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Foo Fighters, Oasis, U2, the Rolling Stones and more: Slane’s 15 greatest acts – in reverse order

As Harry Styles limbers up for this year’s gig, on Saturday, we pick our favourite performances at the castle since the inaugural Slane Festival, in 1981


Foo Fighters, May 30th, 2015

Nirvana never made it to Slane, but the band’s drummer, Dave Grohl, did. Foo Fighters played in front of about 60,000 people (wet through from persistent rain) who were as well behaved as if they were at a First Holy Communion. The band delivered a taut set of originals (including Monkey Wrench, Learn to Fly, This Is a Call, These Days and Everlong), a surprise cover (Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak – the first time the band had played it live) and, for the finale, an anticipated cover, AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock – which there most certainly was.


Metallica, June 8th, 2019

The last Slane Castle gig before the pandemic featured a line-up of metal/rock/punk acts (Fangclub, Bokassa, Stiff Little Fingers, Ghost) overshadowed by one of rock music’s most revered bands. Metallica put on a visual show to eclipse all others, with lasers, pyrotechnics and an OTT firework display, but it was also a rock-solid, multiwhammy presentation of their best-known songs and two Irish covers: Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey in the Jar and The Wild Rover. “Powerhouse, pummelling, bone crushing”, this paper’s review noted. Same as it ever was, so.


Oasis, June 20th, 2009

Fourteen years after their first appearance at Slane – where they’re still described as local lads, because of their close relatives in Duleek, 5km away – Oasis returned as headliners on a bill that also included The Prodigy, Kasabian, Glasvegas and The Blizzards. They rolled out song after song that had the 80,000 people in the capacity crowd roar along until well after the gig ended. A triumph? A tad messy? Equally so, and within two months Oasis were no more. Noel and Liam Gallagher, who remain at loggerheads, still say they never want to share a stage again. We’ll see – there’s talk about the brothers burying the hatchet, re-forming the band and playing a series of shows at Knebworth, in England, in 2025. So what are the odds for Slane Castle that same year?


Madonna, August 29th, 2004

As with Bruce Springsteen, who headlined in 1985, and Robbie Williams in 1999, there was no Irish act in the 2004 line-up. Madonna was firmly in control. Not even Paul Oakenfold (just a DJ in a big field playing songs by the likes of U2, Radiohead and Coldplay) or Iggy and the Stooges (could they ever have been described as background music? On this occasion, unfortunately, yes) threatened her dominance on a stage that had to be frequently wiped dry because of the rain. As this writer put it at the time, it was a mixture of “arrogance, precision, perfectionism and resolute adherence to detail”. Yeah, we’d still go with that.



Thin Lizzy, August 16th, 1981

This was the first Slane Castle gig, and even though Phil Lynott and the rest of Thin Lizzy were on their final lap as a rock band, it remains quite probably the most fondly recalled Irish open-air gig. Lizzy, of course, had at their disposal an arsenal of radio-friendly hit songs, which they performed with their usual rock’n’roll strut. But who was this up-and-coming Irish band that also made a distinct impression on the 20,000 or so punters? Why, it was U2, in their first appearance at the festival.


Neil Young, July 10th, 1993

This writer was one of several Irish people to have seen Neil Young at an open-air festival in Germany a few weeks before the 1993 Slane Festival. (On the way back to Dublin our private Cessna jet was for a time flown by Barry Lang, the 2FM DJ, who quit broadcasting a few years later to become an airline pilot.) On the basis of that performance, there was a reasonable expectation he would be much the same here. Young being Young, however, he upped the ante, no doubt because he had Pearl Jam as his leading support act. He made it to the end of the show with amped-up guitars, especially so with the ear-thudding finale of Rockin’ in the Free World, which he played with a just as electrically charged Pearl Jam. (See 6, below.)


Ash, September 1st, 2001

Tim Wheeler, his Gibson Flying V guitar and a bunch of punk-pop bangers that everyone, pretty much, knew from Ash’s 2001 album, Free All Angels, and their 1996 debut album, 1977. Just think about it and count the songs: Burn Baby Burn, Shining Light, Goldfinger, Oh Yeah, Girl from Mars, Walking Barefoot, Jack Names the Planets, Kung Fu, Candy (and a few more). Down the bill on the second of U2′s concerts at Slane, Ash did what very few support bands do: they shrugged off the “support” tag and in their minds headlined the show.


