U2's refusal to stagnate blows away any weary familiarity

 

IT’S LIKE this: every four years, U2 return home from their travels, set up their inordinately large and mostly innovative tent, and sing for their supper. No more and no less, they are entertainers, a rock band of a certain mature age that have been schlepping around the globe for over 30 years.

You would think by this stage that we (by this, I mean the band’s die-hard fans, cynics, casual followers, staunchest critics, wry observers) would be weary of Adam Clayton’s studied stoicism, Edge’s adamant refusal to remove his skull cap, Larry’s cavalier, muscular way with a white T-shirt, Bono’s sincere humanistic nature. You would think that we would be tired of hearing, yet again, With or Without You, Where the Streets Have No Name, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Desire, Elevationand all the rest.

And you know what? Such is the nature of familiarity, we probably are fed up with U2. Yet still they continue to surprise and extend themselves. Cynics and arch critics of the band may start to yawn or laugh by this point ­ yes, we’re giving you permission – but there remains at the core of U2 an obvious if not obsessive necessity to weave change in and out of the fabric of their music and performance. Whether you’re a fan or not, after 30 years on the go this type of resistance to stagnate is beyond admirable.

Once you get over the impressive presence of the veined ‘Claw’ (which, due to the spatial dynamics of Croke Park, is more 270- than 360-degree), what you’re left with is just four blokes, an excellent sound system, some very large hi-tech screens, subtle and effective visuals and rock music that ranges from heritage to extraordinary.

The band bookend Friday night’s set with two of the best tracks from their, comparatively speaking, underperforming latest album, No Line On The Horizon: Breatheand Moment of Surrender. The title track, Get On Your Boots(the weakest single U2 has released to date) and Magnificent (aptly titled) follow, the latter picking up slack before belting into a triple whammy of Beautiful Day, Elevation and Desire. They follow this with a stripped down version of Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, wherein Edge strums acoustic guitar and Bono sings as if there’s 80 in the room, not 80,000. And then Bono and the crowd launch into a rugged rendition of The Auld Triangle, which is dedicated to Ronnie Drew. People, there was not a dry eye in the house.

These songs and more (including One, The End of the World, The Unforgettable Fire, City of Blinding Lights, Vertigo, Walk On, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Where the Streets have No Name, and Bad) constitute a series of moments that result in a pin-sharp point of fact: there is no other rock band in the world capable of maintaining such a steady level of quality at such a high level of performance.

The downside to this is that we shall probably never again see U2 in venues small enough to see the whites of their eyes, a stance that seriously undermines their battle-cry ethos of ‘He Who Dares Wins’. On this particular grand, wham-bam-thank-you-maam scale, however – where four ordinary blokes perform in front of almost a quarter of a million people over three nights, where the music often matches the ambition, they are simply unbeatable.