It was a tense sort of homecoming for U2 as they took to the stage in Dublin for the first of four nights this week.
Despite being the self-proclaimed “biggest band in the world” for so long, it was a fragile U2 which blasted on stage in the 3Arena amid mounting questions as to how much longer can they continue.
The appetite to see them continues, as reflected by the sold-out status of the “eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE Tour” shows this week, but absent has been the normal hype or hysteria that surrounded U2 shows in the past.
Their mortality was brought home to them in brutal fashion in Berlin on September 1st when Bono lost his voice in spectacular fashion, forcing the show to be cancelled.
It is also, that while they more than most bands seek to push the boundaries when it comes to their live shows, U2 the aged rockers are increasing facing questions about just how relevant a creative force they are anymore.
The show, modified from the version which toured the United States earlier this year, is heavily themed toward cooperation, democracy, humanity and love set in a European context.
It seemed fitting that newly elected President Michael D Higgins and wife Sabina got a huge cheer from the crowd as they were being shown to their seats.
Complete with mega big screen which runs perpendicular to the main stage, the band’s inclusion of Charlie Chaplin’s epic speech from the 1940 film, The Great Dictator, works powerfully at the start of the gig.
The band kicks into The Blackout and Lights of Home, off their inconsistent 2017 album Songs of Experience.
‘Democracy is flat on its back,’ Bono sings from within the shimmering screen as his bandmates lay down a beefy beat.
A juggernaut of some of the strongest material from their back catalogue follows.
“We’re a band from the north side of Dublin called the U2, this is our new single,” Bono quips.
From the early years, the enthusiastic home crowd is treated to the likes of I Will Follow and Gloria while Beautiful Day, Zoo Station and the Fly are wonderful illustrations of how good U2 can be when they want to be. Even a wobble by the Edge in his guitar solo during The Fly fails to dent the mood.
Any signs of fragility about the lead singer’s voice are dispelled as he go goes full belt through the hits.
“Is this the 3Arena, then we must be home,” Bono says before regaling the crowd about a story an early gig in the Baggott Inn where as he says they got a big break.
With the Joshua Tree completely absent from the show’s line-up, lesser played material from the Zooropa album and even the odd curve ball from Achtung Baby are given an outing.
The elegant love song Stay (Faraway, so close) works magnificently, while Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses surprisingly delights.
“In Berlin in the early 1990s, the wall is coming down. But in Hansa studios the walls were coming up, the band could not agree on anything. Four boys missing home,” we are told by Bono reflecting on the journey taken by the band.
Songs like Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, Elevation, Vertigo, Even Better Than the Real Thing and Acrobat do not disappoint.
“You are no rock star, you are Paul,” his brother told him the crowd is told.
“Who is Paul? Paul is dead. I’m fucking Bono, this the Edge,” Bono says at the start of Even Better recalling the resistence he and the band met as they were starting out.
Perhaps feeling they still have to prove themselves, U2 managed to deliver a show which thankfully minimised the sermons and prioritised the energy and fun of what a top rock show should be.
U2 will play the 3Arena tonight, Friday 9, and Saturday 10 and all concerts are sold out.