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"It bewilders me that anyone can call themselves followers of Christ and not see that AIDS is the leprosy spoken about in the New Testament." — Bono




by Darren O''Beirne

Even now, it doesn't seem believable. Irrespectively, I'll attempt to explain how my easily fooled mind perceived the evening in question to transpire. I do feel it necessary at this point to stress that if words alone could describe music, then there'd be no need for the notes in the first place.

So U2 are playing an incredibly small venue in London, to which, an email only 48 hours previously, has promised my admission. Surely not? We turn up at the venue and there, sure enough, on the billboard it clearly states "The Astoria, Wednesday U2, Saturday Gay night". What's more I walk up to the door where in exchange for my explanation and some ID I manage to acquire a wristband. It all seems too simple, suspiciously so. Somebody, I feel, is playing an elaborate hoax. We leave for a few hours, still with an immense level of doubt in our minds. We return at 6:00ish and join a queue around the side of the building where we get talking with others with similar tales of suspicious emails telling of U2 playing this tiny venue especially for us and a few of their chums. We quickly gather many fellow believers of our mass conspiracy theory, but decide to play along anyway.

As we enter the venue everybody gasps with disbelief at the size of the room. For the folks back home, I could describe the Astoria as a post apocalyptic Vicar Street. The venue has the same basic layout with a wide stage and short distance from front to back. As it gradually dawns on me that this may not be a grand hoax after all and that U2 may actually put in an appearance I feel the first pangs of surreality setting in. Even as I spy veteran sound engineer Joe O'Herlihy making his way to the mixing desk, I still feel quite considerable measures of skepticism. As Salman Rushdie is spotted making his way along the front of the balcony I still have considerable doubts. Finally when Larry makes his way to behind the drum kit I start to entertain the prospect that the lads may in fact put in an appearance here tonight. As the rest of the band join Larry on the stage and launch into an absolutely energetic Until the End of the World the room erupts. Bono is clad in a black leather jacket and shades not unlike those of the ZooTV days. But this is no rerun, something's different, everything is different. There are no TVs to distract, no TV cameras for Bono to tease, no grand entrances, just four guys from Dublin and their music.

Even as I stand there inches from The Edge listening to U2 songs being performed live in front of me, I still reserve some bizarre feeling of not really being here. I take a look around in order to gather my senses and hopefully gain some sobering degree of reality. I look to the balcony above where I spy an All Saint with Liam Gallagher nearby. Just behind them is Chris Evans very much with Billie Piper (sic). A further scan reveals Elvis Costello, Frank Skinner, Sharlene from Texas, Roger Taylor, John Hurt and Mick Jagger. What's happened my sanity, how did I get here? This can't be real! At the end of one of the fist couple of songs Bono drifts into a rendition of the Pogues' Rainy Night in Soho (how very apt). Beautiful Day, Elevation and Stuck in a Moment follow. Until this point I had been fairly critical of the over produced, over rehearsed sound of the new album, I've now changed my mind. Hearing these songs given a true sense of energy really brings them to life. This particularly applies to New York, which follows a few songs later. The lyrics may be a bit naff on this particular song but the music rocks. This song was my lasting memory in fact and was stuck in my head for days. "Gone" arrived quite unexpectedly as did Discotheque. Memories of the various PopMart shows came flooding back. Both these songs really did hold up remarkably well without the distractions of giant TVs, massive lemons and the other Spinal Tap paraphernalia.

"11 OClock Tick Tock" and "I Will Follow" sound as fresh as they always have, amazing when you consider how the boys who first performed them have since doubled in age and gone on to conquer the music world. Bono seems far more relaxed by this point. Earlier on he was very much behaving as if still in front of the usual faceless sea of a stadium crowd. By now he's joking with Edge and attempting sincerity. To be honest, it's clear that Bono performs more at an audience, bombarding us with his intense presence, rather than attempting the rapport one might expect in a venue of this size. The low point of the evening follows in the form of Desire. What do I say, the sound was dreadful on this song as most of the sound audible to me was from the monitors themselves, though I guess this is a privilege you don't have at a U2 gig all that often. Bono attempted to carry this song predominantly on his own, but we struggled to hear his acoustic guitar over his booming voice. The closing bars of harmonica injected more than a sufficient dose of life to raise the music to its former magnificence.

Ground Beneath Her Feet is dedicated to Salman who looks down approvingly from the balcony. Bono's enjoyment of this song's emotion infuses a depth of richness so much lacking from the "ballads" today's suffering teenagers are forced to endure. Mysterious Ways is followed by One. Speaking of whom, Bono drifts into Craig David's rip off of this song twice during the closing refrain. Extremely funny, don't let him get away with it Bono! All I Want is You resurfaces for the first time in a decade (gosh has it really been that long?). Funny how it's always great to run into an old friend so unexpectedly?

"Bad" arrives next, the only big sounding stadium song from the 80's they treat us to tonight. Onto which Bono ties the usual Sympathy for the Devil and Ruby Tuesday ad libs. I turn to the balcony to see Mick Jagger standing there giving it his full approving swagger as Bono tips his hat to the old master's songs. This was an enormous treat to witness, the celebrities in general weren't being shy and were very much here to enjoy themselves with the rest of us. U2 leave the stage.

After a very short break the band return to join in our "40" sing song. Edge picks up Adam's bass and proceeds to play. Adam picks up Edge's guitar and smirks mischievously. A satisfied sadness settles over the crowd as we realise our historic evening with U2 is now so very nearly over. We all arrived here wondering what they had in store for us. Were we only to get a couple of new songs? Would they play any old stuff? Would we leave here satisfied? Were we to be treated to a night none of us could ever forget? The answer to all these and any other question you wish to ask me about that rainy night in Soho is a most definite - YES!

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