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"It is when we are playing that we are at our most U2yness. I suppose in a way [it's] about purity, about the four of us and whoever the witnesses are." — Adam



U2 Take London - Rock Stars Still Walk Among Us

- February 08, 2001

by Danny Eccleston

Last night, U2 played a one hour, 20 minute set in front of a collection
of fan club die-hards, media/arts world figures and fibrillating
competition winners at London's Astoria Theatre. Q4music, in spite of
the temptations posed by touts offering £800 for a ticket, squeezed by
through a coterie of disparate celebrities to witness the Dublin band's
first UK show of a comparable size since they played Hammersmith Palais
in June 1983. What a long time ago that was.

Few bands can claim to have since compiled such a canon and proved so
regularly masterful at playing it live. While U2's last live music
campaign - the PopMart tour of 1997/1998 - caused a brief but real
crisis in the band (technical problems and under rehearsal led to a
disastrous Las Vegas debut in April 1997 and left bassist Adam Clayton
feeling "extreme fear" for the first precarious batch of concerts) the
Astoria show concentrated on core rock band skills - riffs, charisma,
top-notch songwriting - pulling off an admirable renosing of Pop
material (Discotheque, segueing into Staring At The Sun, was a
revelation) and an, if anything, even more successful incorporation of
pre-Eno-watershed songs.

Illustratively, a surprise 11 O'Clock Tick Tock gave way mid-gig to an
even more unexpected I Will Follow. Angular and unfunky they remain, but
urgent and, more importantly, performed as if the band can't see the
join between these youthful studies in texture and dynamics and their
later, most fully conceived songs (without question, One and The Ground
Beneath Her Feet). The impression created by latest album All That You
Can't Leave Behind - that U2 can finally embrace all the bands they have
been and feel embarrassed by none of them - is brought into even sharper
focus. U2 have been freed from the constraints of ideology; all they do
now is rock'n'roll.

Every way that U2 could have messed up tonight - 1) posing like a band
you can only see with binoculars; 2) wearing the superannuated PopMart
get-up they've inappropriately sported on their TV spots over the last
two weeks; 3) slacking off because they're preaching to the converted -
they didn't. Sporting T-shirts and jeans, the band reclaimed a sartorial
dignity befitting their ages. Bono looked his leanest in 12 months.
During Bad, the slowburning Unforgettable Fire track they ended the
pre-encore section with, he tightrope-walked the crowd-rail, grasped the
proffered hands and leaned back, trusting both audience and stomach
muscles not to give out.

Bono revived another old Bono trick: weaving in lyrics from other
people's songs. Hence Joy Division's Transmission, The Teardrop
Explodes' Reward (now wouldn't Julian Cope just hate that) and Craig
David's Walking Away (quoted during One, and on reflection, practically
the same song - naughty Craig). The old Bono arrogance ("Hello, we're
the best band in the world") was back and rather beautifully
encapsulated in the moment he took out his mobile phone and shared All I
Want Is You with a mystery callee (doubtless the wife).

Highlights, then: Desire (shuffly and semi-acoustic, foregrounding the
lyrical lewdness of "the fever when I'm inside her") and Stuck In A
Moment You Can't Get Out Of (assured and delicate). Lowlights:
Mysterious Ways (they buggered up the beginning) and, er, that's it.
Finale: "40", a trigger to owners of Under a Blood Red Sky to sing "how
long to sing this song" for about an hour. Conclusion: some real rock
stars still walk among us, thank Christ.

Danny Eccleston

The Guest List

Mick Jagger, rock legend
...Although he seemed to be text messaging throughout.

Salman Rushdie, hermit author
Risked a high-profile night out (at least it wasn't on the Edgware
Road).

John Hurt, he of the fag-ridden voice
Had the best seat in the house, next to someone who looked remarkably
like Marianne Faithfull

Elvis Costello, of the classical/pop crossover
Should this be the sort of thing he'd like?

Stephen Hendry, snooker prodigy
Looked fairly bemused by beery London gig-goers

Roy Keane, Man U captain and maniac
Pushed a Q staffer out of his way (in character), then apologised (out
of character)

Dave Stewart, silly pop man
Wore a luminous orange puffa jacket. Do you think his beard is really
that black?

Alex James, best bass player "in the house"
Wore ska-style olive Harrington jacket. Was misbehaving with Keith Allen
as usual

Keith Allen, professional gumby
See above

Ed O'Brien, Radiohead's gentle giant
Nicked swirly guitar tips. Probably

Colin Greenwood, Radiohead's gentle dwarf
Wore "so this is what we should be doing!" expression throughout

Neil Hannon, aka The Divine Comedy
After many years of trying, he's grown a little beard.

Herbie Knott, Lara Waldeck & Colin Stone, Q4music competition winners
Appeared to be having a fairly good time.

© 2001, Q magazine.

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