U2, Wembley Stadium, London

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By Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, Financial Times

The show opened with smoke pouring from U2's remarkable stage set, a vast spacecraft-style contraption designed to make them visible throughout the venue. It was the London leg of their "360°" tour and Wembley was hosting its largest rock concert, with 88,000 people present. There could be no doubt the world's biggest band were in town.

First on stage was the drummer Larry Mullen, striking up a beat as his colleagues materialised: The Edge on guitar, Adam Clayton on bass, and Bono on vocals, apparently wearing rose-tinted sunglasses - ideal for squinting through while delivering uplifting homilies about saving the world.

U2 in concert are a unique mix of stadium rock spectacle, feelgood spiritual rally and political activism. At Wembley, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was dedicated to Iranian pro-democracy demonstrators, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu made a specially filmed plea for anti-poverty and Aids aid.

"Walk On" was transformed into a gauche act of solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi, with Bono emoting lyrics about songbirds seeking freedom as a line of women solemnly filed on stage holding paper cut-out masks of the Burmese politician. The irony that her house arrest was extended last week thanks to the well-meaning but foolish efforts of an overzealous western supporter went unremarked.

The sermonising sat awkwardly in a show that, in its earlier stages, seemed designed to distance U2 from their Bono-led reputation as an international aid agency with tunes. The opening songs were drawn from their new album, No Line on the Horizon, as if to remind us that the quartet remain first and foremost a working rock band.

Unfortunately, it's a patchy album. The title track was stirring and anthemic: U2 at their best. "Get On Your Boots" was sludgy and try-hard: U2 at their worst. "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" was improved by being turned into whirling techno-rock, a rare moment of innovation in a set that otherwise leavened the new tracks with a powerfully realised but predictable parade of old hits, which lacked the cutting edge of the high-tech stage set.

"This could be a very special night," said Bono, never one to aim low. He missed the mark tonight, though.

2 stars (out of 5)

Copyright © 2009 The Financial Times Limited

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on August 17, 2009 4:00 AM.

Wembley record 'broken by U2 gig' was the previous entry in this blog.

U2 Live Under A Slate Grey Claw: Chris Roberts Reports From Wembley is the next entry in this blog.

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