Apparently it’s not fashionable to like U2: their website and online shop is a huge corporate beast populated with adoring fans, they carpet-bombed BBC TV and Radio to launch their latest album, and their recent switch from Apple to Blackberry seems at the very least to be having their cake and eating it. Oh, and that Bono bloke has an ego that could blot out the sun.
I saw U2 play at The Millenium Stadium in Cardiff last Saturday night. And to be blunt, they are an amazing live band. They performed ‘in the round’ under the most impressive stage I’ve ever seen. ‘The Claw’ (as it has been named) practically filled the inside of the stadium, making for amazing sight lines from almost everywhere and giving the concert a much more intimate feel than anything else I’ve been to.
The lighting in the centre of that stage photo also served as high-quality screens, so there were terrific close-ups of the band as well as other projected clips, including a piece from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
This was a show on a huge scale, and at least we could see where our money had gone. The engineering in the stage, screens and lighting was astonishing. The sound and vision quality was brilliant. And for all the corporate sheen, U2 genuinely seem to give a sh*t about their fans. The website is a massive piece of work with fantastic content. Their Facebook page has 1.3m fans and is updated regularly with all sorts of news, videos & links. And their concert was designed to please the fans.
The mix of material across their repertoire was terrific. The new songs sound great, in contrast to other long-lived bands like, say, The Rolling Stones. U2 also seem to love playing together as a band, and love playing live, responding to the audience. The way the crowd sang the first verse and chorus of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For reminded me of Queen in their pomp more than 20 years ago. The remix of I’ll Go Crazy was a brilliant reworking – almost unrecognisable from the album version, in a very good way.
And there were surprises – snippets of Oliver’s Army, Two Tribes and Blackbird were all fitted into U2 songs. And in over 2 hours of playing, there was almost none of the preachiness for which Bono is allegedly infamous. The main ‘calls to action’ focused on the ONE organisation, and on the continuing house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, hardly unexpected and both impressive causes.
U2 are a fantastic band. There, I said it. So sue me.