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"It's very hip to knock America and it really bugs me." — Bono

U2 at Glastonbury

A nervous start, the intergalactic triumph and teary singalongs.
Q Magazine

"Commencing countdown, engines on..." U2's set began with a nod to Glastonbury's first ever Friday night headliner, as David Bowie's "Space Oddity" boomed out of the Pyramid speakers. It turned out to be more than just a nod, but more of that later. 

As first we don't see Bono, The Edge, Larry or Adam on any of the four big screens. Instead of a film, made just for tonight by Damien Hirst: a fly emerging from larva, skulls and subliminal messages ("Celebrity Is A Bore," "Religion Is A Club") flash out. The message is clear. We're about to see the world's biggest band reborn before our very eyes. The start is slow, though: there's tension from Bono, rather than the cocksure frontman we're familiar with -- it's as though he's had his God complex exorcised. This Bono is still wearing the leather trousers and the shades but he's a different man. There are no sermons. Instead, an apology for "phoning in sick last year."

Surprisingly, the first five songs draw on the Zoo TV set they played 20 years ago, changing stadium rock in the process. Perhaps Bono is worried about the non-partisan audience, the tax protestors' 20 ft. balloon demanding "U Pay Your Tax 2," or maybe it was the rain-lashed stage... What a picture it would make: the world's best-known frontman falling literally and metaphorically on his arse, at his biggest show in decades. He needn't have worried -- we're on his side. Well, most of us. 

"One" sets off the first of a dozen major singalongs. It's as though the weight of expectation has been lifted, and Bono can start to enjoy himself. He belts out William Blake's "Jerusalem," sings a snatch of Other Stage headliners Primal Scream's "Movin' On Up" and then in an inspired bit of improvisational remixing gets the audience to sing the "ba ba" chorus of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" along to "Where The Streets Have No Name." It works like magic, but the real trick comes next. 

Bono is in the middle of some mystical ramble about the planet when, suddenly, crackling onto the screens via live satellite is the International Space Station. "Have you got a message?" the U2 singer asks the man on the screen -- who may or may not be a real Major Tom. "Tell my wife I love her very much," says the man on the screen. "She knows." And all this as an introduction to "Beautiful Day." Now we remember why they got so big in the first place -- and why we like them. 

"Elevation," "Vertigo" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" follow, but it is the encore of "With Or Without You" that creates the Glastonbury moment, as groups of friends grab each other and sing their hearts out. It was emotional.

© Q Magazine, 2011.