(photos by Lydia Coates)
In Belfast, their first gig after the Paris Terror Attacks, that caused two of their concerts to be cancelled. This has the makings of an emotional night. Not that this Tour needs any more emotion than this band and their remarkable creative, staging, visual and lighting team came up with in the plotting, way back in the early part of the year.
I remember being bamboozled by all the Televisions on the Zoo TV Tour at Earls Court in 1992 and thinking they can’t top that. Then Popmart - top that. Then… and here we are over twenty years later and they are still making it better and better. The staging means that everyone is close to the action at some moment. There are two stages, or three stages if you count the walk way between the two, or four if you count the one raised up into the screens. They use all four, throughout. There are different perspective going on depending where you are standing or sitting and even if you are in the same seat then the bombardment of stimuli means that on the way home you can find you saw a different gig as you share your highlights with your wife.
U2 visuals simply evolve, from those TVs, to the biggest screen in the world, to now the band actually walking into the screens. Bono walks down Cedarwood Road, we fly over a devastated Syrian city, the Berlin wall breaks up to let us see the band and then we are touring the murals of Northern Ireland. A bomb blasts. This is not just a rock n roll concert. It is cinema. It is theatre.
On that multimedia canvas the storyline is jam packed with Innocence and Experience. The first half takes us right into the early days of the band and their teen forming lives. The centre piece of Songs Of Innocence, Iris, Raised By Wolves, Cedarwood Road and Song For Someone are the emotional, spiritual and political core. The streets that shaped the band is the basic premise though of course only Bono lived there. Yet, it was here he lost his mother, fell in love with Alison Stewart, joined a band, found God and was playing in the street when his friend came back from experiencing the Dublin bombs in May 1974. We experience it all tonight
There are very few bands who could dare to put that kind of power into the first half of a show and keep any kind of attention beyond it. U2 have the songs that can maintain the tension and always have more to say. A neat acoustic slot with Bono playing piano on Sweetest Thing and then he and Edge giving that stripped down version of Every Breaking Wave, surely their most perfect song before a haunting October, post Paris, “kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall but you go on…”
The strength of a catalogue comes through, She Moves In Mysterious Ways, Where The Streets Have No Name, Beautiful Day, With or Without You, Bullet the Blue Sky, One… And on top of those sounds the Refugee crisis, the near to ending babies receiving HIV from their mothers and Belfast’s peacemakers are all given space and weight. The intro to Streets particularly grabbed me...
What do you want
A Europe With Its heart open but its borders closed to mercy
What do you want?
I’ll tell you what I want
A place called home
A place of hope
Where we refuse to hate because we know love will do a better job”
One of Bono’s greatest personal gifts is to encourage. Maybe the Lypton Villagers should have called him Barnabus instead of Bono Vox, though Barney might not have been so cool! He is always making the crowd believe in themselves, that they can change something. The fact they are pumping Patti Smith’s People Have The Power as they walk on stage lays out the plan of attack.
Tonight that is all about Belfast and peacemaking.
“You are heroes to us”
“We came to bow down to you
Because we look up to you
Look what you have done”
Before With Or Without You…
“A song about letting go of the past
And giving the future a big kiss
whatever you have weighing you
Whatever monkey on your back talking to you
Let it go”
“Sing for the peacemakers wherever they are in the world tonight. Sing for the peacemakers in this city. I guess that means all of you… sing for the ones who had the courage to compromise… then who value people over ideas…”
The bomb carnage of Raised By Wolves and the “how long must we sing this song” of Sunday Bloody Sunday has the arena awash with the divided slogans of Northern Ireland. The worst atrocities are listed from Enniskillen to Dublin, from Miami Showband to Kingsmills, from Loughinisland to Omagh. A call to remember the victims with ALL very much to the fore.
The confetti/debris that falls after Until The End Of The World still included Dante’s Inferno, Alice In Wonderland and Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of The Psalms but added tonight was Justice For The Victims. It was particularly prophetic a day or two after the latest Fresh Start Agreement had left out legacy issues and did nothing for the victims of the past.
The finale was One and this is where it really made the mark. As the band break in Bono lets the crowd sing but for longer than normal. Suddenly we are into a communal healing, both sides of our conflict singing back and forth to each other,
“We're one, but we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
Sunday Bloody Sunday’s long held opinion that “we can be as one, tonight” is made singalong. If you watch the Youtube footage you will see that Bono is emotionally moved by the moment.
Let me end with the moment that most caught my soul. During Song For Someone I heard a lyric tweak. This is just a few days after Paris. Another evil act in the name of religion. It would be easy to give up on any idea of God and chant the “I don’t believe anymore” of Raised By Wolves but Bono throws out another morsel to hold onto…
"I know there's so many reasons to doubt
But there is a light
Don't let it go out”
I took that back out into a Belfast night, my soul buzzing with imaginings, hope and a whole lot of belief.