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Sunday 21 September 2014

From Axl's storming off to Rihanna's cannon-straddling, the top 8 most memorable shows hosted by the O2

Published 05/09/2014 | 11:40

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Beyonce performs at The O2 Arena in 2009
Beyonce performs at The O2 Arena in 2009
Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, played the O2 Arena in Dublin on the opening night of his world tour 'I Guess I'll Take My Time'.
Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, played the O2 Arena in Dublin on the opening night of his world tour 'I Guess I'll Take My Time'.
Kanye West and Jay-Z performed at the O2 in June 2012
Kanye West and Jay-Z performed at the O2 in June 2012

The big pop barn on Dublin's quays has been renamed The 3Arena. And while not overly sentimental at independent.ie we thought it fitting to mark the passing into history of The O2, a venue that has hosted its share of knock-out gigs (and the occasional car crash).

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Here, then, is our countdown of the most memorable shows the venue has witnessed since replacing The Point in 2008.

1: Kings of Leon December 2008

Three gruffly hirsute brothers from the Tennessee backwoods (plus one slightly less gruffly hirsute cousin), Kings of Leon were the rather dour choice for The O2's inaugural gig. In fact it was rumored U2 might pop along and deliver the opening set – after all, they had been the first band to grace the old Point (the atmosphere-free shed the O2 replaced).

As it happened, Bono and The Edge had craftily knocked out an acoustic version of Van Diemen's Land from Rattle and Hum for the benefit of RTE cameras two days previously.

So the honour of playing the first show in front of a live audience at the O2 went to French space-rockers M83, King of Leon's bizarre choice as support act. They were fine - if by 'fine' you mean avant-garde and zany. Kings of Leon, in contrast, stood rooted to the spot and sang Sex on Fire as if someone had just emptied tepid water over their heads.

Oh well – at least we were up and running.

2: Beyonce May- June 2009

Before Blue Ivy, rumours about her marriage, and that album from last year which everyone professes to love but nobody actually listens to, Beyonce was, straight up, the best pop star on the planet. Her biggest world tour, promoting the I Am…Sasha Fierce LP, stopped off at Dublin for five dates, through 2009, each a masterclass in arena entertainment. The shows began with Beyonce, backlit and framed by dry ice, as Jay Z's rapped intro to Crazy In Love boomed. Later, she would recreate her wedding on stage and fly around on zip-wires.

3: Yusuf Islam, November 2009

Ker-asssh! The artist formerly known as Cat Stevens doesn't play very often, so the opening date of a rare world tour was to be savoured. Or at least it was until, a third of the way through, he surrendered the pulpit to a dozen West End poppets delivering received pronunciation extracts from his catalogue by way of promoting a forthcoming jukebox musical in London.

These were the dog days of the recession and having splunked out €100 or so per ticket, punters were not having it. Jeers rang out – it was widely reported someone up the front bawled 'Play Peace Train you b******s'.

To rescue the gig – were the audience a little drunker and not quite so saggy around the jowls it is easy to imagine a riot – Islam re-emerged with Ronan Keating for a duet of Father and Son. When you need the leader of Boyzone to save your show, you have gone to a very dark place.

4: Paul McCartney, December 2009

Macca's first Irish performance of several years had everything a Beatles fan could wish for, which is to say lots of Beatles songs. Granted, he did indulge himself with excerpts from his new solo album and forays into the Wings catalogue – a reminder McCartney could be as fallible as the rest of us (through the 70s he honed a talent for spinning gold into purest dross).

On the other hand, he performed Blackbird alone on an acoustic guitar and closed the set proper with the triple roundhouse of Let It Be, Live and Let Die (rollicking, despite what we've just said about Wings) and Hey Jude.

Memories don't come more gilded.

5: Rihanna 2010 May 2010

Fourteen months after terrible physical abuse at the hands of Chris Brown, Ri-Ri was visibly in a vulnerable place. Perhaps that is why her O2 debut had the whiff of trying too hard. She pretend-smashed a car with a baseball bat, dashed around wearing little beyond knee-length boots and, in a display that will haunt the memory of all who were there, straddled a pink tank as it spumed confetti. Heavens knows what THAT was a metaphor for –  it was like peeking into the psyche of someone undergoing a deep trauma. All the more surreal, those sitting upstairs may have been surprised to see Daniel Day-Lewis, wife Rebecca Miller and one of their kids taking it all in.

6: Guns' N Roses 2010 September 2010

Hell hath no fury like a pudgy former rock icon who's had an empty (plastic) pint glass chucked at his feet. "One more bottle and we go home," Axl solemnly informed a rowdy and rather annoyed O2, having broken off halfway through Welcome To The Jungle.

Things had got off to a bad start when, as per his reputation for extreme tardiness, Axl led the band on stage circa 10.30pm, a good 70 minutes after the departure of support Thin Lizzy. The room was seething by the time he rocked up – when he did, true to his warning, stomp off, you wondered if there might not be a repeat of the riots that had attended Guns 'n Roses performances through the early 90s.

Axl was finally cajoled back on, though he sulked all the way through. Two years later, he returned for a conspicuously less well attended set and had the manners to turn up at a relatively punctual 10pm. "I’m probably moving a whole lot more than I was the last time I was here,” he said at the end and almost seemed to be smiling.

7: Kylie Minogue, March 2011

Kylie's most ambitious show to date was lumbered with the clunking title 'Aphrodite: Les Folies Tour'…though could as easily have been called 'the Phwoar and the Glory'. It featured splashing pools for the star to frolic in, a Roman chariot drawn by scowling rent-a-hunks and Minogue as Botticelli's The Birth of Venus.

Amid the pretension and the bottom waggling, it felt significant the best bit was at the end, when Kylie re-emerged sans designer headdress for giggling versions of Better The Devil You Know and Hand On Your Heart. As an aside, this journalist was surprised, nay speechless, to spy, in the middle of a German delegation on the balcony, veteran character actor Jurgen Prochnow. We were almost as shocked as the time we turned up to review Jean Michel Jarre and found ourselves sitting next to official savior of the great American novel Jonathan Franzen.

No accounting for famous people and their taste.

8 Jay Z and Kanye, June 2012

Impressively, the O2 could accommodate the two vastest egos in pop without having to bring the builders in. With quintessential understatement, Kanye and Jay faced off across a pair of huge LED towers, which, according to mood, rose and lowered.

Jay Z had the more accomplished flow, Kanye the perkier songs. If the latter seemed uncharacteristically smiley it was probably because then-girlfriend Kim Kardashian had just gifted him a Lamborghini for his birthday. How different he was from the thin lipped, self-serious anti-star gracing Marlay Park last summer.

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