U2 : Innocence And Experience Tour, London o2 Arena 29-20 October, 02-03 November + Glasgow SSE 06-07 November 2015
Over the course of a week in London and a weekend in Glasgow - well, more than one of my friends has accused me of lacking taste and / or going to too many gigs. On the latter, they may be right. But there's no such thing as too many gigs. It may seem ridiculous looking outside. But it isn't. U2 play rarely and in short bursts – there's normally three or four years between tours, and when they're all in their late fifties, there's only so many laps around the planet left. There's only so many shows. I'll look back on this – like I look back on missing certain shows I could have gone to, but didn't – with regret, if I don't go.
U2 haven't played six shows in a row anywhere that isn't America. Ever. In Europe, they've played four shows in a row a handful of times (Dublin 1989, London 2001) - but never six. Seeing them in a six night run in London, on their first indoor tour in fifteen years... that's a hot ticket for a nutter fan. I'm a nutter fan. I'm not going to pretend I'm not. There's always a moment in the show where every sacrifice, in terms of money, time, and so on – is worth it. It might be the moment the drums rolls and they play “Gloria” in London for the first time since 1987, or where “Party Girl” gets played for the third time in a decade, or where Patti Smith walks on for a one-off romp through “People Have The Power”, or where... the delicate arpeggio that introduces the played-at-rare-shows of “Bad” starts. Or.. well, you'l find out.
It's different every time. Every goddamn time. Night three it's “Gloria” and “Bad”, and a rare airing for “New Years Day” (which they only played once before on this tour). Night four it's the first performance of “All I Want In You” in Europe since July 2005. Every show on the tour I get a song I haven't seen before on the tour : it's the same, but different.
Between the shows, I've been indulgent and slotted in the relatively comprehensive set of shows : 2 x Night#1, 3 x Night #2, and 1 each of #3,#4,#5,#6 as well as a one-off TV show taping. Between that, I surmised I'd get to see almost every likely configuration of songs. (In fact, by my estimations, I will get to see 95% of the European show types – and of the songs I haven't seen they have been played a total of 0.5% of the entire time). But, you know is it any good?
Any U2 gig is made what it is not by the band, but by the crowd. The band generally always play a spirited set : I've seen bad U2 gigs, but U2 weren't bad. For some reason, be it the technical limitations, or the less-than-usual crowd, the show wasn't quite as other-worldly as others. But it wasn't bad. Ask someone else and it might have been stunningly good. The show is broadly the same each night – the same moves, often through instinct rather than design – the message broadly the same, the key narrative points identical. It starts with a opening four songs that lyrically, and musically, hark back to the folly of youth, to the world of innocence, and represent U2 at their hardest – an introductory “The Miracle”, a song which always represents a spiritual birth through music (followed by either “Electric Co”, “Out of Control” or “Gloria”), “Vertigo”, and a hymn of unconditional love “I Will Follow”. The opening two thirds of the show are relatively structured at this point – but also, every time I see it, I see something different. The last night of 6, whilst I'm watching “Song For Someone” - a song about losing your virginity (I was told I would feel nothing.... the first time) – Bono sings from within an illuminated “e” on the E stage : It's called “The Innocence and Experience Tour”, and clearly the song moves Bono from innocent child to experience. Much deep. Very symbolism. So rock.
Throughout the show we see the band grow from children to experience, mature, complete people. The show builds to a communion, ending on a greatest hits coda with a random* (*ish) song to close. 3 shows get “One”. One gets “People Have The Power.” 2 get what will now be known as a tour highlight : a quarter hour rampage through “Bad” and “40” - both songs of which have long been recognised as highlights of any show they are performed at, and which ceased to be setlist staples 15 - and 25 - years ago.
And there's always a moment in the show. It's a tour you should see at least twice to get the entire experience of the performance – one is standing, where you can get as close to the band as you really want. I get to the barrier for one of the shows (albeit, it's a big barrier), but being the closest person in the entire venue to a member of a band as they play a song you love – even if only for a short while – is a unique experience. The show moves around the venue, so being in the standing section, and being able to follow it around can make anyone determined to be able to be very very close to the band for the whole show. It's not been so easy to be able to get so close to the band since around 1985.
