By Lee Wheatley
Twickenham Stadium, London, July 8, 2017
I had to wait a few days to write a fair and balanced review of this gig, take it on its own merits, and not view it through the prism of a sweaty little boxing venue where I’m three people deep from the front and can poke the singer in the eye if I want to. U2 at Twickenham is about as far from Arcade Fire at York Hall as you can get. In retrospect, I wish I’d seen these gigs either further apart, or U2 first.
Anyway, back in January, U2 announced that they were going to tour The Joshua Tree, play it in its entirety and in sequence. An album that is 30 years old, but still sounds relevant today. And they weren’t going to become a nostalgia band; they were careful to point that out. It didn’t matter that post-Christmas, I was short by £190 of the £190 ticket cost, I wasn’t going to miss out on this.
Fast forward to Twickenham, skillfully dodging Noel Gallagher’s set and I’m ready. Everything here is massive; the screen is the biggest I’ve ever seen, the cut out of a Joshua tree looms over. The crowd, the population of a pretty large town. There’s a small centre circle, away from the main stage, and when the band turn up, it’s there they play. Not a single light, this is the band in raw. Take them and the songs they play as they are.
They blast off with Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Years Day, Bad, and Pride. I have no problem with them playing an intimate gig to 80,000 people, but my view isn’t so bad. I’m not so sure what the people at the back think though. Alas, the sound for this opening section is truly awful, and it takes them a while to sort it out and find a rhythm.
When the band finally locate their mojo in Bad, Bono leads the song into cool improv territory by adding portions of David Bowie’s Heroes and Where Are We Now into its arrangement. It’s a nice touch, and an exciting show of creativity from the band; this is what I was looking for, something a bit out of the ordinary.
Then the real show starts. The screen fires a deep red and the silhouette of the Joshua tree dominates. The band, mere ants against this screen start the intro to Where The Streets Have No Name, and we’re off. It being a stadium show, the lights have to be special right? So briefly, this is the best stadium show I’ve ever seen.
Longtime collaborator Anton Corbijn filmed the visuals to the entire Joshua Tree section and it simply has to be seen to be believed. Where The Streets Have No Name is an atmospheric, monochromatic, slow mo journey down a US desert road, framed by a perfect mountain range against an angry sky, as occasionally drifters pass on by. Corbijn’s footage is really is breathtaking and sets the tone for the night.
We then get the anthems – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With Or Without You and Bullet The Blue Sky. And I’m kind of bored. I’ve seen these songs at each show they ever do and I’m waiting for the lesser known tracks. Running To Stand Still, a song about heroin addiction, has always been one of my favourites, Red Hill Mining Town is ruined by the Salvation Army Brass Band they play along with (Bono tells us they never knew how to play the song live till now. Lads, just do what you did on the record. It worked fine), and Exit is a high point, a freak out jam always teetering on the edge of collapse.
If you go to a U2 concert, there’s always going to be a message. Bono tells us about London being the capital of the world as 300 languages are spoken, the aforementioned Salvation Army Band are a United Colours of Benetton collection of different races, genders, and creeds.
The encores, where the band strangely find themselves playing with a greater degree of enjoyment and abandon than they did in the Joshua Tree section, give us a section on Syrian refugees (Miss Sarajevo) and female empowerment (Ultraviolet). However, it’s Vertigo, sans message, which tears open the Twickenham sky, confidently asserting that not all U2 classics came from the eighties and nineties.
The band return to the centre circle and the stripped back effect for their new song set closer, The Little Things That Give You Away. But come on, it’s Saturday night lads, first date of the European leg. You’re not going to send us home now, are you? And they duly answer prayers. Just not my own ones.
“We’ve got a real treat,” Bono declares. And on saunters Noel G and he and U2 proceed to do a super group acoustic strum of Don’t Look Back In Anger. I kind of am now though. I don’t mind if you get Mr. Gallagher out and stick him on backing vocals. But it being a U2 show, surely there’s one of from their own barely scratched the surface back catalogue they could have trotted out. Looking at Larry’s face, he agrees.
So to surmise, taken on its own merits, U2 is the ultimate stadium band experience.