Taxing night for U2 as protest storms concert
Let's call it U2's Zapruder film. Behind the stage at Glastonbury on Friday night, controversial Anglo-American documentary filmmaker Emily James is showing me her secretly recorded footage of the protest about U2's tax status by direct action group Art Uncut earlier at the start of the band's performance.
Barely seconds into U2's headline slot at 10pm on Friday at Glastonbury, about 20 activists put their carefully plotted plan into action. They started blowing air with an mechanical pump into an inflatable display, roughly twenty foot high, emblazoned across with 'U Pay Your Tax 2'. In reality, we are not talking a big protest.
And it was short-lived as the security moved quickly. Realising what was happening they wrestled the offending inflatable back to earth. The protest was over before anyone in the crowd noticed.
"Of course U2's accountants are going to tell them where to pay less tax in the world," Emily James told me later, "but if you are Bono going around the world telling people they need to do more and help Africa; he is taking the moral high ground. But is he not in a position to do huge social service for Ireland with the tax his corporation is not paying in his own country? How many more pairs of ridiculously expensive sunglasses does Bono need?"
Coming onstage in the aforementioned sunglasses, Bono and U2 gave a sublime performance that showed their creative imagination in sustaining a show for two hours. And remember: the crowd -- and me -- were up to our knees in mud.
It was also lashing down with rain. U2 broke through the almost impenetrable gloom of Glastonbury from the beginning with Even Better Than The Real Thing. The Edge's souped-up guitar sound could be heard all the way to Bristol. The crowd were soon singing and dancing in the rain, while during The Fly Bono wriggled his hips like Elvis on the '68 Comeback Special.
The band had just flown in from America where they are touring. "This is very, very special," Bono said from the stage before apologising to the crowd for "phoning in sick last year"; a reference to his back problem which caused U2 to cancel as headline act 2010. Glastonbury 2011, however, was an unpredictable and uncompromising U2 show full of brilliance and, most of all, surprises.
They opened the show with five songs in a row from 1991's Achtung Baby album. Bono also sang an acapella version of William Blake's Jerusalem.
"It's not often you hear an Irishman singing Jerusalem, he said. "I hope you got into it." He segued into Primal Scream's Movin' On Up at the end of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. Until The End Of The World had the dark Biblical feel that suited the near-Biblical flood that was descending on us here in the land of ancient Albion.
But you didn't mind the trenchfoot when Bono 'n Larry 'n Edge 'n Adam were bouncing through Pride (In The Name Of Love) with the kind of infectious joy that most young bands can't even muster these days. I even fell over in the mud dancing to Beautiful Day (it was anything but.) Mud was the great leveller.
It was great to see Gavin Friday, Robbie Fox and Liam Cunningham up to their illustrious knees in the same freezing mud as me and the rest of the hoi polloi. Just as I was leaving the hospitality area at around midnight on Friday, Gavin Friday and Robbie Fox were trudging past looking like survivors from the battle of the Somme. They were past me before we had a chance to stop and talk. "It was the biz," Gavin replied when I texted him for his thoughts on the show (one of the best they've ever done, in my opinion).