If you get a chance, also, a seated experience is also a completely different experience : the band don't play as such, as exist within an abstract and unusual art show. There's a lot going on, so seeing the show more than once allows you to feel the full breadth of the presentation. Unless you're sat where I was on London#4, there's barely a bad seat in the house.
London 3 is the first show. We're standing tonight, and, being familiar with the show, standing becomes a dynamic experience. We start by Adam – probably 20 feet from the stage, and the atmosphere is electric. Some of the crowd haven't seen the band in 20+ years. The performance, once the band are settled into Road Dog mode, has no first night nerves, and is a band in its stride, confident, assured, an efficient song delivery machine that clearly enjoy it. The show has barely a low point – the crowd reactions are similar at every point ; there's a familiar roar now as “Until The End of The World” kicks in, and the band are slaying it. “New Years Day” gets only its second airing since 2011 – and whilst few of the people around us don't seem to realise exactly how rare that is, oh look U2 are playing another hit, some of us definitely do. I've seen them play this song dozens of times, but that doesn't meant it isn't meaningful. Being also London#3 it's one of the shows where the band have a high probability of playing rarer songs (“Gloria”, for example), and then there's also a one-off closing medley of “Bad”, and Patti Smith joining the band for “People Have The Power”. We'll get to “Bad” later, but as always, it's an epic, show closing hymn that is probably the apex of the bands current live set. London 3 is, as was quite rightly pointed out by a friend who'd flown from Australia - “The show I came to see.” : the band did not disappoint. Easily in the top 3 of shows on the tour I've seen.
London #3 Setlist :
The Miracle / Gloria / Vertigo / I Will Follow / Iris / Cedarwood Road / Song For Someone / Sunday Bloody Sunday / Raised By Wolves / Until The End Of The World / The Fly / Invisible / Even Better Than The Real Thing / Mysterious Ways / Elevation / New Years Day / Every Breaking Wave / October / Bullet The Blue Sky / Zooropa / Streets / Pride / With Or Without You / City Of Blinding Lights / Beautiful Day / Bad / People Have The Power
London 4 : seated. Tonight I'm seated in Block 407. This means that Bono is in fact replaced by a huge lump of steel, and the video screens and presentation is invisible. I hear U2, I see the crowd, and I see a video screen, and, for a few songs, U2 are visible on a stage around 60 feet below but overall, it's one of the worst seats in the house. It does say “LIMITED VIEW” on it, and face value of the ticket is £30, but that's no consolation when the band are invisible for over half the show. Luckily, this isn't my only flight on U2 Airways this year. If it was, I'd be extremely disappointed. To be honest, I'm not sure they should even sell these seats. It's also a quiet crowd in the seated area, with most people here not standing up until “Where The Streets Have No Name”. By the time the band are into “Cedarwood Road”, I have spotted a bank of 6 free seats in Block 412, roughly aligned to the end of the screen with a full side view of the stage and presentation. Simply put I walk into Block 412 hoping no one will check my ticket (they don't), and have a much better seat at a much higher price – and a much , much better show. It's always made wonder why the show is set in a 90degree angle, or why perhaps, they haven't placed – at least – the video screen in a star or cross configuration (aside, from possibly having a huge lighting rig hanging over the crowd... which other bands have done.. or the combined weight of the entire rig being too heavy for the venue roof). Bluntly put, the view is appallingly bad in the original seat, and simply not worth experiencing.
It's an appalling view, and overpriced at £30. if I had stayed in my original spot, Bono would be replaced by a lump of steel, Edge by a light, Larry by the screen, and Adam would be visible.
