U2 - "Innocence And Experience Tour" - Dublin 3Arena, 24 November 2015
So here it is. The end, for now, of my U2 tour in Dublin. This is the second night of four in the venue (and the tenth of ten for me), Also, originally intended to be the final shows of the tour, this is near enough, the end of the tour for a great many fans. U2, live, in Dublin is a rare occasion – it's their first shows at 'home' in six and a half years, and the first indoor Dublin shows in twenty six years. The last time they played indoors in Dublin, Margaret Thatcher was alive and in power, The Berlin Wall was standing, and we weren't even in the last decade of the last millenia.
A lot has happened in twenty six years. The last time U2 played indoors in Dublin, I was sat at home, on new years eve, a 16 year old boy with a C90 and a C60, tuned into radio 1FM, and with two sets of tapes running off two machine (my own, less than amazing record player … which had been upgraded the week before to something with a CD player), and my Dad's huge set of seperates downstairs. In the meantime, my Mum and Dad were out getting drunk, and tottered in around 2.30am just after the band had finished their set that night. A lot changes. Now tapes are dead, CD's are dying, broadcast radio is antiquated, the internet has happened, I've managed to make two children of my own, and found a life that I've built around me that is workable as opposed to how my sixteen year old self saw the world, as a person parachuted into a life I didn't necessarily like or even want. I grew into the life I wanted to live.
And now, instead of taping it off the radio and wishing I was there.... I am there.
It's a long time. And seeing U2 in Dublin is still one of my 'bucket list' items, but this time, like when I saw them in Croke Park in 2009, it's real .. again. It starts with the flight in. Out there, the two huge chimneys of Poolbeg Power Station. To an extent, whenever I see those I feel that I'm approaching the spiritual heartland of a band I love : this would be like seeing Kraftwerk in Dusseldorf, REM in Athens, - and few bands have ever made such a big thematic concept of 'home' and belonging in their work as U2 (it's even in the bands name, the sense of inclusivity)..With just 24 hours on the ground in Dublin, and such fripperies as food and sleep to build into the schedule, time is limited, and on the way into town, I take a locals commuter bus, to swing by St Margarets Park, Aro Na Mara, and Cedarwood Road. To walk past number 10, where Bono grew up, and which will later be writ large on a 93 foot video screen, is an unassuming, normal three bedroom house in a suburb, painted on the edges the exact same shade of yellow that later is one of the tours primary colours, the roadsigns exact and reproduced on tour t shirts and now inside fans minds.
So, this is U2, at 'home', even though the majority of the crowd seem far from home.
And I would say at least a third of the crowd across the show are, above and beyond the usual travellers' (that is, a lot of people travel a long way to see U2, no matter where in the world they are playing) – and more, much more, than most bands - even of their size – average travelling contingent, it's not just a case of U2 coming home to where they belong, but of others coming to see U2 at home, to understand in some way the bands journey or to experience U2 in their home turf. And not just in Dublin. The ThreeArena may be a relatively anonymous identikit mid-sized conference venue and concert hall... but also, it's revamped version of The Point : the same venue I recorded them in in 1989, the same venue they recorded parts of their “Rattle And Hum” album in, and the same venue that has become the site of the bands most legendary set of shows so far, a four night 'end of tour' residency that sealed, and closed, their first decade as a band. As far as shows to say you were at, U2 at The Point is probably in the top one.
So, here we are, seeing U2, at The Point, in Dublin – even if it does have a different name these days. They haven't played here in twenty six years. It's likely they won't play here again. These shows were the last to be announced, the last to be sold, and the tour itself has been redesigned to fit inside this, the smallest venue of the tour. The huge video screens the band rely on for the presentation has been altered, and is so close to the lip of the seated balcony that it feels like you could reach out and touch it. The 'second' stage has been relocated, and the weights and speakers redesigned so the show can (barely) fit inside the hall. It's the same as before, but different, and, for me, at least, is the end of this indulgent road.
Unlike other shows, the atmosphere is... different. Each town has a personality : Turin – passionate, London – reserved, Glasgow – fervent. Here in Dublin it's more religious, more of a party atmosphere. A Sunday morning Gospel singalong. The pre-show music is less of a lesson in history, and more of a party with Hot Chocolate, Eddie Grant, and so on at huge volume. It's like a tasteless, wonderfully so, school disco that really doesn't care about being 'cool'.
Not that any of it matters. The thing with U2 in Dublin isn't that U2 play any better in Dublin, but that crowd are the show, and the crowd make the show better. And like any good band, U2 rise to the occasion. Technically, it's by no means a bad performance, but perhaps, more passionate. Given that this is the first tour where the band have engaged obviously with their childhood, and their upbringing, in the material, directly refering the streets by name where they grew up, and turned from being a Boy to men. We are pilgrims on our way, as Bono sang. But here, in this town, the songs are named after streets a mere bus ride away, and filled with imagery of the roads that you can recognise. (Oddly enough, from the top floor of the 102 bus to Malahide , Dublin feels a lot like a very very big version of Leicester).
