- 13 Nov 15
As the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour finally approaches Irish shores, it's time to once again celebrate U2 - not just the best of Irish, but the greatest rock band in the world.
The sense of anticipation is rising. I can feel it in my bones. We are less than two weeks away from U2’s first Irish show on their iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour. It’s been 18 years since they last played Belfast, but finally they are on their way back to Ireland’s second city. I can tell you now: there’s going to be a hell of a party when they get there.
And then it is on to the band’s hometown of Dublin, for what is likely to be a supremely emotional embrace with their fans. U2 are scheduled to play four dates in 3Arena. In truth, they could have done fourteen, but the underlying principle of the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour is that less is more. And so, as Hot Press prepares to hit the news stands, the tickets for their Dublin dates are scarcer than gold dust. Anyone in possession of one is effectively on the inside track. The word on the grapevine is that this is the ultimate live show by the biggest rock band in the world: get ready to fasten your safety belts…
There are dozens of reasons why U2 have left all of the other major rock ‘n’ roll bands trailing in their wake over the past thirty-odd years – but one stands out. Of course they had to have the songs: that is the hard currency on which most musical careers depend. And they had to be able to deliver them musically in a way that brooked no argument. If Bono couldn’t sing, then all of the energy, and the intensity, and the passion that he invests in the business of being lead singer with U2 would likely have been for nought. If Edge and Larry and Adam weren’t up to the task as musicians, either individually or collectively, then they’d have struggled in the long term to sustain their early success, as has happened with so many initially impressive bands.
The history of pop music is littered with outfits who flatter to deceive. Lots of bands have one, two or even three good albums in them. Some are lucky enough to be able to go on playing their hits forever, subsequently, in the knowledge that the fans will keep on coming, irrespective of the fact that their heroes have given up the ghost creatively and will never do anything original, new or challenging again. But that was never going to be enough for U2.
The work of a band is a collective effort. And in the case of U2, the chemistry between the individuals, and the different elements that Adam Clayton, Bono, the Edge and Larry Mullen variously bring to the musical party, are all of immense importance. But if that were the sum total of what they had to offer then they might well have gone the way of the Rolling Stones or The Who a long time ago, playing an arena- scale version of the rubber chicken circuit, where – from an audience perspective – you know what you’re going to get, it isn’t necessarily very good anymore, but you enjoy the feeling of getting grease on your fingers all the same.
There is nothing wrong with trading on old glories. But Bono in particular is an individual of enormous, unrelenting ambition. The idea of grinding out the hits, tour after tour, could never, and would never, have satisfied him. He wants to be able to look at himself in the mirror every night before he goes to bed and think: I have done the best that I can do; I have been the best that I can be; I have striven to improve; I have come up with new ideas; I have started the process of turning them into the hard currency of reality; I have used my energies, as effectively as I can, for the greater good. Now, let me rest…
He found a counterpart in the Edge. Interviewed by Olaf Tyaransen in this issue of Hot Press, the guitar player originally known as Dave Evans reveals, in more detail than ever before I suspect, what motivates him. He talks about the psychic restlessness and intellectual curiosity that has always driven him. If Bono is voluble and declamatory, Edge is generally careful and measured. But what they share is a remarkable creative intelligence, allied to an insatiable work ethic. In the world of U2, there is always something to do. And if the band are on a hiatus, then neither Bono nor Edge will be happy unless they are dreaming up other artistic schemes. It is what they do, constantly.
They might well be dismissed as workaholics, men who invite upon themselves the weight of expectation, in the manner of addicts. Well, so be it: better to be that way than to risk accusations of sloth. Perhaps Adam and Larry, the boys in the engine room of U2, are less driven – but only marginally so.
And besides, all four members of U2 share something else of immense importance: that is, the sense of balance, allied to a fundamental decency and generosity, that enables four very different people to work together, live out of one another’s suitcases, share the trials and tribulations of life on the road, as well as the adulation, and stay friends, for all of 37 years and more.
And so, rare among artists and bands of any and every kind, they have continued to produce new work of startling and unassailable originality. They have rewritten the rules for live music in so many ways over the past 25 years. And yet, first with the album Songs of Innocence and then with the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour, they have broken new ground again, by reimagining their youth from the perspective of maturity, and by bringing the hopes and dreams, forged in the broken city of Dublin towards the end of the 1970s, back to vibrant and vivid life – one more time with feeling.
They have proven themselves, over and over again, the best, the most exacting, the most fearless and the most tenacious band in the world. In a sense, however, with iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE they have gone one better. Having scaled everything up to the max and learned how to become avatars of themselves on successive tours since the early 1990s, in this latest live incarnation, they have brought things marvellously back down to earth.
This is U2 in human form, four men coming together on stage for the many-thousandth time, to make a fine noise, both honoured and burdened by all of the vulnerabilities that accrue from just being here, in the world, for 55 years – there or thereabouts – and doing it all with a greater sense of togetherness, of presence, of mindfulness, of mastery, of being in the moment, of delivering on their promise than ever before.
iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE. Are we ready to be swept off our feet? And stop chasing every breaking wave? The countdown starts here...