After I move the Block 412, the show gets dramatically, dramatically better : it's also a show where I am sat on my own, and able to experience the show as a singular person (the way I will when I watch the inevitable Blu Ray release). Edge hops up and down, and spins, like a very enthusiastic person indeed during “City of Blinding Lights”. It's infectious. Night#4 is raised by two highpoints – the first, the first performance in Europe since 31st July 2005 of “All I Want is You”, that is U2 just on the right side of cloying sentimentality, a song that means so much more when emotionally honest, a song about the kind of yearning void that can only be filled by meaningful communciation between people. I genuinely have feelings about this song, because I haven't seen U2 play it since 1997 – half my life ago. Every show has the moment, and tonight, it's seeing the band play “All I Want Is You”, which is so well received I'm surprised they don't play it every night – it wasn't even a live fixture on the tour to support the album it was first released on.
This is then followed by a rare version of “Shine Like Stars”. Yeah, this means something. I've wanted to hear it with my own ears since I first heard it in 1988 – and in Turin I got that wish granted. “Shine Like Stars” is a trainspotter holy grail for U2 weirdos. It's the song that, when they play it live now, is a sign, a trade mark of quality – like when the MGM Lion roars three times. It's been played four times so far throughout the whole tour. I am spoilt rotten to have seen then play it three times. “Shine Like Stars” is also the easiest way to get U2 fans to break Twitter.
London #4 Setlist :
The Miracle / The Electric Co / Vertigo / I Will Follow / Iris / Cedarwood Road / Song For Someone / Sunday Bloody Sunday / Raised By Wolves / Until The End Of The World / The Fly / Invisible / Even Better Than The Real Thing / Mysterious Ways / Desire / All I Want Is You / Every Breaking Wave / October / Bullet The Blue Sky / Zooropa / Streets / Pride / With Or Without You / City Of Blinding Lights / Beautiful Day / One
London 5 :
we're seated for London 5, this time in row VV of Block 403, and it's absurdly high. The highest I have ever been here. And I hate being so high up. I can reach out and touch the ceiling. It's by no means a bad show, but not a great one, at all. A huge amount of a show is subject to external factors, to the outside world, whether we like it or not. The day of this show the outside world got 'in'.
Also, it doesn't matter how much you like a band, it's a rare – but plausible – condition where I, as an audience member, just am not in the place where that band – no matter how much I like them – are just not in the right place for that exact band. Most of the time, I'm able, even if I'm not feeling in the right place for the band, to move my headspace there. On Monday, Night#5, I can't. I see you U2 in a way I never have before ; as someone who is *just * seeing U2, as opposed to someone who loves to see U2 and needs a fix like some kind of Stadium Rock Jesus.
(Yes, I know, it's in an Arena. Austerity stadum rock, then).
Tonight U2 are not one of the greatest bands in the world : they're very good. But not one of the greatest. Maybe it's because I've seen them seven times in as many weeks, but there's a sense to me that the band aren't on fire. The set is relatively predictable - “Out of Control” is in Slot 2, “Desire” and “Volcano” in the E-stage, and for the first time in a while, “One” closes two shows in a row. From the vantage point of a somewhat unengaged observer, it's a vastly superior arena rock show that matches sentimentality with playfulness and passion. The audience in the seated arena for night #5 are like chopped meat. Most of them, with the exception of two pilgrims from South America, are generally sedate, and it's only until “Until The End Of The World” the arena roars approval, and not until “Where The Streets Have No Name” (as the set enters its closing stretch of 7-8 hits in a row) that most of the seated arena rise and the show achieves its potential. It's a strange experience, and my least favourite show of the tour, backed with the song “Volcano” which, to me, seems like the least effective of the new songs the band are playing live. “Volcano” barely fits the album its on, and seems to have no place in the show. The rest of the evening is a good show, enjoyable. The band play their set with passion and commitment. But it's my least favourite show of the tour, by some margin. The outside world got in, and I couldn't get it out of my head. Tonight U2 were a band I saw, and not a band I loved.
