Opening Act(s): Snow Patrol, The Bravery
Vertigo, I Will Follow, The Cry, The Electric Co., Elevation, New Year’s Day, Beautiful Day, City Of Blinding Lights, Miracle Drug, Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own, Love And Peace Or Else, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bullet The Blue Sky-When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Running To Stand Still, Pride (In The Name Of Love), Where The Streets Have No Name, One. Encore(s): Zoo Station, The Fly, Mysterious Ways, With Or Without You-Transmission-Love Will Tear Us Apart, All Because Of You, Yahweh, Vertigo-Stories For Boys.
‘I Will Follow’ makes its Vertigo Tour debut (holding up as the only U2 song performed on every tour since the band’s first album). In Joy Division’s hometown, Bono sings a bit of ‘Transmission’ and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ during ‘With Or Without You.’ Joy Division bassist Peter Hook is in attendance. Bono thanks Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for their recent efforts leading to the G8’s cancellation of $40 billion of Third World debt.
The Final Word
U2 City Of Manchester Stadium
by Mark Reed, The Final Word
It’s not their greatest hits, but it’s U2 at their greatest.
Are U2 the greatest band in the world? On the strength of last nights show in Manchester the answer must be Yes. Unlike the other legends of rock, they’ve managed to avoid becoming irrelevant, managed to avoid making rubbish records, and managed to avoid turning their concerts into karaoke stadium rock where no song is under 20 years old. For that alone, U2 are unique. But not only that, U2 are one of the few bands in the world that appeal to the head and the heart, the mind and the soul, the rock and the roll. And last night U2 gave 60,000 people a performance that crystallised everything the band have always been about.
At the heart of this, lie four men who still are the same four boys who started a spiky rock band in Ireland in 1978. The set - spanning the resurrected “Electric Co” to the bulk of last years “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” - made clear that this is still U2. It’s still the same band. Sure they’ve got more gadgets and technology these days, and it would be foolhardy to not use those, but at the heart of it, U2 are still the same band. The things that drove them when they started are the things that still drive them. In their hearts, they are still as much boys as they ever were. And boys like their toys.
The “Vertigo” production is, make no mistake, immense. Part “PopMart” in it’s grandeur, part “Elevation” in it’s no-frills intimacy, it’s the summation of everything U2 have been working at : PopMart grew up, and made this. Whereas PopMart was all flash (and flash has never looked so cool), and Elevation all soul, Vertigo is the perfect blend of the two : where pomp and pisstake meet in a potent explosion.
Everybody loves U2. Everyone. Behind me, possibly the coolest dad in the world (bar me) dances with his 8 year old son and they sing to each other. I wished my dad took me to gigs. I wonder if sometimes Bono and his dad danced like that. Below me, a sea of matching t-shirts dances as one : one pair of T-Shirt Twins (both bearing what look to be the £70* faux-retro Achtung Baby shirts) dance a ballet of white boy rock. Next to them, a cluster of Fosters Lager Bar Staff jump up and down singing and waving and smiling. Everyone is included. U2 is a world of democracy. Despite their obscene ticket prices, and the vastly oversubscribed tickets.
One thing is stunningly clear. Bono is a great T-shirt salesman. You have to be you’re selling old reprinted shirts at £70 a pop. No. I’m not making that up. £70. £70. SEVENTY POUNDS for a t-shirt.
U2 know they’re one of the best bands in the world. When tickets cost that much, you have to be. And despite the bluster and baffle, there are still quite a few unsold seats in the stadium, hundreds of empty seats, especially on the £85/seat tier. This is a show, and this is a business. Welcome to show business. And what a show.
Starting with a biting “Vertigo”, U2 kick the sunlight aside with a no-frills, open air, no bullshit hits set for the opening half hour in the blinding sunset. They premiere “I Will Follow” for the first time so far on their tour, and a nostalgic “Electric Co.”, as if to make explicitly clear that yes, this is the same band, the same four guys, the same ideals, the same band they ever were.
But this sure ain’t the Manchester Boardwalk, or Kansas, anymore. The suckerpunch of hits continues with “Beautiful Day”, “New Years Day” and new single “City Of Blinding Light”. Having seduced us with the hits of yore, as the darkness falls, they transform slowly into the U2 of today. This is who we were, and this now, is who we are. You’ve seen us on the journey, and this is where we arrived. A four song heart of new material, the dazzling “City Of Blinding Light” sees the arena swathed in dusk and projections that put even PopMart to shade (and, the song itself was written during the “Pop” sessions). The world where Man and Machine meet. Jets take off from the Airport and pass overhead, and part of me wonders if maybe it isn’t part of the show.
Thematically the next two songs, “Miracle Drug” and “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”, are one but not the same. A portrait seen from two different angles. A paen to lost life and the healing power of technology, the songs take us to a place very few concerts would dare. We’re staring death and mortality in the face here. Bono serenades the ghost of his father, and we wonder. Will I ever dance with my son the way the dad behind me is with his son? Why didn’t my dad do the same? One day we will all die. And this transition makes it clear that this, this is the one world, one life, one choice, the one chance we have to make a difference.
