Noel Mullen reports from the O2 Arena
Bono has never been shy of using live shows to beat a political drum, but never before has Britain itself been his cause for concern.
Last night’s show had the poignancy of a farewell tour. Not that U2 have any plans to retire, but it was a forward-thinking European Britain that seemed to be calling it a night. What shape will we be in when the band return on tour post-Brexit?
Well, Brexit won’t happen at all if Bono has anything to do with it. “We need you…we are poorer without you,” he told the sell-out crowd, and thankfully they agreed. Singing New Year’s Day under a giant EU flag with the British star symbolically circled also ensured the message hit home. If only it was just us that needed convincing.
The theme of the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour is of lessons learnt over U2’s near half-century of being “the greatest band from the north side of Dublin” because it wasn’t always plain sailing for Bono, the Edge, “Lord” Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jnr.
Bono explained that they had their fierce squabbles and near breakups [read: Brexit] caused by unmanageable egos [read: the Brexiteers] and the usual contempt familiarity brings. But – spoiler alert – they stuck together and became stronger for it. They even went on holidays together. Look where we are now, Bono seemed to be saying.
Where they are now is a band still at the pinnacle of innovating live shows and still writing new crowd favourites. No other band on the planet could get away with largely ignoring their huge back catalogue and still leaving the audience enthralled.
They didn’t reject all their classics, of course. Playing songs from every portion of their journey they incorporated a literal bridge across the arena to a smaller stage, visually representing their transportation to another place and time and, on a practical level, ensuring none of the stadium crowd felt like onlookers to something fun happening far away.
Sometimes all an audience of a troubled nation needs is to forget and have fun, and U2 provided that too, with rousing versions of Beautiful Day and Vertigo. Not so long ago they were new songs treated with suspicion, now they’re classic U2 staples.
Although the band is clearly going strong, the poignancy with which Bono spoke about his “best friends” on stage shows he takes nothing for granted.
Closing with There Is A Light which they dedicated to their friend and spiritual mentor Eugene Peterson, Bono swings a light from a harness into the crowd. As he and the band exit the stage with uncharacteristic quietness, the light – they hope – remains.
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