Opening Act(s): The Waterboys
11 O'Clock Tick Tock, I Will Follow, Wire, MLK, The Unforgettable Fire, Surrender, Two Hearts Beat As One, Seconds, A Sort Of Homecoming, Sunday Bloody Sunday, The Cry, The Electric Co., Bad, October, New Year's Day, Pride (In The Name Of Love). Encore(s): Party Girl, Gloria, 40.
After Seconds, due to the hot, cramped quarters, cups of water are handed to audience members squashed up in the front. Other thirsty members of the crowd start chanting for water "over here, over here, over here" to the melody of Here We Go. Simple Minds' guitarist Charlie Burchill joins U2 for 40.
U2 at Barrowlands, Glasgow, Scotland
by Dave Dickson
"Promised you a miracle!" intones Simple Minds' Jim Kerr from the PA system. A miracle is promised, a miracle is what we need, a miracle is what we get: U2. We may strive, we may struggle to cling to the belief that somewhere out there in the garish land of Heavy Metal there is someone who will be able to match the awesome challenge laid down by this band but in reality, or course, there is no one to touch U2. The future of rock is firmly grasped in their hands and everything else must follow in their wake.
Without putting too fine a point on it, U2 are the single most important new rock band to emerge since, probably, the Clash, and in terms of actual musical influence, since Led Zeppelin. The comparison is not as disparate or outlandish as it appears; U2 combine the musical, political and personal integrity of the Clash with the emotional and musical power of Led Zeppelin. The Clash mixed songs of protest and defiance with simple, delightful pop material; Led Zeppelin initially won fame through the sheer power of their songs and went on to become the "ultimate" rock band of the Seventies, producing some of the most adventurous, exciting music in their field. U2 have managed to cull the best from both, blending the results under one expansive roof. Like the Clash, they are equally at home with "weighty" or pop material, and like Led Zeppelin they are producing some of the most powerful and exciting music of their decade and in the performance of that music they currently know no peers.
Glasgow is a grey, dank and depressive place and the Barrows hangs like a shred of rotting flesh to the decaying body of the city. This limb hasn't tasted the lifeblood of human activity in some time. Lining the streets are boarded shops and derelict buildings; the corrugated iron boasts a skin graft of posters advertising this concert.
In amongst all this inexorable degeneration, however, stands an edifice of life, like a lone dialysis-machine plugged into the heartbeat of the town, called Barrowlands. It's here that U2 play one of the smallest - and consequently wildest and most intimate - shows of their hugely successful tour, a tour that will tax them to the very limits of their endurance and stretch them as far as the beginning of 1986. U2 have brought their life and vibrancy to this dying place and are rewarded with a massive display of warmth and affection that makes this show more like a triumphal homecoming than just another gig in another town. A Sort of Homecoming, indeed.
As the DJ fades out Simple Minds (an appropriate warm-up to the main event), in comes "4th of July," U2's taped intro track, the lights go down, the cries go up and the band comes on. "Welcome home," announces Bono and they're into "11 O' Clock Tick Tock."
U2 have received something of a drubbing in the press of late for their supposedly "pompous" and "arrogant" attitude, but no such doubts exist in the minds of the Barrowlands audience. They welcome U2 like conquering heroes returned even if their real home is in another country a few hundred miles away. This is no grandiose, overblown bolstering of egos; there's no pouting and preening and no tedious, indulgent soloing - just rock 'n' roll played from the heart.
The press has, as usual, managed to quite comprehensively miss the point about U2 - and here I include ourselves who, like most people, have only picked up on this band through the release of their "New Year's Day" single last year, an event which proved to be the turning point, at least in their financial fortunes. The press is a cynical, callous creature that assumes everything is bad until it proves itself good, although its dubious flirtation with socialism allows it to promote anything it considers worthy of the tag "Working Class Hero." Somewhere in amongst this sea of cynicism is a small island called Kerrang! which naively assumes that everything within its own narrow confines of interest is good until such time as it proves itself to be utterly horrendous.
Neither facet of the press has much time for such an "untrendy" act as U2 who have taken to referring to themselves as a rock band. Kerrang! has dutifully ignored them all this time because they don't wear their hair long - although Bono now sports a healthy thatch - chew razor blades or consort with the Devil. And now that U2 look set to become major league superstars throughout the world the press - certain elements in particular - inexplicably turns on them as though the accumulation of their fortune was something akin to leprosy.