It's poignant, strange, and a little super-real to see streets mythologised in song as real, tangible objects. Like a rock Hobbiton. It's.. bizarre … to see film of a young Bono running around a field knowing it was filmed on Super 8 fifty years ago in this very town. And to see songs about growing up, childhood bedrooms, losing your virginity, and the history of the seventies, they're recontextualised from talking about an abstract location, to tangible real streets. It's absurd, to an extent, to think that the bands nondescript recording studio is 800 yards from here. That the cover to the “October” and the “90-00” compilation album was photographed about 200 yards from there. That this venue I am in tonight still holds the external facade of the Point. This is U2 singing songs about their past, in the land of their past. To see the band play “Raised By Wolves”, about bombings, in the town those bombings occurred in.. that's genuinely powerful.
And, bizarre as it sounds, I can still vaguely, remember the Birmingham pub bombing on TV : not sure if this was at the time of them happening, or some post-event cultural hangover of repeated television, but it remains in my consciousness... somewhere.. my memories. It seems so recent, and yet a different life I no longer lived. Here, seeing the band ramp out a concentrated segment around terrorism, bombings, conflict and war. It's impossible to write songs about reality and pretend that parts of it don't exist... but part of me is sort of bored of being hit on the head by a millionaire lecturing me about how awful it is to fight, but you know, I'm an enlightened, forward thinking motherfudger with great threads, and not everyone else is. Everyone else is having a great time, by the way, as indeed am I. It's wonderful to see friends meet up casually with friends like a Saturday afternoon trip down the high street, and at the same time, to connect with familiar faces from all over the world who happen to share a passion for the same, earnest brand of stadium rock.
I've pretty much run out of things to say about the shows – after all – I'm 10 shows, and 4 countries in. For the obligatory “Mysterious Ways”, which is just a fun groove, Bono offers a post-song question “Mirrorball, Mirrorball, who has the biggest ego of them all?” And of course, he knows the answer. After all, this is The Point in all but name, and not only is Bono shadow boxing with a Brazilian dressed as a boxer in a copy of Bono's 1997 stage outfit, but also this is the first time the band have performed “Desire” here – in the room it was first recorded and demoed in in early 1988 – since the Eighties. It may not be that much but how often to you get to see a band play a song in the same room they wrote it?
And there's a moment. A moment where the lights turn red, and My brain tells me I'm watching U2. Play 'Where The Streets Have No Name'. At The Fucking Point. In Dublin.
There's little else to say really. From an objective, performance view, the show isn't better than others. The band play with passion and precision. “Even Better Than The Real Thing” is slightly longer to accommodate a redesign of the stage.. other songs slightly different, but .. it's simply U2 playing their songs indoors in Dublin, and that in itself ascribes an extra layer of significance to the show. These are the shows that for a long time were never going to happen, and were only added 9 months after the rest of the tour was announced.
And time goes by, so slowly, and yet, it's in the blink of an eye. There's a section where I realise I'm nearer the end of the last show than I am the beginning. When the encore begins, the predictable “City of Blinding Lights” (Which has been played at 70 of the past 72 shows), it's different. For this time, the imagery is not of a generic city.. but of Dublin itself. It's poignant to see the band in their home town, singing songs about these streets, and perhaps more than that, to see the audience lap it up, even more fervently than most of the other shows.
On the printed setlist is “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For”, due a return after a 11 shows, and a month off, from the tour. I go the toilet during a speech, to find I can't return to where all my friends are. And, at that moment, as the security Vogon rigidly insists I have to spend the remainder of the show without them, “Bad” unexpectedly starts.
During the opening of what is one of my favourite U2 songs (I'd put it in my top 3, and it's not been a setlist fixture for the past fifteen years), I have to climb stairs and an escalator, run across a mezzanine floor of closed beer stalls, down past another toilet, to then get back to them. Cheers, you Vogon. Officious, rule following, cunt. By the time I return, I've missed the first minute or two, and whilst this is no big deal, the moments I've missed are the ones that for me, are often the highlight of the show. “Bad” melts into “40”, as the band slowly exit and the instruments drop out one by one, and 8,000 people sing the mantra of a thirty two year old album track, that has slowly become the definitive U2 show closer.
U2 at home? Wherever they might be, it probably feels like home to someone. But here, and now, where U2 are, is the right place, a moment in time, that lived for only an hour or two then disappeared forever. Like all of life, whatever it is, this is now a memory. And what a memory it is.
The Miracle /
Out Of Control /
I Will Follow /
Cedarwood Road /
Song For Someone /
Sunday Bloody Sunday /
Raised By Wolves /
Until The End Of The World /
The Fly /
Even Better /
Mysterious Ways /
Angel Of Harlem /
Every Breaking Wave /
Bullet The Blue Sky /
Where The Streets Have No Name /
With Or Without You /
City Of Blinding Lights /
Beautiful Day /
Mother And Child Reunion /