- 28 Oct 18
Lights Of Home: U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour Finally Arrives In Ireland. Our Man In Belfast: Pat Carty. Pics: Glen Bollard
It’s a long way from May to November, as the old song nearly goes. Our European brothers and sisters, more of whom later, will already have been aware of this, but the show, the big show, is now a different eXPERIENCE from the one Hot Press witnessed on that opening night in Tulsa. With the finish line in sight, U2 have refitted the machine, stripped it back, gone away and dreamt it all up again. The original show was heavy with narrative, weaving the story line from the Songs of Innocence album into the declarations from Songs Of Experience. The Cedarwood Road section, the backbone of the original show, and the dazzling visuals that went with it, have been placed on a shelf, the message has changed. Theatrical flourishes remain, of course, for this is U2 we’re talking about after all, but, yet again, they’ve taken something that was great and made it even better.
The opening section is still familiar. Interference crawls up the giant screen, which divides the SSE arena, as Noel Gallagher’s ‘It’s A Beautiful World’ plays. The images slip from Rorschahian brain scans to the ruined remains of European cities in the wake of war, the music changes to the opening chords of ‘Zooropa’, with a line from ‘Love Is All We Have Left’ – “Nothing to stop this being the best day ever”, and that great speech from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator flashes across the screen “I’m sorry, I don’t want to be an emperor”. The pace quickens as Chaplin bemoans how humanity has lost its way but there is hope if we unite to fight for a decent world against the brutes that have risen to power as images of Trump, Putin and Jong-Un stain the screen only to be cleansed away by the triumphant image of Chaplin calling for unity in front of the flag of Europe. The bass thump of “The Blackout” takes over, the shadows of the band pressed against the screen like some nightmare combination of the Slender Man and, of all things, Superman’s phantom zone, but the message is becoming clear: “when the lights go out, don’t you ever doubt, the light that we can really be.” ‘Lights Of Home’, perhaps the best track from Songs of Experience, carries it on, “free yourself to be yourself” as Bono climbs a steep incline on the screen - the struggle to reach for the light is a worthwhile one.
But this is a rock n’ roll show. ‘I Will Follow’ has the stands shaking as the people of Belfast pound their feet for “a band from the northside of Dublin called The U2, formerly The Hype” and that nagging, immortal guitar riff. Each member’s brief solo turn during ‘Gloria’ - complete with snatches of Van and Patti - reminds anyone who needs reminding that this is one of the great live bands, who don’t require advanced technological theatrics in order to deliver. The screen starts to come back on for ‘Beautiful Day’ but it’s still just four men playing their hearts out, as the lights flash up on the ecstatic crowd, roaring every word. Bono thanks everyone for showing up and recalls Adam Clayton and a bottle of wine in the boot of a blue Lancia back in 1979, worrying the security services, when they first played in Belfast, supporting Squeeze.
The Bang And The Clatter
On a more serious note, he explains that tonight is about a romance with great European cities like Belfast, Dublin, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, and Berlin, as the industrial opening of ‘Zoo Station’ kicks in and the “Euro” section of the show begins. Cedarwood Road was the band looking in on themselves, reflecting on their own story. Now they want to address what’s happening to the European ideal that they believe in. The image of the European flag with its twelve gold stars representing the notions of unity and solidarity among the people of Europe is a constant presence throughout the show, and the band return to their most European sounding album – if you’ve turned up expecting anything from The Joshua Tree, you’re a couple of years too late - 1991’s masterpiece, Achtung Baby – the one that even the most vehement U2 detractors will reluctantly agree is great – to soundtrack it. ‘The Fly’ - not so much “the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree”, as Bono once remarked, as it is the sound of them forcing said Tree into a wood chipper and then torching what remains – is furious under a screen flashing Eurocentric phrases, the platform display of the railway station where Bono is making the “phone call from hell”. “When we recorded that, it didn’t sound that good”, Bono tells the Edge as the song finishes. He might be right.
He recalls how the walls were going up in U2 while they were coming down in Berlin as they worked on these songs, they went looking for their heroes and all they found were ghosts. The Edge begins ‘Stay (Faraway, So Close!)’, a song that they first worked on in those fraught Achtung sessions and featured in the Wim Wenders’ movie of almost the same name about fallen angels in a reunified Berlin. It doesn’t get much more Eurocentric than that.
All four of them are back under the screen, which isn’t really seeing as much use as it did earlier in the tour, for ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’, the Achtung song that most harkens back to the arms-wide-open U2 they were before the Berlin reboot. The screen closes down on them, and this section of the show, as The Edge, Adam, and Larry pound out the final chords.
