U2 at the 3Arena, Dublin, Monday 23 November, 2015
Love them or loathe them, when quotes emerged from Emily Eavis on Sunday evening that Glastonbury had booked ‘the biggest band in the world’ for next year’s festival, you can’t deny that U2 were one of the first names to come to mind. And based on the queues outside 3Arena at 6pm on Monday evening, they wouldn’t be wrong. A telling factor, perhaps, is the range of accents to be found in the audience, many of which are far from local.
The delay in U2’s announcement of Irish shows was due to apparent difficulty with fitting the incredible stage into the relatively small (in terms of floor space) 3Arena. While it may not look as big as it has on other shows on this tour, it’s still a damn impressive setup. A walkway stretches from the centre of the stage all the way to the back of the venue. Above the walkway hang two huge screens that span its entire distance, separated by a suspended hidden walkway, terminating at the front row of the balcony. The split standing area gives the first few entrants into the arena quite the conundrum as to where best to position themselves.
It would turn out, somewhat ironically, that the less central and further back your viewing point, the better experience you had of the show.
From the moment Bono casually strolls onstage and encourages the audience to sing the opening refrain of The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone), until the last chords of One are played, the focus of everyone in the arena’s attention is almost exclusively on the screens, and sadly, not the music. For the average punter, the audio-visual experience that the music and the large displays provide is worth the entrance fee alone. The visuals and the choreography are damn impressive, especially during Cedarwood Road, which sees Bono walk down a cartoon version of the street, or when the The Edge trades guitar licks in the suspended walkway as a giant Bono looks on.
But let’s not lose the run of ourselves. When it came to those who came for the music, the music fans, tonight they were left wanting more.
The night brings us on a story from the 1970s all the way to the modern day. An early highlight is Iris, as Bono recalls the experience of losing his mother aged fourteen. It is touching to hear him pay tribute to the mothers of each band member first; showing that he knows it is not always about him – “Each of these men have their own stories, but I have the microphone.” In fact, throughout tonight’s show – despite the huge staging, the live streaming to the world of Elevation by Cali native Josie (who is plucked from the crowd by Bono), and the distorted brilliance of The Edge – it is the tender moments that provide the highlights.
Every Breaking Wave, the strongest song on ‘Songs Of Innocence’, is every bit as good live as it is on the album, as it’s stripped down to just The Edge on piano and Bono providing the vocals. There is no pizzazz, no pyro, no flashing images… just the music. It’s brilliant. All gig-goers pay to see a band sing their songs when they buy gig tickets, not to attend a glorified karaoke bar – despite this, there’s something special about listening to 14,000-plus voices belting out any song, let alone one as touching and powerful as One. After some of the most harrowing few weeks in recent history, the mighty La Marsellaise united people across the globe and for five minutes on Monday night, it felt like One did the same.
U2 are, and have always been, capable of creating special moments, but somehow, somewhere along the line, the music has ended up being second place to the show.