A notable gig this, for a number of reasons: my first gig since my daughter Kasey was born, breaking my longest gig hiatus since 1983 (at 3 months 27 days, it was even 5 days longer than my 2002/03 illness layoff); my first gig at the reconstructed Wembley Stadium; and, thanks to my U2 fanatic brother sorting himself out a hotel for tomorrow's gig as well, my first gig on a coach since... ooh, who knows when!
Times have changed since I, an innocent and starry-eyed 22 year old then, proclaimed 1987's U2 the best live band on the planet. A disappointing, "gig tourist" filled experience at Twickenham on the last tour had been followed by an uneven new album, bringing back uncomfortable memories of their self-indulgent "irony" period of the 1990s. However, the U2 "live" legend, combined with the promise (?) of a "different" live experience thanks to "The Claw", a huge 4-legged stage set-up with circular videoscreens suspended from the apex, putting the band almost "in the round", persuaded me to part with the steep £60ish ticket price, along with coach fare.
Left at 1.30 and got a reasonably good run, hitting the stadium at 4. Pretty impressed with the new Wembley and the huge arch, and everything seemed pretty well organised. Joined the queue a little behind my brother, then got in about 1/4 to 5, taking a wander toward the c.100 foot tall "Claw", immediately (and accidentally) getting entry to the "inner circle" between the circular stage and the band's outer runway. However, this was so overcrowded - already! - that even my superfan brother didn't fancy it, so I caught up with him at the left leg of "The Claw".
Openers The Hours joined us at 6. A young spunky band, obviously in thrall to (early) U2 - so much so that their opener had us Rose boys singing "Electric Co." along to it! However they had some passion and fire, despite their youth, and the Jim Adkins lookalike vocalist obviously relished the occasion. You're playing at Wembley, guys - enjoy it!
A damn sight better than main support Elbow. Their popularity (particularly their recent upsurge) has eluded me and they were as grey, dour and depressing as the suddenly leaden slate skies. Their final number was kind of alright, thus making it head, shoulders, torso, groin and thighs above the rest of their set.
Lights out at 8.15 and the intro music of the haunting David Bowie classic "Space Oddity" (sounding fresh as ever, now 40 years old, and, though I knew it not then, as good as it was going to get tonight) heralded the entrance of U2. The opening salvo was actually terrific - the sinewy "Breathe", the jagged "No Line", the brash glam stomp of "Get On Your Boots" and the more trad-U2 soaring rock of "Magnificent", new numbers all, before a fine, anthemic "Beautiful Day". Bono complimented how London had been good for U2, before the best moment of their night - a full-stadium singalong of the mesmeric "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", lovely and spine-tingling.
Thereafter it all went South in a hurry. The best 4 numbers from the new album were already done, throwing the remainder of the newies in a very poor light. The set selection was ropey at best, with an "Unforgettable Fire" wasted, sluggish and emotionless, and as a substitute for the missing passion and intensity of old, we had the kind of overblown stadium theatrics I thought we fought the punk wars to eradicate. And the thing that made me so angry and disappointed (so much so that I left my brother to it at this point) is that these boys were there then, so they know.
Sure, "The Claw" was impressive, and when the screen descended it was breathtaking - my brother said of "The Claw" that it was so captivating you almost forget there are 4 guys playing music onstage, which for me is missing the point - if I want to see a "show" I'll get tix for "Starlight Express". I'm always here for the music, first and foremost, and it was on this point, crucially, that U2 failed to deliver tonight. Even the likes of "Pride" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" sounded workmanlike, flat and obligatory.
Sorry boys, a big disappointment tonight.