as ominous wraith-like shadows; the catwalk becomes an incline and Bono struggles against it as he reaches for the ‘Lights Of Home’. The video floor of the second stage updates the “preacher stealing hearts at a travelling show” of ‘Desire’ to a game show host.
The screen is essential to the ‘Cedarwood Road’ section, telling the story of the band’s youth from Bono’s bedroom to the Dublin bombings of 1974. This may have caused some confusion to a Tulsa audience understandably less than familiar with Irish history, but it’s essential to the yarn being told.
Williams, Lipson, The Edge, and even Bono, were all keen in advance to stress that this was not some piece of musical theatre, but perhaps they protested too much. A story, the band’s story, is being told – from the earliest days going out into the world, conquering that world, and then returning home. If and when they do finally decide to hang up their rock ‘n’ roll shoes, there is a show within this show that could carry on in their names. Neither holograms nor cryogenically preserved bodies would be required.
You Can Feel The Enemy
During the brief encounter pre-show with Bono, one telling detail nudged into view. A copy of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters had been tossed on the floor. This wasn’t some oversized prop either, just the ordinary paperback edition that someone had been flicking through. It is key, perhaps, to understanding the show’s most challenging and impressive section.
Bono has mined this source in the past – his cartoon image can be seen reading it before being run over by Elvis in the video for 1995’s ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’. The book, a series of letters, epistles even, in which the demon Screwtape advises his nephew Wormwood in the ways of securing the damnation of souls, was also one of the main sources of inspiration behind Bono’s Macphisto character, the gold suited, be-horned trickster who made those legendary phone calls from the Zoo-TV stage all those years ago.
The first hint at Macphisto’s return comes in the anime video that plays over Gavin Friday’s version of the same ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me’ during the closest thing this show has to an intermission. The clip depicts the young band being shown the way from innocence to experience by a shadowy figure, who presents the business card of “Wormwood & Macphisto Inc. Bespoke Atonement Services” before giving them a lift from Cedarwood Road to Las Vegas.
There’s a quote attributed to Edward de Bono (no relation, as far as I know!), “Mock the devil, and he will flee from thee.” It is adapted from the New Testament Epistle Of James, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The Edge had said that they weren’t going to mention Trump by name, and they don’t, but there can be little doubt at whom Macphisto’s reappearance is aimed.
Screwtape, at one point in the book, describes his symbol for hell to Wormwood as “something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.” Check. Just like Satan’s presence as Professor Woland, in Mikhail Bulgakov’s portrait of life in Stalin’s Russia, The Master And Margarita (the inspiration behind Jagger’s time-hopping demon in ‘Sympathy For The Devil’), MacPhisto has returned at a time when he can be most effective.
“Lust, deceit, vanity, all the essentials for a showman, and a licence to just look in the mirror,” Bono proclaims by way of introduction. “Haven’t seen this guy in quite a while.” There may, of course, be a passing reference here to Judas, the betrayer of ‘Until The End Of The World’. Earlier in the evening a man with a megaphone stood outside the venue, decrying Bono and U2 for having “betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ.” The pieces fit beautifully. We’re in the Bible Belt, Jesus is big business here. There are probably places where it’s more acceptable to turn up in horns, but what the hell? A band’s gotta do what a band’s gotta do..
Bono completes his transformation with the aid of a simple video filter, shot through an iPad, and for all the millions spent on tonight’s show, this cheap trick might be the most effective. “The truth is dead, and the KKK are on the streets of Charlottesville. When you don’t believe that I exist, that’s when I do my best work,” MacPhisto declares, by way of an introduction to ‘Acrobat’ and the song’s opening lines, “Don’t believe what you hear/ Don’t believe what you see.”
This song, never before performed live, reminds us we can “feel the enemy.” But “the enemy” is how Screwtape refers to Jesus, so the message is scrambled. Confusion reigns. As ever, U2 are at the heart of the contradiction. “Nothing makes sense, don’t let the bastards grind you down,” is the defiant howl, before The Edge drives the message home with a screaming solo that comes from somewhere very dark indeed.
In the following relative calm of ‘Staring At The Sun’, as the footage from Charlottesville plays on the big screen, Bono repeats again and again the refrain “happy to go blind.” Macphisto has gone, his second coming work is done, the rough beast is loose. Anything can happen. That was never going to be the end of the story though. U2 have always held on to an unshakeable belief in the idea of America. In ‘Pride’, and even more so in eXPERIENCE’s ‘American Soul’, performed in front of a huge stars and stripes, they celebrate an ideal that refuses to lie down and die. “It’s not a place,” Bono sings, “this country is to me a thought/ that offers grace.” During the encore performance of ‘One’, the arena morphs into a cathedral, as a thousand lit phones are raised, reminding us “to carry each other.”
The show’s real message, the beating heart at the centre of this technological monster, is finally one of hope in the darkness; and of faith, however forlorn it might seem at times, that love will triumph over hate. How can it not, for ‘Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way’? Or maybe it’s all just rock ‘n’ roll. Either way, Tulsa likes it. And perhaps, only twenty-four hours away, the ghost of a character long forgotten by most is deciding that he can, after all, finally, go home again.