U2 TFI Friday, London Cochrane Studios, 16 October 2015
Seeing U2 anywhere is kind of rare – especially when they tour Europe only twice a decade. Tonight, they perform a 4 song set at Cochrane Studios in central London ; their longest UK appearance in over six years, and to an invited audience of 200 or so.
Having unexpectedly been awarded production tickets less than 24 hours before the show, the usual element of thinking “I'm-going-to-see-U2-in-a-bit” is absent. Instead, it's a relaxed ramble down to the studio in Central London, picking up a Lilac wristband (numbered 7), and a gentle bite to eat in a pub. Come 6.45, it's back to the theatre, and being called back in the bands specific guests.
So... the actual seeing U2 part of it is both surreal, and feels.. utterly normal. There's 200 people here, and I'm near enough to the band to both touch them (which I get excited, and do, at one point), and count the buttons on their shirts if I really want. U2 are so huge, and so used to headlining stadiums, that playing a small room is probably a bit alien. Stripped of the presentation, the video screens, moving walkways, huge claws, lemons, cars, disco balls, and so on, U2 are at heart, a damn good band. They have sincerity and substance. Sometimes too much of both, and are too sincere. The performance is short, and from where I am, strange : “Raised By Wolves” is performed with me within actual touching distance of Bono, being front row.
Up close you can see U2 not as icons, metaphors, or avatars, but as people : with hairs on their wrists and watches and wrinkles who laugh and look at each other and spend time together. Seeing them on TV and in stadiums, it's easy to forget that U2 aren't just these megaglobalrockstars but people who – and I have seen it with my own eyes – sometimes play the wrong notes and pull silly faces.
There's a minor reshuffle as the band move things around, and we see Take That, and Slaves, and Songs To the Siren, and Steve Coogan. U2 come back at the end for a mini gig, with a raucous “Vertigo” that slips back into the old fashioned, and glorious world of 'blokes making a racket'. There's jumping and air pointing and all kinds of noise. The girl next to me tries to touch Bono's crotch. How much fun is that? The broadcast ends, and they slip into “Song For Someone”, which is a great ballad which reminds me so much of being young.
“I was told it would only hurt the first time...” he sings. Edge closes his eyes, and it's a room that seems lost in music. Afterwards, they bring out the white Explorer, and normally this would be “Beautiful Day”, but – and for me, I've only seen them play this once before – it's “Out Of Control”, the small debut single that never charted, and gets played rarely (only 7 times between 2002 and 2015, for example, and not at all between 1990 and 2000), and the band slay it, delivering it with the kind of passion and noise that bands half their age have. They may be growing old, but they're not getting stale. Yes, you can hate them, or their “Legally Compliant Tax Evasion” business practices, or perhaps the idea of their sincerity, and I get it, but you can't say with legitimacy that they ever … stopped trying, even if they didn't always suceed. With that last song, years fall away, and U2 become the band they were when they were 20 – hungry, ambitious, brave, unafraid to be stupid and make a big noise. And isn't that what music is all about?
Raised By Wolves
Song For Someone
Out Of Control