It’s a strange notion that a show in a sold out arena is a small affair for a band, but when you consider that the world’s stadia are U2’s usual stamping grounds, shows in the likes of the Hydro in Glasgow must seem like a club gig for them. For many, myself included, this was the first chance to see U2 in such a venue and they managed the trick of sounding like the huge stadium filling band they are whilst giving an arena show an unusual degree of intimacy.
The stage set up is the first thing that strikes you as unusual in this show. The normal stage is at one end as you’d imagine and it has a walkway eminating from it that, unusually, disects the entire arena and has a smaller stage (the E stage) at one end. Acting on a tip from one of our group who’d also been at Friday’s show, we stood near that smaller stage. As Patti Smith’s Power To The People blasted out of the PA, all of a suddden, Bono appeared on the small stage, feet away from us. As you came to terms with that, the rest of the band started up on the main stage, firing into The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) from the Itunes filling Songs Of Innocence.
I find the songs on the album lacking punch but live they take on a new dimension and blend well into U2’s set and The Miracle got the crowd going nicely. Following that with louder than you’ve ever heard versions of Gloria, Vertigo and I Will Follow meant that they quickly had the whole arena in their grasp – it was quite a start to the show.
The much talked about big screen then appeared, dropping down like a massive black techno curtain ominously hovering over the long walkway. As ever, U2 manage to use screens and technology in very innovative ways. For Iris (Hold Me Close) the screen projected footage of Bono’s late mother mixed with constellations and it was quite powerful stuff. Again, as with the other Songs Of Innocence songs, Iris sounds much better live and the visuals added to it without overwhelming it. Cedarwood Road then saw Bono climb inside the screen itself as cartoon footage of his childhood home played sort of over him as he walked along. Clever stuff. Later on, the whole band appeared in there for Invisible. I’ve never seen anything like that – it was certainly impressive.
The set is split in two and the main part ended with Until The End of The World which is my favourite U2 song so that was cool. Bono sang it from the small stage, as he sang most of the gig, and once it ended the screen came right down, covering the walkway and stage and projected an image of the Berlin Wall. Keeping with the Berlin theme, a remixed version of The Fly with Bono on live vocals played before the band reappeared with Invisible. They then all moved to the E stage for Mysterious Ways (together with a dancer from the crowd, Desire and Angel Of Harlem, all of which were brilliant.
One of the set’s highlights was an ear splitting version of Bullet The Blue Sky which, on the one hand, was much subtler than usual but on the other was fairly poignant with the background films featuring visions of displaced people and Europe. U2 seem to have made a conscious effort to drop the pomposity that has hindered previous tours and, whilst it’s never possible to have a U2 show where Bono doesn’t feel the need to preach, it was kept to a minimum in this show, at least by comparison anyway. The main set concluded with three unknown and not often played tracks – Where The Streets Have No Name, Pride (in The Name Of Love) and With Or Without You. As you’d expect, they went down well.
The encore saw Bono return almost full time to the main stage. City Of Blinding Lights kicked it off before a Simple Minds referencing Beautiful Day (Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill were in the crowd), a superb Bad and a crowd pleasing “40” ended the gig in a mass singalong. It was a long set, but it didn’t drag at all.
Seeing U2 indoors is a hugely different proposition to seeing them from halfway back in Hampden and the intimacy they brought to the gig made it memorable. They’ve got the set just right and the balance between the music and the visuals, added to the toned down Bono chats, made for a great gig. Well worth seeing if you can and remember – stand near the E stage as that’s where most of the action is