London #5 Setlist :
The Miracle / Out Of Control / Vertigo / I Will Follow / Iris / Cedarwood Road / Song For Someone / Sunday Bloody Sunday / Raised By Wolves / Until The End Of The World / The Fly / Invisible / Even Better Than The Real Thing / Mysterious Ways / Elevation / Volcano / Every Breaking Wave / October / Bullet The Blue Sky / Zooropa / Streets / Pride / With Or Without You / City Of Blinding Lights / Beautiful Day / One
London 6 : standing
What a difference a day makes. The next day sees the final night of U2's six night residency at the O2, the final show, and the first time the band have played six nights in a row anywhere in Europe. It is the show of shows, so to speak. At 26 songs, and 141 minutes, it's one of the longest shows they've done. They also play “Gloria”, which is received rapturously, as if it was one of their biggest hits and not what it actually is ; a rarely played 1981 7” that disappeared as a regular fixture from their setlists when the Berlin Wall was still up. You woudn't know it from the crowd, who treat it with roughly the same enthusiasm as when Bon Jovi close their sets with “Living On A Prayer”. That's the second song. The rest of the night sees a now predictable, but hardly rote set : there are bum notes all over the show, but that barely matters. It shows firstly, how 'real' the set is and secondly, how much of it works in every setting. By the time we get to the second half of the show, the only elements that change are the two songs on the “E” stage at the end of the catwalk, and the closing fifteen minutes. Here, we get “Party Girl” - a lifetime first for me, and also a song rarely played by the band in modern times – only 5 times in the past 9 years. So far, every show of the tour has seen either a new song ever, or a new song for the tour, for me. “Party Girl” gets its first performance in London in 31 years. There's more to come. It's my second favourite show because of what happens at the end.
Because “Bad” happens. And “Bad” is THE U2 song. Sure, “Shine Like Stars” is a sign. But “Bad” is THE song. It drifts hypnotically for anywhere between 7 and 15 minutes, without a chorus, on a looping set of interchangable mantras that lifts the night up. Tonight, Night#6, the band deliver the best version of it I've seen yet live. The audience, those of us who know the rarity of what we are seeing … let go. It's U2's live equivalent of an orgasm. Where the night doesn't just go there, but goes there. The song is barely recognisable from it's original studio incarnation, a butterfly compared to a musical caterpillar. Over the next fifteen minutes the band just let rip. And then, the band change instruments and play “40”.
And if, for a uberfan like me, you thought “Bad” was good... “40” is something I've not seen played in my entire life in the past 20 shows over the past 25 years. A hymn, a prayer, a moment of near communion, the band play a gentle but powerful symphony, the audience carrying the chorus, as each member of the band slowly walk out of the venue through it's length, Bono shining a spotlight on each member as they leave, each instrument slowly dropping out of the sound, until the audience itself sings the whole song in a packed room, surrounded by light. It's one of the best and most effective end points of any show I've ever seen. London#6 becomes the best U2 show I have seen.
And there's two nights to go.
London #6 Setlist :
The Miracle / Gloria / Vertigo / I Will Follow / Iris / Cedarwood Road / Song For Someone / Sunday Bloody Sunday / Raised By Wolves / Until The End Of The World / The Fly / Invisible / Even Better Than The Real Thing / Mysterious Ways / Desire / Party Girl / Every Breaking Wave / October / Bullet The Blue Sky / Zooropa / Streets / Pride / With Or Without You / City Of Blinding Lights / Beautiful Day / Bad / 40
Glasgow 1 : standing. Glasgow has a reputation in gig circles. The Barrowlands (where U2 played 31 years ago to the day) is a venue of legends. So much so that Glasgow has marked it in a special memorial park with a huge list of the acts that have played there over the years. It's a relatively straightforward Night#1 set – the rotating songs are “The Electric Co”, “Elevation”, “The Sweetest Thing”, and “One”. Again, there's a sense of relief in the audience – because drunk Scottish people are having an amazing night seeing their favourite band, and “Vertigo” and “I Will Follow” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Even Better Than The Real Thing” and “Mysterious Ways” and - even “Elevation” and “The Sweetest Thing” are not played at every show, but are received like The Number One Song In Heaven – alongside, of course, “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “Pride” and “With Or Without You” and “City of Blinding Lights” and “Beautiful Day” and …. well. U2 live in a world where “One” isn't even a staple song they play every night. As an experience, it's the best Greatest Hits album live in the flesh before your eyes. There's a moment where all the lights are switched off on stage (and all of them are switched on, off-stage) which sees the audience becomes the song itself, and well, it proves that as much as the band and the staging, it's the audience that make – or break – a live show. And Glasgow is steaming. I am kinda bored of watching the band through other peoples cellphones, iPads, and video cameras. Playing to a sea of lenses can't be particularly fun for the band either. But having seen the show 8 times by this point, it's not so much predictable as reliable, dependable, consistent.
