Saturday 24 August 2019

An emotion-filled night as U2 return to home town

U2 live at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Picture by Justin Kernoghan
U2 live at the SSE Arena in Belfast. Picture by Justin Kernoghan

Lise Hand

It was an emotion-filled night for both fans and band when U2 returned to their home town for the first of four concerts at the 3 Arena tonight.

It was – by the standards of this stadium band – a small concert, with a capacity crowd of 14,000. The 56,000 tickets for the quartet of gigs were snapped up in less than an hour, with fans eager to see the band at unusually close quarters instead of in front of a stadium-sized crowd of 80,000 at Croke Park.

The Innocence + Experience tour, which has been garnering positive reviews, is a markedly different show to U2’s trademark vast sets featuring massive backdrops and giant metal claws.  The band’s crew had to redesign the stage in order to fit it into one of the smallest spaces they’ve played in for some time.

There was a sense of nostalgia about this show; firstly it’s a staggering 26 years since the band played indoors in Dublin, in the same venue then called the Point Depot on the Rattle + Hum tour in December 1989 – famously, at the second-last of that series of concerts, Bono announced that the band would be going away” to “reinvent themselves” – which led them down the high-tech path which led to PopMart style extravaganzas.

Read more: Heading to U2? Here are 9 things to expect from the 3Arena gigs

It was just after 8.30pm when Bono strolled down the catwalk which ran the length of the venue to enormous cheers from the fans – many of whom had travelled from overseas to see the Irish band on their home patch.

And the show was a mixture of new material from ‘Innocence + Experience’ mixed with familiar old classics including I Will Follow and Sunday Bloody Sunday. It was a pared-back, old-style rock gig on many levels, with Edge’s unique guitar, Larry on drums and Adam on bass sounding tight and taut.

Although the set was pared-back, the high-tech spectacle still wowed the crowd. 3-D images floated above the audience, flashing images from Belfast and from Bono’s childhood home on Cederwood Avenue.

It was, Bono told the audience, a family reunion, before launching into ‘Iris’, a moving tribute to his mother who died when he was 14 years old.

The band dipped into songs from every decade of their long career – I Will Follow, She Moves in Mysterious Ways, ‘Desire’, ‘Pride’, ‘City of Blinding Lights’ as well as several songs from their latest album. But there were other familiar set-pieces – during ‘Mysterious Ways’, a female fan joined ono onstage for a bit of a bop. In a new twist, the fan, Josie from California was given a camera to film the crowd during a rowdy version of 'Elevation'.

There was humour and craic as well as rock. "I'm glad to see the missus is in the house," said Bono, before launching into The Sweetest Thing.

It was a joyous sort of homecoming, tinged with nostalgia. It was a band getting back to basics, in a U2-guitar-and-high-tech sort of way.

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