So, U2, my brother's "raison d'être", finally shed the pompous post-ironic fluff and got round to writing some blazing soaring rock tunes again, with "Beautiful Day" easily their best single for 14 years. So this prompted me to go along with "The Budlet" to one of the many shows he's going to, on their current UK tour! Being the ultimate U2 fan, he of course left at 7 am to queue up all day, so I took the train about midday and after some comic shopping met up with him about 4 at Earls Court. He'd been there since 10 am and got his wristband for the inside of "the heart", whatever that was. Latecomers like myself had to be content with general floor admission for this 20,000+ capacity aircraft hanger of a venue.
In at 6.30 after a queue-up in increasing drizzle, and found a space stage right, against the side barriers, on which to rest my injured shoulder. Found out what "the heart" was - effectively 2 ramps from each side of the stage, jutting out 100 feet into the crowd and meeting in the middle!
Unfortunately Earl's Court, as for REM, meant shite support acts again... This time we endured R'n'B so called "diva" Kelis, a shock-haired Tina Turner in waiting who peddled some crappy stilted insipid funk, with power riffs inappropriately thrown in on occasion, and a terrible cover of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams". I wanted to move to get away, but the place was already heaving...
Budlet had primed me for the PA intro sequence (Jackie Wilson, Radiohead then U2's own "Elevation"), but nevertheless it was still a slight surprise when the boys sauntered onstage midway through the taped "Elevation" and burst into life. Why? Well, the house lights were still on, for starters... Not for long, though, as Bono, effusive and expressive as ever, gestured dramatically and plunged the place into momentary darkness, immediately followed by stark backlit white light. Pure theatre but welcomed with a huge roar from the sell-out crowd. But showmanship, schmowmanship - I'm here for the music, and I'm pleased to report that this was pretty special as well tonight. "Beautiful Day" was second number in, a crashing soaring chorus-led number, giving the ideal platform for Bono's energetic performance. A haunting "New Year's Day" followed soon after, The Edge weaving piano and zigzaggy guitar melodies perfectly. Happily, this set also eschewed the post-ironic experimentation and stage props of recent times, concentrating on what U2, in my view, do best; soaring, anthemic guitar rock with staccato riffery from The Edge at its' core, and vocal heroics from the extrovert but permanently knackered looking Bono as embellishment. The stage show reflected this; a simple but effective light and shade, silhouette and occasionally swirly psychedelic effects approach, which underpinned and complimented, rather than detracted from (often their problem "live" for me) the music.
The set centred around recent serious-return-to-form CD, "All That You Can't Leave Behind", but also featured oldies such as the still innocent and fresh "I Will Follow", the gloriously sinewy and building "Bad", and "Where The Streets Have No Name", for me the highlight of this set and still one of the most epic introductions to a song, Edge's intricate fretwork weaving with the backing synth and solidity of Adam's bass, to the crescendo and release of Bono's vocal. Great stuff, emotive and evocative.
And we had to have encores as well, following set closer "The Fly", which featured Bono scampering around the heart before running headlong into one of the lighting screens in suitable fly-hits-window fashion. "Bullet The Blue Sky", mighty and dramatic, and accompanied by some uneasy arts-race statistics projected on the backdrop, was followed by a splendid, stripped back "With Or Without You" and some contentious but well-received words from Bono about civil disobedience on behalf of Jubilee 2000. Overall, though, the message tonight was in the music, and the crux of it was that U2 are back to basics, playing rock music "live" and doing so in a fearless and peerless manner. Finally!