But how can I go so many times? Imagine.. if you will... that new Star Wars film is only shown 78 times in one year, and only in one cinema, that travels across the world, and you may never get a chance to see it again. Will you go more than once?
I would. Other people think it's madness. But why would I want to be like other people? Their madness is my nirvana. Scotland is having an amazing night, and some of Scotlad will have an awful Saturday morning. We stay in the bar with a group of five lovely Dubliners who have flown to this show because for the first ten months of the tour, no Irish shows were announced. Nonetheless, it's gone 3am before I go to bed, and I am getting too old for that kind of nonsense. Or am I?
Glasgow #1 Setlist :
The Miracle / The Electric Co / Vertigo / I Will Follow / Iris / Cedarwood Road / Song For Someone / Sunday Bloody Sunday / Raised By Wolves / Until The End Of The World / The Fly (Live Vocal) / Invisible / Even Better Than The Real Thing / Mysterious Ways / Elevation / The Sweetest Thing / Every Breaking Wave / October / Bullet The Blue Sky / Zooropa / Streets / Pride / With Or Without You / City Of Blinding Lights / Beautiful Day / One
Glasgow 2 : Seated for Glasgow #2, and show #9 on my never ending tour. It's another day at the office for the band, but for me, it's the end of several shows in a row. And also, like last night, tonight appears to be being filmed as inserts and extra shots / tests for the Paris TV broadcast so the band wear the same clothes, and, also, play a very unusual setlist : tonight they play “Gloria”, “Bad” and “40” - all standard songs for the last night of a four night run in a venue, but on a second night. “The Fly” is sung live in Glasgow for the first time on the entire tour. It means Glasgow is the first city not to get “Out Of Control” at least once, and also one of just two that gets “Bad/40” as a closing fifteen minute medley that isn't a minimum of four nights. It's the first time “Gloria” gets played on a second night anywhere on the tour.
“With Or Without You” lifts. For the first time in 23 years, Bono sings it with both “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Shine Like Stars”. Breaking character, so to speak, he sings “We'll shine like Barrowlands Tonight”... and it becomes the best show of the tour at that precise moment.
Also it's a Saturday night in Glasgow. Glasgow is on it's feet – even in the highest seat in the huge dome – from before the intro music starts to the lights come up 27 songs and 148 minutes later. Yes. 148 minutes. Which makes it the joint longest U2 show by number of songs played in their entire career – and probably the longest in terms of time on stage. Also, given that it's a final night – and a Saturday in Glasgow – the band are ablaze, the audience is absolutely in the zone. It's easily the best show of this tour, and probably my favourite U2 show of my life. It's the kind of show you want the band to capture forever and release. The show closes with “40”, unexpectedly, for a second night, and only the second time in my life I finally – finally – get to see U2. This tour has seen a great many firsts for me in my life, and has been great fun and one hell of an experience.
It's the most indulgent I have ever been, very selfishly of me, and in no means easy, but one that has rewarded me in unexpected ways. And for that, I am grateful for a rare experience, but it was worth it.
Glasgow #2 Setlist:
The Miracle / Gloria / Vertigo / I Will Follow / Iris / Cedarwood Road / Song For Someone / Sunday Bloody Sunday / Raised By Wolves / Until The End Of The World / The Fly (Live Vocal) / Invisible / Even Better Than The Real Thing / Mysterious Ways / Desire / Angel Of Harlem / Every Breaking Wave / October / Bullet The Blue Sky / Zooropa / Streets / Pride / With Or Without You / City Of Blinding Lights / Beautiful Day / Bad / 40