My Little Funhouse, May 16th, 1992

Ah, how time passes and how cruel fate can be. The Kilkenny rock band My Little Funhouse signed to Geffen Records at the end of 1991 for what was then the label’s largest deal, in the region of $2 million. Pitched as the next Guns N’ Roses (who were label mates), the five-piece had the songs, the bravado and the ambition. They also had bad luck and unfortunate timing: Geffen signed another band (for about $60,000) who effectively ended the supremacy of 1980s metal bands by releasing an album that dragged grunge and alternative rock from the basement to the penthouse. Bye, bye, My Little Funhouse; hello, Nirvana.


Robbie Williams, August 28th, 1999

Robbie Williams had already visited Slane in 1998, as a support act (when The Verve, God help us, headlined in front of a crowd that wanted to hear one song and one song only: Bitter Sweet Symphony), and even from that relatively short performance you knew he’d be back sharpish. Williams was the first act to return to Slane within a year, within which time he had charmed the collective pants off every audience he performed in front of. Let me entertain you, he shouted. He did.


Pearl Jam, July 10th, 1993

Another case of one of the support acts delivering a body blow to the headliner (Neil Young; see 10, above), Pearl Jam had merely one album, their 1991 debut, Ten, and a few songs from their to-be-released second record, Vs, to impress the crowd. They did just that with an aural punch to the face that brought to mind the crunch of Led Zeppelin and the dynamics of The Who. As if in homage, Pearl Jam’s encore was the latter band’s Baba O’Riley (which Neil Young fans appreciated but was lost on the younger element).


REM, July 22nd, 1995

REM, the 1995 headliners, were watching Oasis (see the next entry) from the wings, no doubt wondering how on earth they were going to follow their support band’s swaggering, Slane-stealing performance. Michael Stipe and friends almost did with a battery of nine songs from their 1994 album, Monster, along with classics such as Drive, Man on the Moon, Losing My Religion, Pop Song 89, Everybody Hurts and the let’s-go-nuts show closer, It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).


Oasis, July 22nd, 1995

Oasis, who headlined in 2009, first played Slane in 1995, as support to REM (see the previous entry). You might think that REM would have strolled away with the honours, but no, it was the young Mancunian band – whose Gallagher brothers, Noel and Liam, had a close family connection to the nearby town of Duleek – who had the throng in paroxysms of abandon. Songwise, Oasis had just their 1994 debut, Definitely Maybe, to call on, plus a few from their forthcoming second, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, and a finale cover of The Beatles’s I Am the Walrus. The result? Brash, snotty rock’n’roll stars, no question.


Rolling Stones, July 24th, 1982

Mick Jagger and his skinny mates last played Slane in 2007, but it is their debut gig at the Co Meath castle that sticks in the memory. In the previous 10 or so years, the band had released arguably their best albums (Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll, Black and Blue, Emotional Rescue, Some Girls, Tattoo You), so were on top of their game. They also looked as if they still enjoyed playing live, with material fresh enough – not least their last great single, Start Me Up – that you wouldn’t even have thought of them as a cash-cow heritage band. And they rocked, they really did.


U2, August 25th and September 1st, 2001

U2 have played Slane three times, first in 1981, as support to Thin Lizzy (see 11, above), then twice in 2001, as headliners. If their debut show was a display of headstrong ambition from a young band eager to make a mark, the two 2001 shows (the first time a band had played back-to-back weekend shows at Slane Castle) saw U2 at the height of their powers, performing songs from one of their best albums, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, from 2000. Coming a few years after the general disappointment of their ninth album, Pop, and the sprawling live show for that album (coupled with the death of Bono’s father in the week leading up to the first show), the concerts remain a conjoined high point in U2’s career.


Bruce Springsteen, June 3rd, 1985

He is now an established figure on the Irish concert calendar, but before his 1985 gig at Slane Castle, Bruce Springsteen had never set foot on a stage here. With what was his biggest audience at the time – 95,000 strong, as he recalled in his 2016 autobiography, Born to Run – the performance has long since taken on almost mythical qualities. Yet despite the anxiety that came with playing to so many people, Springsteen lit a flame that has never fizzled out. “On the streets of Dublin,” he wrote of the gig, “it is often mentioned to me. If you were there, you were there. I was certainly there.”