As the Disney+ documentary with David Letterman on the rock legends hits the streaming service, here are the standout moments
The U2 film is upon us. Arriving on Disney+ in time for St Patrick’s weekend, Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, with Dave Letterman, does exactly what it says in the title.
Equal parts riveting concert film and breezy interview special, the documentary was shot in Dublin last year and is directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Morgan Neville. Here are eight things that we learned from it…
The world’s biggest rock star begins by drawing a wobbly map of Ireland. He mentions something about bad weather and “difficult neighbours”. He then sketches a border and brings up the War of Independence.
“So, who do I dislike in this?” asks Letterman, observing Bono’s map. “Should I dislike the British? Whoever you don’t like I don’t like.”
Somehow, a befuddled Bono manoeuvres his way around the topic without offending or, indeed, alienating the host or the audience. That’s professionalism. Or, you know, just decent editing.
In the early days of the band, Bono and The Edge were looking for an alternative way to express their faith and were enthralled by the Charismatic Renewal movement of the late 1970s.
“We thought they were a bit punk rock, actually,” explains Bono, “and they seemed to accept us for who we are."
As time went on, the movement’s leaders requested that the band turn its back on “nonsense" rock music. An agonising ultimatum, but a frustrated Edge soldiered on and eventually figured out a way for their music to make a difference.
He started writing Sunday Bloody Sunday – and the rest, as they say, is history.
During the 1990s, when U2 entered their artful, experimental phase, Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, was living in Japan and experienced, first-hand, the intangible power of a U2 performance.
O’Neill had disliked the band during his school days and considered them a product of “straight-boy rock culture” from which he felt rejected.
The Japan gig changed everything. “What I saw on the stage in Tokyo was outward-looking and sexy and fun,” O’Neill tells Letterman. “Maybe I’m overselling it, but they were part of the reason then in the end that I ended up coming back [to Ireland] eventually.”
Letterman’s U2 film is full of special guests. For reasons that aren’t all that clear, it features a cheerful little segment where Glen Hansard accompanies our exuberant host on the Dart in Greystones, Co Wicklow. They chat about U2 (obviously). They remember the good old days when Hansard appeared on Letterman’s Late Night talk show. And then Letterman goes all in: “Your eyes, by the way – stunningly beautiful.”
The Frames frontman looks chuffed with himself. The subject of Hansard’s eyes resurfaces during a chat with Bono. Then again at a session in McDaid’s pub. An unexpected theme, but a funny one.
Bono and The Edge thank their bandmates for letting them “go rogue on this one”. The project was conceived, says Bono, “while Larry was injured, and Adam was off making an art film.” Later, Letterman jokes that Larry and Adam were secretly putting together a Croke Park show without Bono and The Edge. Maybe some day Letterman can come back and make a documentary special about U2’s formidable rhythm section.
No, really. For reasons we wouldn’t dare spoil, they named it Forty Foot Man. First, we see Bono and The Edge perform a scrappy acoustic rendition (Dave is delighted). Towards the end, we hear the final product (it doesn’t suck). Letterman then enquires about publishing rights. Clever chap.
In Marsh’s Library, a thoughtful Bono explains to a stunned Letterman that, at some point along the way, he considered calling it quits. “I’ve certainly thought about walking away from U2,” he admits, “and every member has. Really, the right instinct is to question whether this should be a going concern, and what it demands of all four members of U2.”
The documentary also explores how Bono’s “unhip” activism has caused tension and embarrassment in the band. The thing that keeps U2 going, aside from friendship, is the song they haven’t yet written. Even after all these years, Bono and pals are still chasing that elusive rock’n’roll dream. We’re lucky to have them.
Filmed in the weeks leading up to Christmas last year, Letterman’s special includes wonderful footage of the band performing a string of reworked hits at the Ambassador Theatre.
It also rounds up a few familiar faces (Dermot Kennedy, Imelda May, the wide-eyed Hansard fella) for a charming, Guinness-soaked singsong in Brendan Behan’s old watering hole.
The smile on The Edge’s face says it all. Together, some of Ireland’s greatest living musicians deliver the goods – and a visibly giddy Letterman is having the time of his life.
Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, with Dave Letterman premieres on Disney+ today.