Heaven Or Las Vegas
The animation interlude, complete with Gavin Friday’s version of ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’ has been retained. The band adrift on a sea on indecision are rescued by a shadowy character who promises them the bright lights of success, heaven by way of Vegas, or as theologian and philosopher D.B. Hart would have it, “wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience”, but we’re not there yet. The sitar-heavy Influx remix of ‘Elevation’ plays over lava lamp graphics, “Are you ready to get high?” Bono asks, the crowd are ahead of him, already Oohing for all they’re worth. We’re on the small “e stage” at the end of the screen now, watching the best club band in the world – albeit one playing on a flashing technological marvel - Bono a twisted wedding singer in top hat, makeup and sequin lapelled jacket. ‘Vertigo’ breaks down to just Larry’s hi-hat and Adam’s bass before they’re back looking for ghosts, quoting Bowie’s ‘Rebel, Rebel’.
“Willkommen, Bienvenue, Howsaboutye, Welcome to the Experience of Innocence” Bono breaks down what being a rock star does to the mind. He’s been tapped on the shoulder and told, “you’re no rock star, you’re little Paul from no. 10”, but he’s not having it. “Paul is dead, I’m fucking Bono! We’re the greatest rock n’ roll band on the northside of Dublin!” It’s no idle boast as the band slip into the T. Rex-goes-to-Venus groove of ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’ and the lead singer coaxes the crowd into a bit of 'Radio Ga-Ga' style clapping, recognising the audience’s roar as the band’s drug of choice, under a spinning mirror ball. But lest we forget that this is a serious party, MacPhisto shows up, warning that the easiest way to burn down Stormont is to simply do nothing, when you ignore him, he does his best work. Apathy is the enemy. ‘Acrobat’ counters his smug declarations, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”. The Edge’s solo is blistering, but it is Larry Mullen who carries it, prompting Bono to ask what kind of drumming was that, and later add that his friend has never played better in his life.
The Showman Gives You Front Row To His Heart
Bono’s now talking into a mirror, wiping away the makeup “It is what it is, but it’s not what it seems”. He’s stripping away the façade, exposing his heart again as the music turns acoustic. Even in the “ironic U2” years, they couldn’t deny the longing to connect; they were always trying to throw their arms around the world. ‘You’re The Best Thing About Me’ is another song in that vein, a declaration of love, presented here as a slowed down ballad. ‘Summer Of Love’ almost sounds like a War-era outtake on record but now it’s just Bono and The Edge, as the screen come back and the image of a blue sea is rent by the approach of refugees. ‘This is not who you are! This is who we are!” The chords of ‘Pride’ ring out as the band take positions in the four corners of the arena, Bono dedicating the song to the memory of John Hume, “a song for a man who never asked for one”. It’s a euphoric moment as every voice joins the chorus.
We’re back to the message of Europe as something worth fighting for, ‘Get Out Of Your Own Way’ is played to images of the various cities of the continent, which dissolve to stars and then back to that flag again. “May those yellow stars never fall!” ‘New Year’s Day’ is reworked with a growing synthesised pulse that builds up behind Edge’s piano lines, but it’s still the same message of unity, before Bono hums the melody of Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’, the anthem of Europe, by way of an introduction to ‘City Of Blinding Lights’. The stage is now a Mondrianesque lattice board of colour, the song ending with an aerial view of the lights of Belfast before the band take their bows for the end of this “very special night”.
But it’s not over just yet. Jim O’Rourke’s ‘Women Of The World’ – “take over, ‘cause if you don’t the world will come to an end” – is followed by Bono promising to say the same thing when they get to Dublin, “when the dust settles, no matter if there’s a hard or a soft or no border at all, we need to trust each other on this small island and negotiate the rough weather together”. He knows it’s ok to trust other people; he’s only one quarter of the artist U2, and only half a man without his partner Ali. We need to carry each other. ‘One’ turns the SSE into a church, as thousands of phones are held aloft in the darkness. We “can’t hold onto hurt” for “there is no them, there’s only us”.
Back in Tulsa, ‘Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way’ was a song of defiance, a promise that love would conquer the hate that was rising in the world, played not long after Nazism had raised its ugly head on the streets of Charlotte, but tonight the message has changed again. Just as the inward looking Cedarwood Road section had been jettisoned to make way for a plea for European unity, this song is no longer just about conquering hate but celebrating love, no matter what form it takes. The screen shows the video that David Mushegain shot in Dublin, celebrating personal freedom and expression.
Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way. Love Is All You Need. All You Need Is Love.
“There Is A Light, Don’t Let It Go Out” is whispered above the Velvet Underground pulse of ‘13’. Bono makes his way to the end of the platform and swings the light bulb above the crowd. Before it was a symbol of his youthful confusion, alone in a house torn apart by the grief of his mother’s passing, now it shines out as a beacon of hope, hope for unity, hope for acceptance. He steps down into the crowd and is gone. But there is a light. And it never goes out.