No, U2 made the mistake of writing and performing a series of brilliant rock songs and expected that to be enough. They didn't want to be stars but they did want to be heard - this was the politics of contention, of defiance with a cry of "No More!!" as its battle hymn. But did the press want to know? No, it slagged the white flag waving as an empty gesture while the band raked in dollars. Fortunately, the punters knew different.
War was a huge, devastating album that set U2 apart as the most exciting rock act on the market, but the reality of the situation is that it wasn't until the release of the first single from that album, "New Year's Day," that the band began to see a financial return on their commitment. Until then the only thing that kept them alive was their constant touring and the sheer conviction of their belief.
But somehow all this got misread and U2 were labeled as "pretentious" and "overbearing" just like Zeppelin had been before them, though by this time they'd found their ever-increasing audience and grown beyond the petty dogma of the press. Now there was real contact between band and audience - they no longer needed a third party medium like the press.
U2 were reaching out and touching people. No one who heard the beauty of "Drowning Man" or "40" or the awesome, sadly anthemic, power of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" can fail to have been moved. This was it, the torchbearers had arrived and we could either follow or be left in the dark.
And now U2's torch burns with "The Unforgettable Fire" - an album ludicrously dismissed in certain areas of the press. Rolling Stone concluded that Bono's lyrics were "too often a spew of artsy blather," all the while missing the point that these lyrics, like many of David Sylvian's, are not meant to be read literally (hence no lyric sheet) but heard euphonically; their sound is always more important than their content. The press once again failed to keep up with the band. Kerrang! at least, began to see the light.
As "11 O' Clock Tick Tock" fades into "I Will Follow" and "Wire," the band warms to the night and the small, packed club becomes steamy with heat and sweat and the drive of The Edge's guitar attack, its choppy, punchy outbursts defining the U2 sound. The Edge is a reluctant hero, retiring like a sand-kicked beach puny behind his guitars and his high-buttoned white shirt. With bassist Adam Clayton drummer Larry Mullen Jr. content with their supporting roles at the back of the stage, only The Edge seems uneasy at his post and somehow I yearned for a little more gregarious action on his part.
But then out front they have the enormous presence of Bono, one of the most accomplished frontmen I have ever encountered. The man exudes a powerful, commanding charisma that demands attention but - perhaps as a result of the criticism he received over his flag-waving, amp-climbing antics on the War tour, which were a shade indulgent - he never oversteps the mark and rarely overstates the case, though he has yet to find a way to avoid bursting into Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" during "The Electric Co."
Bono may be U2's greatest asset but he is also U2's greatest problem: at the moment he doesn't know whether he wants to be Robert Plant or Joe Strummer. That sounds derisive but it underlies the most painful decision U2 have yet to make. Their Barrowlands gig proved to both their audience and themselves that they still have their feet firmly planted on the ground in an environment where intimacy continues to reign. But soon, as their success becomes greater and greater, this kind of gig will no longer be possible. Bono would like to maintain the street-level contact Joe Strummer has with his audience but transfer that to audiences of the size Robert Plant most frequently controlled with Led Zeppelin. Bono wants the best of both worlds and I'm not sure if that's possible but then if anyone is capable of achieving that, it's him.
Back at Barrowlands, synthesizer noises come rumbling ominously through the floor and Bono begins the slow, almost painful cry of "MLK" as a prelude to his announcement that we are "Welcome to The Unforgettable Fire," which features The Edge's dexterous interplay between keyboards and guitar. But it's on the next number that his musical muscle begins to flex as he unleashes a piercing guitar run on "Surrender." The sound both assaults and delights before he emerges from behind his instrument to finish the song in his more familiar punchy style. The Edge is one of the very few guitarists currently at work who can justifiably claim to have his own style and sound.
The song slips into "Two Hearts Beat As One" with an improvised chorus of "I Can And I Will" from the singer, and it begins to look like all things are possible to him. But then he gives over the center stage to his guitarist who dons his Keef Richards guise and an acoustic guitar and begins to sing "Seconds" while Bono helps him over the more difficult passages standing stage right.
