- 18 Nov 15
Barney blew with all its might, but nothing could compare to the hurricane that stormed through Belfast’s SSE Arena tonight. For the first time in almost two decades, U2 were back in town.
After a black weekend, and a grey day, came a kaleidoscopic evening in Belfast; the fans dressed in white; the sentiment tinged with red, white and blue; and U2 were live, in glorious technicolour.
Striding onstage at 8:37, shortly after the scheduled kick-off, it was the band’s first appearance in Belfast since a very famous night in 1998, when John Hume and David Trimble were brought on stage in one of the most iconic images on this island in living memory. It was a year earlier that the band last headlined in the city; plenty of reason, then, why the roof nearly lifted as Patti Smith’s ‘People Have The Power’ gave way to the opening refrains of ‘The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)’.
By now, the setlist of the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour is pretty finely tuned, so it was to be expected that curveballs would be somewhat limited. Then again, when you have a back catalogue that allows everything from ‘The Electric Company’ to ‘Iris’ – through ‘Vertigo’ and ‘I Will Follow’ – to be unleashed before the clock had even struck nine, who needs surprises?
One unwelcome disruption that had been mooted was the possibility of unrest during ‘Raised By Wolves’, a track about the Dublin/Monaghan bombings of May 1973. Jim Rodgers, the former Lord Mayor of Belfast, had asserted, “they must amend the set list before coming to Belfast,” adding, “in the worst case scenario there could be a riot.”
In reality, following straight after ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, it supplied one of the evening’s standout moments. Perhaps it was in light of the horrific atrocities in Paris on Friday – which saw two of the band’s shows cancelled – but the phrase “Let them not be forgotten” projected on the giant runway suspended over the stage was never more meaningful; the “Stronger than fear” refrain never more powerful.
Surprisingly, however, the Parisian tragedy was not mentioned at any great length. The opening song of the encore, ‘City Of Blinding Lights’, was dedicated to The City of Light itself, with the arena bathed in the colours of the Tricolore and the screens bearing the now ubiquitous symbol of the Eiffel Tower combined with a peace sign. For the most part, though, the events of Friday were not addressed in an obvious manner.
“I was taken aback that they didn’t dwell on Paris,” opined Today FM’s Ed Smith, breathless at the conclusion of the performance. “'Bullet The Blue Sky’ is obviously overtly political, but the visuals for that were of Syria. I don’t know if it was wise or unwise, but I would have expected them to use the night as a platform; they didn’t get into it at all.”
Instead, it was moments of levity that particularly caught the eye. One Italian fan had her Kodak moment when dancing on stage for ‘Mysterious Ways’; it quickly turned to a selfie moment as she captured ‘Elevation’ for posterity, at proximity. Her up-close-and-personal experience might be one for the grandkids, but anyone lucky enough to blag a ticket went home with a beaming grin.
“He had them eating out the palm of his hand,” Ed chuckled, marvelling at Bono’s masterful performance. “They haven’t sounded as good in a long time, they haven’t aged; the fact that Bono's hair is like Sting's in Quadrophenia was just about the only bum-note of the night!”
Indeed, as a deafening 11,000 strong chorus of ‘One’ closed the evening, the first chapter of a harmonious homecoming was complete. Roll on tomorrow night.