Forget swine flu, catch U2 fever

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U2 performing "Unknown Caller"
at Dublin's Croke Park July 25

Mammoth gigs a testament to band's self-belief and ego, writes Barry Egan

By Barry Egan,

Forget Swine flu. Dublin is in the claw-like grip of U2 fever -- a pandemic that started on Friday night at Croke Park in front of 80,000 people and spread virulently unchecked again last night. It is expected to continue tomorrow for the final night. That's three shows and almost a quarter of a million tickets sold. Not bad for a country experiencing the worst downtown in its history . . .

Whatever your view on U2 and their tax affairs (Bono admitted to being "stung" by allegations of being a bit of a hypocritical toe-rag for urging first-world governments -- including Ireland's -- to increase aid to combat poverty in Africa while moving part of U2's business out of Ireland to take advantage of lower tax rates), you would want to be pretty mean-spirited not to see the joy U2's hometown shows brought to their city, not just in terms of finance (all the pubs, clubs and hotels in the capital were jammed) but in terms of pure unadulterated joy.

The boys were back in town. All the buskers on Grafton Street seemed to have stopped doing Frames and Oasis covers in favour of tunes by Bono, the Edge, Mullen and Clayton.

I had a coffee in the Shelbourne hotel yesterday morning. I met a group of Americans who had just come from Detroit for last night's show. "We have been going to their shows for years," one of them told me, excitably. The excitement began in earnest on Friday night at Croke Park.

In the backstage area, the glamouratti gathered to await U2's arrival as the summer sun shone unseasonably over Croke Park. Andrea Corr and her husband-to-be Brett Desmond, actor Gabriel Byrne, director Barry Devlin, Gayle Killilea, and RTE's Miriam O'Callaghan and husband Steve Carson were all present.

Naturally Bono's lifelong friends Guggi and Gavin Friday were also there, as was Bono's wife, Ali Hewson, and U2 manager Paul McGuinness and wife Cathy Gilfinan.

Elsewhere in the famous stadium, the 80,000 representatives of hoi polloi were enjoying assiduously-stoked U2 mania. You couldn't move for people from Tokyo to Tullamore and back again singing their own ropey versions of U2 songs both old and new.

Mercifully, at the appointed time, just before 9pm, U2 came to give us renditions of their own songs: Breathe, No Line on the Horizon, Get On Your Boots and Magnificent. It says something about the band's belief -- even arrogance -- that they would open up their show with four songs from a hardly commercial, even difficult, new album. Then it was straight down to business with some of the songs that elevated them to deity-like status around the world. It is hard to describe the emotional rush of 80,000 dancing en masse as they did to Elevation.

Yes, the sound was occasionally ropey, very ropey in parts -- but no one save the odd begrudger would have minded that much when the music overall was so enlivening.

Bono and the band played beneath a colossal, 60-metre-high structure -- a homage to U2's ambition as well as their ego.

It was like watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind with a bit of Later with Jools Holland thrown in. The acoustic Stuck In The Moment with just Bono on vocals and The Edge on acoustic guitar was breathtaking. Just the two of them -- plus 80,000 fans and some magic chemistry. Equally touching in its simplicity was Walk On, during which dozens of kids walked around the perimeter of the stage wearing masks bearing the image of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for years. During the blistering brilliance of Sunday Bloody Sunday, the screen flashed up images from the recent political protests in Iran.

Bono segued into Rock The Casbah by The Clash. This was inspirational stuff all right. Then it all went a bit limp -- make that very limp indeed -- during the taped speech from Bishop Desmond Tutu. Sphincter-tighteningly naff to sit through, like being back at school. That apart, this was a special homecoming at a time when Ireland needed U2 most. Friday night at Croke Park was the sound of triumph.

Mercifully, Bono and the band choose to take a risk and not turn into The Rolling Stones -- churning out the same dreadful album every other two years. That's why U2's new album No Line On The Horizon could be the sound of a cult act pushing hard for breakout success, not a record by the biggest band in the world.

"Out of the rubble of 1916," Bono told the crowd at one point on Friday night, "they built a magnificent stadium and more importantly a great country. And there is nothing we can't do if we believe in ourselves."

- Barry Egan

© 2009

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on July 26, 2009 8:27 AM.

The Edge is helping MUSIC RISE to the rescue! was the previous entry in this blog.

Bono and the boys silence doubters with hot show is the next entry in this blog.

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