"We've got everybody in the world here tonight," claims Bono and I begin to fear he's about to drift off into one of the incomprehensible monologues that dogged U2's appearance at the Brixton Academy the previous week. There he seemed lost in his own private world which all these people suddenly and inexplicably invaded. But tonight he's more relaxed, more in control: "At least everybody in the world we wanted in here," he continues. "This is for the people outside the building who couldn't get in 'A Sort of Homecoming!'"
Outside the building before the gig literally hundreds of kids were lined up around the block waiting for the chance to get into the party. There was no gatecrashing here, though, and I've no idea how many of them actually made it; but then it's obvious that this kind of event cannot continue for U2 - too many people want to see them for them to limit themselves to a hall this small. Which, of course, gave hue and cry that U2 have sold-out and now only play stadiums! There's no winning in this game.
The evocative, hymnal "A Sort of Homecoming" gives way to U2's "Stairway To Heaven": "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which is surely one of the most powerful songs written this decade. It is strident and insistent, a song of military precision and beat coupled with gutter-level anger and desperation; it is a song of tragedy and of hope. With this one song U2 have encapsulated their generation and they are liable to be stuck with it forever.
As they unfold "The Electric Co." I begin to appreciate just how heavy these people can be - and now watch out for misquotes: "Kerrang! says "U2 are really Heavy Metal!!!"
"I wrote this song for a friend of mine," explains Bono, "then I found I wrote it for myself. This song is 'Bad.'" And "Bad" belies its name, being a true masterpiece closing on a singalong chorus before Bono quits the darkened stage. But there's more to come as The Edge resumes his place at the keyboards and strikes up the stirring opening chords to "October," a song that somehow warms the blood while reminding the listener of long, cold winter evenings. I suppose this is what's meant by "evocative."
As cheers throng the hall, The Edge wastes no time before bursting into "New Year's Day" over Adam Clayton's urgent riff, the song's finest moment coming when the guitarist ceases hammering on the piano and turns to his main instrument to unfurl that gloriously brittle sound like broken glass. His performance is riveting.
And then against a projected backdrop portrait of Martin Luther King, U2 close their set with "Pride (In the Name of Love)," a song so rich and powerful and steeped in emotion [that] words become rather futile. After 70 minutes the action has never faltered, the attention never wavered; Bono has become drenched with sweat and been forced to change his sodden shirt to a sleeveless jerkin. Much energy has been expended on both sides of the stage - a few have fainted, even - but no one can doubt they have witnessed what U2 hope is a new beginning for them. After this there is no going back.
With The Edge once again picking up his acoustic guitar and being introduced by his singer as: "Fresh from 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' - Jimmy Page!" in recognition of the fact that Mr. Page had that very night appeared on the programme strumming an acoustic, they run through their light piece of trivia "Party Girl," lest anyone should accuse them of being humourless, before closing with the epic "Gloria."
But it's not enough and back they come to a cacophony of stamping feet and cheering voices. This time they deliver the gentle "40" with Bono assuring the audience that: "Well, we've waited a long time for this. I won't forget tonight and I hope you won't." I think the chances of that are very slim.
The song begins to wind to its conclusion and Bono wishes us farewell and quits the stage followed shortly by Adam Clayton. The Edge and Larry Mullen continue to lead the chorus through the terrace shouting of "How long, to sing this song" before eventually the guitarist too leaves the stage leaving the drummer to round everything off with a final beat. This slow clearing of the stage was a trick employed frequently by the Doors and more recently by Dire Straits but no one much cares for the history of such a ploy. It's effective, it works, that's all that matters.
Barrowlands cries out for more and sings out the "40" refrain but Clannad's "Harry's Theme" comes as a sad reminder that all good things must come to an end and this has surely been a good thing.
For us the rest is easy: we just sit back and watch and enjoy. For U2, however, the most daunting task is still ahead of them: they have to continue becoming the greatest rock band of the decade - and that surely is an awesome task in itself - while at the same time retaining their integrity, their courage and their conviction. In a way they carry the burden for all of us; if they succeed - and I believe they will - there's hope for everyone because it will mean that strength and compassion still have a place. If they fail, well, I don't really want to consider that possibility.
© 1984 Kerrang!. All Rights Reserved.