Yes. Grown men cry during U2 shows. The songs tug your heartstrings out and cut through the bullshit of modern life to what really matters. To what it is like to be alive and what it is to live and not merely exist. Time is running out, these two songs say. Time to make a change.
And what change should we make? The latterhalf of the main set makes this explicitly clear. The so-called “Heart Of Darkness” peels back the underside of the world, and it’s an ugly view. “Love And Peace or Else”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “Bullet The Blue Sky”, “Running To Stand Still”, “Pride”, “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “One” are perhaps U2’s clearest statements of intent. War is bad, a very bad thing, which is kind of like saying the sky is blue and that terrorism is bad. But this isn’t about politics. It’s about activism. It’s about the future of mankind. This tour is more of a rallying cry for mankind to stop fucking about and work together.
Co-Exist. We must co-exist or die. Whilst we’re busy bombing people, we’re trampling human rights. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights scrolls forth, and the band pummell into “Pride” : the failure of mankind to treat all nations and all people equally is as big a crime against humanity as any other. Possibly the biggest ever. It’s in no way subtle. Hints are dropped like bricks. But stadiums like the big gestures. When Bono raises his hands, like a Hitler rally, we ALL raise our hands. Heil Bono!
The rabble-rousing, roof-lifting “Where The Streets Have No Name” isn’t just a communal singalong anymore. It’s more than that. It’s a war cry, a battle hymn for the new human order.
The set moves into the final scene with “One”, at once a statement of human unity, and the bitter dissolution of a failed love. People play this at their weddings, which always shocks Bono. “Haven’t you listened to the lyrics?” Bono asks. Yes. And maybe it’s because the song recognises that love is a stony path, and that some loves last forever despite these personal battles, that makes the song so strong. Yes. We will fight, we will row, but we will always be strong together. And mankind is stronger together than apart.
Sure, you can take all this in, and think of it as more-than-competent stadium rock, or you can see that U2 are perhaps the most vocal champions of human rights in history, repeatedly underlining the cause. People are coming to a rock concert, and yes, we’re being preached to, but U2 have refined the methods, opened our eyes.
“People are coming to a rock concert and watching Television” was part of the Zoo TV method. As the darkness falls, U2 move from the preaching to something else completely. Bridged by “One”, the band move swiftly into a mini Zoo set. This is who we are, and that’s who we were, and we’re the same people we always were. This is a mini-reprise of 1992 all over again, but better, stronger, faster, more. The visuals, now in the night, are finally unleashed and make it clear that ZooTV was kids play compared to this. Visuals declare a People’s Republic of Zooropa, with massive Z flags, stalinesque 50 foot portraits of the band in red & yellow, a cartoon baby, a revised and mind blowing scroll of text that isn’t quite as random as you might think, and some of the best songs of all time. “Zoo Station” and “The Fly” are executed with military precision and religious passion. “Mysterious Ways” is, like every live version, expanded, enhanced, a widescreen tale of lust, ambition and faith. The power of love redeems. And, as they unveil “With or Without You” for only the fifth time on this tour, the two are clearly the same song. One song from the crotch, the other from a man stuck on a crutch of love. Being Manchester, the song then moves, as it always does in the 0161 TimeZone to a Sinatraesque rendition of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. (And if you doubt how much U2 stole from Joy Division, you can start with their producer Martin Hannett, who produced “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”). And yes, grown men can cry when something as simple as a song unlocks the heart.
If you didn’t see Zoo TV, this is the next best thing. It’s UltraZooTV, ZooTVconcentrate, and you can overdose on it. In fact, it might be the single 20 best minutes of music I have ever seen live.
The theme of unity dispensed, U2 are back to the second encore, which sounds and feels like greatest hits, but is made entirely from the new album. “All Because Of You” flattens, a poem to his mother and to birth, to survival and seperation. Read those lyrics. “I’m alive, I’m being born, I just arrived, I’m at the door, Of the place I started out from, And I want back inside. And It’s All Because Of You”. Thematically, the only other song you can have next is “Yahweh”, about everything and nothing. And the pain of birth. And probably God and the Bible, like every U2 song. In fact, with it’s theme of birth, “All Because Of You” should be the set opener.
Because next we get the last, final song, and much as I enjoyed it, it was the wrong choice. U2 aren’t some new band, they’re not some stadium cabaret act, they’re not under-rehearsed, and they’ve got somewhere in the region of 100 songs they haven’t played tonight.
So why “Vertigo” twice? TWICE? The visuals are amazing, yes, and the performance is white hot. But to pay £50, or £85 a ticket and get the same song TWICE is frankly insulting. I can think of, off the top of my head, some 27 singles they didn’t play tonight. But every silver lining has a cloud. Nothing can ever be perfect. But my God, U2 come close.
The “Vertigo Tour” is U2 at their best so far. A distillation, a summation, of all their previous phases and styles in one fabulous, potent whole. The chemistry on stage between the members, and between the crowd and the band, is almost nuclear. Can I make a pun about dismantling an atomic bomb now? It’s not their greatest hits, but it’s U2 at their greatest.
Photos by Darren Staples (AP) & Gareth Copley (Reuters).