Monday 20 May 2019

'We're going away now' - is Bono calling time on U2?

Health scares, 'extinction event', bicycle fall and voice problems have all taken their toll on group's frontman

U2 frontman Bono, on the final date of their world tour in Berlin on Tuesday night, said the band would be “going away now”. It has led to speculation on the future of the band, 42 years after they got together at Mount Temple Comprehensive. Photo: Getty Images
U2 frontman Bono, on the final date of their world tour in Berlin on Tuesday night, said the band would be “going away now”. It has led to speculation on the future of the band, 42 years after they got together at Mount Temple Comprehensive. Photo: Getty Images
John Meagher

John Meagher

Almost 30 years ago, Bono stood on stage at the old Point Depot and announced that U2 would have to "go away and dream it all up again".

On Tuesday night in Berlin, on the final date of their world tour, he said something similar. The band, the frontman suggested, would be "going away now".

They were words that led many to assume that Dublin's most celebrated quartet had finally reached the end of the road.

Forty-two years after they had got together at Mount Temple Comprehensive, they were calling it a day in the vast surrounds of the Mercedes-Benz Arena in the German capital.

Or are they? Was it more a case that Bono - so aware of the power of his words - was simply toying with his fans by hinting that U2 would be no more?

Or was he echoing the sentiments he made in Dublin at the end of the 'Lovetown Tour' in 1989; the band would simply need time off, to rethink, to recalibrate, to reinvent themselves again?

Mysterious ways: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr perform at the 3Arena in Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Mysterious ways: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr perform at the 3Arena in Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys

It's true that the past half-decade or so has taken its toll on Bono. He has talked about an "extinction event" that threatened his life - but refused to go into detail.

He's had health scares - not least when a bicycle fall in New York necessitated surgery and there were fears he wouldn't play a guitar again.

Most worryingly of all for a singer, he lost his voice on stage in Berlin in September and had to abandon the show.

This tour was supposed to end in Dublin on Saturday, not a rescheduled Berlin date.

In truth, Bono didn't quite seem himself at the Dublin show I attended.

It was like he was conserving his voice, fearful that if he over-extended it he might suffer fresh vocal nightmares.

He also seemed a little sapped of energy, although, at 58, he could hardly expect to be as much as a live-wire as he was even in the recent past.

And yet, there were moments in that Dublin show that were spine-tinglingly great, especially at the end when they played the hymnal '13 (There Is A Light)' - the final track from their latest album, 'Songs of Experience' - and Bono's voice cracked with emotion as he sung next to an illuminated model of his boyhood home on Cedarwood Road.

I doubt very much that they will call it a day. Each of the four - especially Bono - seems to adore the business of being in a massive, globe-trotting group.

But, I do think they will take a proper break from the recording-touring treadmill and spend time being regular people away from the spotlight.

The frontman might relish the opportunity to live a low-key life for a while, to do all the family stuff that might have been put on the back-burner before.

But the itch to release new music and to get back on the road will need to be scratched.

And if they have any doubts about their ability to make themselves relevant for new generations, they need only look back on their own career rebirths.

It's one that falls neatly into decades.

The 1980s saw them rise meteorically from the biggest band in Ireland to the biggest in the world thanks to burning ambition, insatiable hard work, a smidgen of luck, and some of the era's most defining anthems.

The 1990s was all about throwing the U2 rulebook out, embracing irony and making a glorious show of themselves. As Bono memorably put it, it was the sound of four men chopping down 'The Joshua Tree'.

The 2000s was their corniest decade, one summed up by Bono's line about the band reapplying to be the best in the world again. They seemed to be trying a little too hard to be everything to everyone.

The 2010s have been much more compelling, with companion albums 'Songs of Innocence' and 'Songs of Experience' seeing the band look back over their lives and deliver some of their most life-affirming music yet.

A stripped-down version of 'Every Breaking Wave' from the 'deluxe' version of '...Innocence' is one of the best things they've ever done.

The next chapter is likely to be intriguing.

Read more: U2: Exclusive interview as Brendan O'Connor enters the belly of the beast

U2 feared they were finished: the inside story of the night Bono lost his voice

Tony Clayton-Lea: 'From there to here - but what next for U2?' 

Irish Independent

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