U2 prove no stick in the mud
Despite worries of being outside their comfort zone, U2 triumphed on the main stage, writes Ken Sweeney in Glastonbury
LAST night U2 left their comfort zone of the highest-grossing tour in history to play to their toughest audience yet at the UK's Glastonbury music festival.
In front of a crowd who are traditionally suspicious of 'stadium rock', it could have gone either way.
But U2's debut performance at Worthy Farm turned into a triumph as the band abandoned their 360 tour setlist to perform a 'greatest hits' package, which, when you're U2, is some songbook to draw on.
The band opened with their hit 'Even Better Than The Real Thing' followed by 'The Fly'.
Meanwhile, a much-hyped protest by anti-capitalists proved to be a damp squib and failed to disrupt the performance.
Protestors from direct action group Art Uncut attempted to steal the limelight as they unveiled a 20ft balloon emblazoned with the message "U Pay Your Tax 2" just as the band struck up their third song.
The message was intended to draw attention to U2's controversial 2006 decision to move part of their business to the Netherlands. The group accused the band of engaging in tax avoidance in Ireland.
But moments later it was deflated by a team of security guards and taken away.
There had been confusion the previous night when some protesters turned up to what they mistakenly thought was an anti-U2 gathering in Glastonbury's Pilton Palais Cinema Tent.
However, 'Killing Bono' turned out to be a screening of the 2010 film comedy based on the memoirs of Bono's schoolmate Neil McCormick, rather than a meeting of plotters.
U2 had been due to play Glastonbury last year but had to pull out at the last minute after Bono injured his back and required emergency surgery.
"We're sorry we had to phone in sick last year," he told the 50,000-strong crowd last night.
"But this is a great occasion for us. A pilgrimage, almost."
"It could be the ley lines, it could be the jetlag, but it's a special feeling being here," he said before launching into 'One'.
But with so much material to choose from, inevitably there were disagreements about how to approach their headlining slot.
"There were an awful lot of opinions," said drummer Larry Mullen. "Everyone had a view about how it should go.
"There were the 'Where The Streets Have No Name' camp and then the more subtle approach, the 'Achtung Baby' dynamic approach, where you build slowly.
Then there were those who thought we should open with '40' (from U2's 1983 album 'War'). We went through a number of combinations."
Part of U2's success is that Bono knows how to play the role of rock star with all the panache it demands. And Glastonbury was no different, with the band's singer breathing new life into some of U2's best- known hits as if he were singing them for the first time.
At his side, The Edge delivered the distinctive chiming guitar sound that has become the signature of U2's music.
Although logistics meant the group couldn't bring their now famous stage 'The Claw' to Glastonbury, they did have some strong visuals representing different parts of their career -- from War to Zoo TV, to light up the vast stage at Worthy Farm.
Watching U2 last night among the massive crowd were thousands of Irish music fans who had travelled over for the festival.
Some -- like Bono's old pal Gavin Friday -- came to see U2, but many others came to see the hundreds of artists who are performing at Europe's biggest music festival over the weekend.