- 21 Nov 17
10 Hot Press writers share their favourite U2 moments as we get set for the release of Songs of Experience on December 1. Up first: Pat Carty takes us back to a beautiful day in Slane, 2001.
I guess I’m just the right age; I can measure my life, if I wished to do such a thing, by U2 releases and concerts. I could pick The Unforgettable Fire, perhaps the first record I bought that I still listen to, or working in a petrol station listening to Dave Fanning premiere ‘With Or Without You’ in 1987, scratching my head in confusion. I had a similar reaction hearing ‘The Fly’ for the first time, in a student flat in Maynooth just four short years later. I could go for listening to Zooropa everyday in 1993 as I took the subway from one end of New York to the other, my commute being so long, I might as well have stayed in Dublin. Or the release of How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb in 2004, which coincided with my daughter being seriously ill in hospital, making songs like ‘Miracle Drug’ and ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own’ very personal, and still difficult to listen to. I was so close to Adam Clayton I could have tripped him up as they laid waste to the 3Arena for their Innocence + Experience Tour, just as my divorce became final and I started a new life on my own. As they are for so many, U2’s songs are the songs of my experience. The first reviews for the new album whisper “best U2 album this century” but who knows? Olaf tells me it’s good, I trust him. I’m looking forward to hearing it for myself.
I could go for any number of things then, but I’ll take their triumphant Slane gigs in 2001. It was the end of the European leg of the Elevation tour, a hugely successful jaunt in support of 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, the one where they reapplied for the job of best band in the world, and, rather than the usual single Slane concert, U2 responded to the international clamour for tickets by playing twice. Through internet chicanery, I managed to get my hands on a few tickets to both shows, although at this remove they blend into one and my memories are possibly also coloured by the subsequent DVD. Two things do remain clear in my mind before the show even started. We got off the bus from Dublin and saw a young man who, even to this day, may be the most drunken person I have ever encountered, sitting in a hedge. As I looked on, he appeared to have one single moment of clarity where he realised he was never, ever going to get in. Perhaps he sits there still, as a warning to temperance. Before we could gain access, we were told to finish up the beer cans, and were shepherded into a nearby field, along with many others, to drink them down. The general mood was good, with much singing and laughter. One enthusiastic punter was flitting from group to group, asking who wanted to see his U2 Tattoo. Eventually, someone gave in and told him to go ahead. Our man dropped his pants and bent over to reveal ‘U’ in blue marker on one arse cheek and ‘2’ on the other, to a chorus of groans. Quick as a flash, he who had acquiesced to this display roared, “U – O – 2? What the hell does that mean?” to a round of loud guffaws.
U2 bashing, of Bono in particular, is a favourite national pastime at this point but there is always a sense of community and, if you’ll allow me, pride at these shows, never more so then at Slane. This almost nationalistic fervour was further fanned by the small matter of the football. You could easily fit all I know about competitive sport, and soccer in particular, on the back of a postage stamp, and still have room left for this article, but I was as caught up as everyone else as we watched the ball hit the back of the Dutch net on the big screen, our collective middle finger in the dike, averting the orange flood. U2 couldn’t have wished for a better opening act, and Bono, the greatest showman, with apologies to Mr. Philip Lynott, that this island has ever produced, knew full well what he was up to when he wrapped himself in the tricolour, that prop from his past, and told the crowd to “close their eyes and imagine it’s Jason McAteer!”
I’ve been going to see them for over thirty years at this point; they’re never less than very, very good, but this one was special. I can remember every single person in Slane jumping up and down for ‘Elevation’; swinging those inflatable shamrock hammers. It was quite the day out.
The real reason it sticks with me though, is simple and personal. In the lead up to the Slane, it was announced that Bono’s father was losing his battle with cancer and indeed, Bob Hewson passed away just a week before the first show. Bono told the story of his old man on both nights, about what a fine tenor he was, and dedicated ‘Kite’ to him. I had only that year lost my own Dad, also to cancer, so I felt deeply for the man and admired him with carrying on with the show in the first place. I fought back the tears for my father as the Edge’s guitar solo scraped the night sky. I’m not a spiritual person, at all, and it may have been the drink, of which there was plenty, but there, in a field, surrounded by thousands of delirious U2 fans, I felt… something. I was deeply, deeply moved, and isn’t that why we all gave our hearts up to music in the first place? The goal was, is, and always will be, soul.
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