U2 – SSE ARENA, BELFAST 18 November 2015
U2 last played as a full band in Belfast during the Pop Mart tour when the people of Belfast welcomed them with open arms to play Botanic Gardens after being refused to bring the mammoth show to their home town of Dublin. 18 years later they made a triumphant return with their Innocence + Experience tour for the first of 2 sold out shows at the newly named SSE Arena, Belfast. In fact it was 36 years ago that U2 first played Belfast, at Queens University, their first show outside of the Republic of Ireland.
This was U2’s first show since they were forced to cancel shows in Paris due to the terrible attacks last week. Lots of fans attending tonight are wearing white to take part in #whiteoutbelfast to make a statement in the name of peace, love and music and to pay respect to victims of terror and violence around the world.
Patti Smith’s ‘People Have the Power’ booms over the speakers as Bono enters from the back of the arena punching the air and walking along slowly to meet his band mates, Adam Clayton, The Edge and Larry Mullen Jnr, to a rapturous Belfast welcome. U2 launch straight into the first track from Songs of Innocence, The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone). Bono announces “We’re a band from the Northside of Dublin called U2, formerly the Hype,” from under a large glowing light bulb suspended from the roof. The next 3 tracks The Electric Co, Vertigo and I Will Follow are blasted full throttle in quick succession and have the whole arena on their feet singing in unison. U2 have always set the benchmark for live shows and now was the time to show off their latest toy, a giant screen that lowers down just above the walkway in the middle of the SSE arena as U2 step into the past for the next songs.
Iris (Hold Me Close) is a song about Bono’s late mother Iris who died shortly after collapsing at her own father’s funeral. Archive footage appears on the screen as Bono performs a touching tribute. The screen was used to brilliant effect during Cedarwood Road as Bono appears to be walking down an animated version of the street he grew up in. Larry Mullen walks along the run way banging on a drum for a stripped down version of Sunday Bloody Sunday, always a touchy song to be played in the North. The visuals on the screen are perfectly balanced showing murals from both sides of the divide.
A car appears in the middle of the screen, and then explodes to begin of Raised By Wolves, a song about the 1974 Dublin bombings that Bono witnessed as a teenager. There is a short interval as the screen lowers down in the middle of the run way to resemble the Berlin wall as a new remixed version of The Fly from Achtung Baby plays. U2 appear in a line inside the screen to perform Invisible and Even Better than the Real Thing then move down to the E-stage at the end of the runway were the Edge strums the opening riff of Mysterious Ways.
Traditionally Bono pulls a female fan from the crowd during this song to dance with him and tonight was no different; Bono gestures to a fan in the audience. The Italian fan climbs up to dance throw shapes and take selfies with the band for the rest of Mysterious Ways and Elevation. Staying on the E-stage the mood relaxes as the band perform the Sweetest Thing, a soaring Every Breaking Wave and an intimate October with piano accompaniment from the Edge, but this is the calm before the storm as U2 launch into a brutal Bullet the Blue Sky as the screen shows sobering images of a destroyed landscape from war torn Syria.
Bono sings a few verses from Zooropa then the chimes of Edges guitar begin to form the intro to Where the Streets Have No Name, a fan favorite and arguably the best stadium song ever, definitely one to get the crowd going again. U2 continue with more live staples Pride (In the Name of Love), With Or Without You to get the crowd singing along. The visuals from City of Blinding Lights display spectacular images of Paris at night.
After a mesmerizing two and a half hour set U2 finish with the song that saved their career One, and wave goodbye until the next night. The SSE arena, Belfast is probably one of the smallest venues U2 have played this tour but tonight it was definitely the loudest. I have seen U2 multiple times over the years and in all sorts of venues, but I have to say this show was the best I have ever seen from any band. Hopefully they don’t wait so long to return to Belfast.
U2 – Belfast – 18th November – Set List
People Have the Power
I Will Follow
Song for Someone
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Raised by Wolves
End of the World
The Sweetest Thing
Every Breaking Wave
Bullet the Blue Sky
With or Without You
City of Blinding Lights
Mother & Child Reunion