Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gig review: U2 at Wembley Stadium

U2 really know how to reach out across a football pitch and tweak your nose. Even at the far end of Wembley Stadium last night, we felt part of Bono's big party, despite our handclaps coming a full beat after everyone else's.

As the wee Irish fella pointed out, though, U2 have had plenty of time to polish their act. "It's just occurred to me - we're older than Wembley Stadium," he noted, recalling the day he slept in Waterloo station clutching a demo tape on his way to a meeting at Island records.

Later, for no apparent reason, he started listing the names of tube stations. "St Paul's, Embankment, Tottenham Court Road, Grange Hill" (are you sure you took proper notes? Ed)

It encapsulated everything that is great and ridiculous about Mr Hewson - the ability to conjure up a tingling feeling of fellowship, only to deflate it with a piece of "poetic" whimsy that makes you snigger into your beer.

The tension between greatness and unadulterated crap carried over to the set-list. Vertigo was enormous, intoxicating, bonkers... and followed by a useless dance remix of I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight. U2 also continue to insist on playing Get On Your Boots, as if everyone had secretly conceded that it wasn't the worst song of their entire career.

The odd stinker aside, however, there were more classic moments at this show than most bands manage in an entire tour. An acoustic version of Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of was an early highpoint, and current album track Unknown Caller proved to be a rousing singalong, thanks to some karakoe lyrics on the big screen.

But the most magical moment of the night came without the need for a hymn sheet. As the audience sang a full-bodied version of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking, the four members of U2 stopped playing, one-by-one, just to savour the noise of Wembley's biggest ever crowd.

It was a concert experience I will never forget.

Unsurprisingly, the best songs were the old ones. Pride, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and Mysterious Ways all hit the sweet spot, while One and With Or Without You once again earned their place in the great rock songbook. Bono seemed a bit impatient with the latter, however, rushing his words as though he was fed up of singing it. We saw a limo arrive backstage during the song, so maybe he just wanted to make sure he caught the Big Brother eviction show.

The infamous "claw" stage, by the way, is amazing. It looks like the festering foot of an otherwise invisible Godzilla, and comes complete with a 360ยบ video screen, moving bridges and a huge cocktail stick topped with a glitter ball. It played such an integral role in making the audience part of the show that you wondered why no-one had ever thought of it before. We also wondered whether we could pay 20p to make the claw scoop up a cuddly toy Bono. The staff at Wembley just looked at us weird when we asked.

All in all, it was a great night out - improved even more by the presence of Elbow as a support band (they really work in a stadium context - it'd be great to see them graduate to that status with their next record).

U2 play at Wembley again tonight and there are still tickets available. If you've got the time and the inclination, you should definitely make the journey.

You won't be disappointed.

No Line on the Horizon
Get On Your Boots
Beautiful Day (incl London Calling, London Bridges and Blackbird)
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (incl Movin' On Up)
Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of
Unknown Caller
The Unforgettable Fire
City Of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight (remix)
Sunday Bloody Sunday (incl Rock The Casbah)
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Walk On (incl You'll Never Walk Alone)
Where The Streets Have No Name
One (incl Desmond Tutu speech)
Mysterious Ways

Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
With Or Without You
Moment of Surrender

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