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U2 at Glastonbury 2011 - review

Guardian, June 25, 2011
By: Dorian Lynskey

 

"Look at you!" cries Bono midway through U2's opener "Even Better Than the Real Thing," "a whole city in the rain." Dreadful weather has a way of focusing the mind. U2's booking has divided festivalgoers since it was first announced last year, before Bono's back injury forced a postponement. But their healthy back catalogue and formidable stagecraft is ideal for the task of raising sagging spirits.

Working with an additional video screen, they reach back to the early '90s not just with an opening salvo of songs from Achtung Baby but with the frenetic visual overload of the Zoo TV tour. It finds them at their fiercest and most urgent, the Edge wrenching bolts of noise from his guitar.

It's a lean, combative, frontloaded set calibrated to win over the unconverted at their first festival show since the '80s. You can't persuade everyone, of course, but U2 take nothing for granted.

Aside from an a cappella verse of "Jerusalem," Bono wisely keeps the Avalon blarney to a minimum. "Could be the leylines, could be the jetlag but it's a very special feeling being here." He has an instinct for the right gesture. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" closes with a refrain from "Moving on Up" by Primal Scream, who are simultaneously headlining the Other Stage.

In a flamboyant coup de theatre (Look! We have friends in space!) he enlists an astronaut from the international space station to recite lyrics during "Beautiful Day." As the rain falls harder still it is very far from a beautiful day but by then U2 have pulled off a charged and memorable performance.

The only miscalculation is the downbeat encore, following a glittering "With or Without You" with the sombre, less well-known "Moment of Surrender." It feels like a low-key end to a charged and compelling set until a raging version of their punk-rock debut single "Out of Control."

The rest of the day favoured the most muscular showmen. The Wu-Tang Clan's murky, labyrinthine New York hip-hop seemed like a tough sell until Method Man, a towering attention-magnet clad in a white towelling dressing gown charmed and strong-armed the crowd into life and made it the most thrilling turnaround of the day.

"If you ain't down with Wu-Tang," he growled, "you're missing some classic shit. You ain't never gonna see another hip-hop show like you're seeing right now." By the closing "Triumph," a tour de force of intricate six-way MCing, thousands of hands were thrown up in the shape of a W, the band's logo.

But Radiohead's unannounced set on the Park Stage, the worst kept secret on site, underwhelmed: too quiet and too heavy on more opaque recent material just as the sodden crowd desperately needed something more arresting. U2 certainly delivered that.

© Guardian, 2011.

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