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We want people who aren't in our niche listening to our music. -- Bono

U2 Live at Croke Park

- June 25, 2005

by Neil Murphy

Once more with feeling: were at a place called Deja Vu. The location, the weather conditions (light summer rain), the local hero bill (The Radiators as little punk rock bugs from another planet, Snow Patrol as a stadium Husker Du) and festival atmosphere could be a virtual replay of the last time U2 played a full set at Croker when they were surfing the Joshua Tree swell.

Eighteen years later theyre home on the back of the Atomic Bomb boom, and the whole city feels like its being sucked into a flux whose epicentre is located in the north side superbowl (mind you, the toilets are squeaky clean compared to last time).

Even the bands entry seems as informal as it did on that occasion when they snuck on and segued with the Stand By Me intro. Beaming down to the sound of Arcade Fires Wake Up, they get stuck into the opening triptych of Vertigo, I Will Follow and Electric Co. with a marked lack of in U2 terms at least pomp and circumstance.

They look and sound pumped but unfrazzled (Adams grinning like a guy whos figured out how to fellate himself), jagged Edge-d, the rhythm section tending towards swing rather than sequenced rigor mortis, Bonos body language boxer-bolshy, ad-libbing snatches of the Pumpkins Bullet With Butterfly Wings and The Whos I Can See For Miles.

But once Elevation, New Years Day and Beautiful Day have established a secure beachhead, something unscripted happens. They give Whos Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses a shot and get lost in its twists, thrown out of sync, stuck in a middle-eight they cant get out of before the last chorus provides an emergency exit. Big bands just arent supposed to busk it like this.

But U2 are never going to be Babyshambles. When they plug the big screens in, the lenses get switched from grainy verite to magic realism. City Of Blinding Lights is the best thing theyve done lately, a self-conscious but nevertheless champagne-eyed reworking of old school Unforgettable Fire panorama-lama. Later, Edge takes a solo verse in Miracle Drug in a set that often sees him assume a back seat to the newly extroverted Claytons catwalk moves, and the last third of Sometimes You Cant Make It On Your Own has Bono singing his insides out in an act of white soul exorcism that makes the skin go goosefleshed.

To their credit, U2 havent surrendered to their own back catalogue a la The Who or The Stones, even if theyre prone to plagiarising their younger selves. They remain, as ever, a complex organism. After Zoo TV, U2 gigs became as much about the brain stem as the nerve endings, and its been impossible to attend subsequent tours without looking for multiple meanings and sub-texts within sub-plots. As Love And Peace Or Else gives way to Sunday Bloody Sunday and a bloodshot Bullet The Blue Sky, you start wondering about Baghdad bunker and Abu Ghraib allegories (Bono on his knees, blindfolded, muttering off-mic and slipping in snatches of Please), while a monkey-voice in your ear says, 'chill dude, its only rock n roll'.

But Where The Streets Have No Name finally makes sense not just as a show-stopping set-piece but a song. Heard in the shadow of an imminent Live 8, it seems to rewrite itself as an old-fashioned pantheistic hymn to Gods other country.

Tonight its impossible to resist the tunes Spielbergian scale.House lights full on, Mr Hewson looks like hes being borne up by 80,000 voices. Sure the guy has a God-complex, but I like that in a rock star nobody ever castigated Jesus for being God with a man-complex. Mind you, the Knights Templar crusade of Pride always makes me hanker for the Zoo and Popmart funhouse mirrors whose double images and contradictions are a far more artful means of propogating the virus of dangerously good ideas.

But then, its the privilege of a free westerner to be able to read the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights on a big screen and ponder its place in a rock n roll show when youre not confined to house arrest or stuck in a malarial hole in the ground.

The Vertigo show doesnt reconcile the two U2s; it alternates them. Its a different band that returns to play an encore of Zoo Station and The Fly before With Or Without You (Bono looking like a leather-fetish bullwhip cop patrolling the beat for white meat), and to be honest, its a band I like better dirty, furtive and doubtful.

They quit with Vertigo reprised, and when you get to the bottom you go back to the top of the slide, the beginning being the end, the end the beginning, round and round like Jimmy Stewart falling into the vertiginous whirl.

Like I said, Deja Vu: 2.

(c) Hot Press, 2005.

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