U2 come home in triumph

 

FOR BONO the shows so far on U2’s 360° tour in Barcelona, Milan, Nice, Berlin and Amsterdam have been merely “warm ups for the main event”: a run of three shows in Croke Park starting last night.

Dublin yesterday became U2ville – radio was playing them back-to-back, in city-centre pubs U2 tribute bands were offering up their best ersatz effort and a small army of overseas travellers embarked on “U2 Walking Tours” of the city – taking in their old recording studio at Windmill Lane and their present one at Hanover Quay as well as their old stomping grounds of the Project Arts Centre and the Dandelion Market.

What struck most on the entry roads to Croke Park last night (a stadium with the finest media facilities know to mankind) were the multifarious hues of the fans – travelling Japanese groups mingled with excitable Argentinians while two women in burkas jointly carried a “Iraq loves U2” placard. The demographic make-up of the 80,000 crowd wasn’t lost on Bono who said from the stage: “I know there’s a lot of out-of-towners here tonight, that’s because they know the best place to see U2 live is right here in Dublin”.

Taking to the stage shortly before 9pm with a piercing sun still in the sky, the full technological bells and whistles of the much-vaunted “Claw” were lost somewhat in the glare. Due to the particular configuration of Croke Park, the 360° tour had to become the 270° tour for the night that was in it – with Hill 16 unavailable.

They gave it socks from the start. Acknowledging the stadium’s historical significance and its proximity to the Royal Canal, Bono dedicated a cover of “The Auld Triangle” to Ronnie Drew, noting the song “was the greatest sound, because it is the sound of home”.

There was a brief intermission early on for a public service announcement a la Bono. He went off on a self-help trip saying “Look at us Irish people – we are smart, sexy and undefeatable ... and there’s nothing we can’t do if we believe it ourselves”.

The music itself is familiar – it’s part of this country’s cultural soundtrack but even the “I can’t stand them but I never miss one of their live shows” contingent (ie the media guest list) were reaching for the superlatives: this was one of the band’s strongest ever live outings. An achingly poignant acoustic version of “Stuck In A Moment”; an evocative “Unforgettable Fire; a rough-hewn garage rock “Vertigo” and a Balearic Beat version of “I’ll Go Crazy” all put the gig into warp speed.

A tribute to Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi during “Walk On” saw 60-odd people march around the perimeter of the stage wearing the mask of the political prisoner – an affecting sight.

As darkness fell, the “Claw” crept into life. The biggest ever musical stage structure (at 164ft high it is double the size of the previous biggest ever stage – at one point descending so low it almost touched the artists’ heads.

U2 ended with a broody “With or Without You” and a sadly soulful “Moment Of Surrender” (the song of the night).

It was a sort of homecoming – and a type of triumph.