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Bruce Springsteen. . . . with those brooding brown eyes, eyes that could see through America. -- Bono, induction speech for Springsteen at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

U2: Astoria Theatre, London

- February 08, 2001

by Ben Gilbert

U2 Live

As anticipation reaches near Biblical proportions, support DJ Jon Carter closes his set with the fitting clarion call 'The Boys Are Back In Town'. And 2,000 people simultaneously wet their pants.

There is a palpable irony to playing the Thin Lizzy classic before U2 take to the Astoria stage, because the last time the rock behemoths played a venue of this size they probably were boys.

In a career spanning an astonishing 23 years, that has dipped and peaked through an occasionally troubled, but ultimately legend defining era, U2 really are bigger then Jesus.
U2 Astoria ticket

Which, much like Madonna's show in Brixton last year, is what infused this show with so much out-of-control magic, resulting in a friend of this writer selling his ticket just hours before the show for £1,000.

For the blessed few - and those unbribable - this was not to be four spots on a gargantuan landscape, a prop and lighting orgy, an overblown celebration in a heinously inappropriate stadiums. Rather, it promised a chance to actually witness U2 at full speed in very close quarters.
U2 Live

Having recovered from the initial surreality of actually seeing Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge and Larry Mullen arriving, as if walking into a pub, the band launch into a vicious 'Until The End Of The World'.

As if the heavy bass and metallic guitar gales aren't enough, Bono proceeds to embark on the first of three impromptu excursions into the hands of the baying masses, as the band aim head-first at a slightly unusual but famously exuberant and emotional set. Nothing from 'The Joshua Tree' is played, but that can't damage a spellbinding display.
U2 Live

The band mix their back-cat5>
ue fluidly, firing-off three consecutive and glorious tracks from 'All That You Can't Leave Behind' - 'Beautiful Day', 'Elevation' and 'Stuck In A Moment' - that boast bombast, beauty and the sheer shrill of excitement in equal measures. Significantly, the polished, sticky sheen of production that glues 'All That You Can't Leave Behind' together is displaced by a rough and ready glitter.

Elsewhere, Edge's guitars chime and charge with blistering force on the likes of 'Gone' and 'Discotheque', reverberating like no stadium is ever likely to witness, while the messy frenzy of 'New York' has a visceral energy live that the record struggles to capture without being clumsy.
U2 Live

Throughout the gig, Bono is as much of a rock goliath as you're gonna get, pissing in the faces of those who've consistently convicted him of insincere portentions. Sure, you can't take it all seriously, but when he makes a speech after 'New York' stating U2 are reapplying for the role of best band in the world, you have to question when they were dethroned and by who.

His reference points are also aptly eclectic, mixing tracks with excerpts from the Rolling Stones, Joy Division, Radiohead, the Monkees and even Craig David, at times that are certainly planned but show a marked musical ingenuity to match his talismanic halo.

There are sure to be a number of surprises, and they arrive in the shape of aging tracks '11 O'Clock Tick Tock' and 'I Will Follow'. While their punk energy and angry vim defied their ancient history, the near acoustic renditions of 'Desire' and 'The Ground Beneath Her Feet' that follow provide a calm before the storm.
U2 Live

Seemingly seeking to make Bono's peerless claim more a statement of fact, the band finish with a mighty closing section that encapsulates the widescreen invention, romance, drama and rock and roll energy that has glowed throughout their career.

'One' and 'All I Want Is You' are simply two of the finest love songs ever written, the devotion amongst the audience evident in their universal vocal accompaniment. 'Bad' though is the absolute highlight, as the spiralling guitar loop and Bono's vocal theatrics rebound higher and higher throughout the electrified venue
U2 Live

A closing rendition of '40' finishes the show and, just as the audience has become accustomed to having four living legends within touching distance, the band depart one-by-one, Larry left to slow the evocative soundtrack to silence. And it's over.

No matter. The memories of a night when U2 came back down to Earth, left the gimmicks, the irony and the corporate machine behind, and really were back in town, will remain for some considerable time. A lifetime in fact.

© 2001. Dotmusic.com.

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