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Thursday 18 January 2018

U2 Croke Park review: U2 treat fans to a spine-tingling, stripped-back rock masterclass

Edge and Bono on stage. Picture: Steve Humphries
Edge and Bono on stage. Picture: Steve Humphries
John Meagher

John Meagher

So this is what a crowd-pleasing U2 show looks like. From the moment Larry Mullen enters the stadium, strides to the secondary stage in the mosh-pit, takes his seat at the drum kit and bashes out the famous opening beat of 'Sunday Bloody Sunday', you sense this show will be different. And so it is.

The crowd in the stands rise to their feet and remain standing for the following two-and-a-quarter hours. Rarely have the seats in the Hogan, Cusack and Davin been so redundant.

We're here for 'The Joshua Tree' - U2's most emblematic and best-selling album - but the stunning opening moments are all about the albums that preceded it, 'War' and 'The Unforgettable Fire'. 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' is immediately followed by an incendiary version of 'New Year's Day'. And then it's straight into 'Bad' and 'Pride (In the Name of Love)'. It could have been the summer of 1985 all over again - the occasion when U2 first played GAA HQ.

There are no accompanying visuals - no aids for those at the further reaches of the stadium, but it hardly seems to matter - there's an urgency to the delivery that the crowd responds to in kind. It's thrilling.

Sisters Aislinn and Shaunagh Cummins from Castleknock, Dublin
Sisters Aislinn and Shaunagh Cummins from Castleknock, Dublin

As foreplay for the main event, it could hardly be better judged. And, almost as if they're fearful of letting the spine-tingling atmosphere slip, it's straight into 'The Joshua Tree' - performed as it has been every night of this tour, from beginning to end and in perfect sequence.

The massive backdrop behind the main stage flickers to life for 'Where the Streets Have No Name' and the mini films from long-time collaborator Anton Corbijn help to accentuate the experience of hearing all 11 of the album's songs in such a setting.

It's 30 years since 'The Joshua Tree' was released and, as Bono quips, it's only now that they're beginning to understand what some of those songs are all about.

Power

U2 arrive on stage dwarfed by their giant screen. Photo: Steve Humphreys
U2 arrive on stage dwarfed by their giant screen. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The opening trio of 'Streets', 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' and 'With or Without You' have long been staples in the U2 live experience but their power has not been diminished by over-familiarity. Forty minutes in, and it's hard to recall any U2 show in Dublin in the past quarter century that has felt as intoxicating as this.

The album is front-loaded with huge hits, but much of its brilliance is to be found elsewhere. The Edge's guitar comes into its own on the ferocious 'Bullet the Blue Sky' and there's real emotion in 'Running to Stand Still' when Bono sings of his teen years in Dublin where pockets of the city were ravaged by drugs.

Rarely played songs like 'Red Hill Mining Town' and 'One Tree Hill' offer a reminder of what a creative force U2 were in the mid-1980s. The latter is especially poignant - Bono reminds us that it was written for their New Zealand roadie, Greg Carroll, who died in a motorcycle accident.

Heartfelt

The extended post-'Joshua Tree' encore is a mixed bag. There's a lovely, updated version of the anti-war 'Miss Sarajevo', accompanied by footage of a sprawling refugee camp, and a stirring take on 'Ultraviolet (Light My Way)' is prefaced Bono's heartfelt words about the women in our lives.

The video wall shows pictures of celebrated women from all over the world and from all eras and there are several Irish inclusions, including Rosie Hackett, Katie Taylor and, touchingly, Dara Fitzpatrick, the Coast Guard helicopter pilot who was killed earlier this year.

Throwaway rock anthems 'Elevation' and 'Vertigo' are less successful, although the 80,000 people here don't seem to care. And while there's beauty in Bono's delivery of 'One', we have seen better performances of this defining song in Dublin before.

There's no room for any of the band's most recent albums but it's telling that they finish with a brand new song. If this show has been about looking back, 'The Little Things That Give You Away' is about looking forward to the next chapter for a band that's been part of Ireland's cultural landscape for four decades.

Irish Independent

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