Relevance is a strong word. But it’s an essential one for Bono and his three fellow Irishmen. U2 have always been fighters. They fought for human rights, against poverty and countless criticism. Being in the business for almost forty years has made the lads strong and confident. Right now they might fight the biggest fight of their career: the one against their own fugacity and one for remaining relevant. And one thing is for sure: they are about to lose this fight and it’s time to ultimately accept that.
Where are we?
The conditions for U2’s current Innocence + Experience Tour could have been better. Following the whole Apple deal buzz last autumn their first studio LP in five years, Songs Of Innocence, soon turned out to eventually be a lovely new U2 record but one that barely adds anything of sustainability to the band’s legendary discography. It was a means to an end and when Bono had his infamous bicycle accident last fall karma almost turned out to be a bitch as his recovery endangered the whole tour which could have – and that is an important factor for U2 – ended in a financial disaster. But the doctor’s did their magic and the tour started rolling, no matter if it was a good idea or not. On September the 24th, U2 performed the first of four sold out nights at Berlin’s Mercedes Benz Arena. It’s a return to the city that might be, besides their hometown Dublin, the most important one in the band’s history. Achtung Baby, Hansa Studios, Zoo Station – that was 25 years ago and on that night it felt like another life.
The best moment of the show?
Okay, don’t get me wrong: there are barely any bands who know how to put on a big show like U2 do. Giant, moveable LED screens (this time with one they could actually perform in), a tremendous light show, two separate stages and four decades of hit singles. So, if you managed to get one of the expensive seats on the side you could actually experience the whole audiovisual megalomania while the fans closer to the stage might have only seen parts of the band, depending on which side Bono or The Edge are spending their time. There’s barely any room for imperfection at a U2 live show in 2015. Even when the band obviously fucked up Elevation and Bono was lost in all the haze they just continued playing because – unfortunately – they just got a girl from the audience on stage to film the whole performance while sharing it via some social media like device on the big screen. Damn you, human factor! Every now and then the greatness of U2‘s past shines through. The songs from Achtung Baby are still musical testaments for the greatness of the 1991 masterpiece. The heaviness of Bullet The Blue Sky hasn’t lost its power after 28 years and when Edge and Bono performed the 1981 piano ballad October while images of destroyed Syria are shown on the big screen there’s a shiver running down your spine. Dublin’s streets might have calmed down over the past decades but now the Sunday Bloody Sunday takes place somewhere else… everyday.
The worst moment of the show?
The finest moments of U2‘s Berlin show came from the past. In general the glorification of the past gets a lot of space during the show. It’s not just about the classics but the new Songs Of Innocence celebrate the band’s former youth with Bono making more than one speech during the gig to remind us of those golden days. Videos, words and songs are desperately trying to remind everybody of what’s been long gone. And that fact itself gives the whole concept of the Innocence + Experience Tour a sentimental and somehow desperate melancholic atmosphere that shines through every now and then. The band is trying its best to keep the fire alive but especially when you’re not on the expensive seats and closer to the actual members you can see the routine in their faces, the calculated claptrap. They look tired and… simply old and sated. The frontman – who’s obviously trying his best to not showcase the aftermath of his accident – delivers rock star routines and predictable monologues about one world, Europe and how great it is that Germany keeps on helping the refugees from all over the world. The Irishmen did their best to disguise that serenity because they are goddamn professionals but in the end it’s just four man in their fifties who are trying to sell that ‘We still got that youthful fire we had 30 years ago’-attitude while on the same side delivering a perfectly choreographed show that leaves absolutely no space for all that summoned rock and roll and punk spirit.
How was the audience?
Well, a bit like the band itself in terms of average age and grade of saturation. U2 concerts have become events over the past decades where the songs itself are not the main important element anymore. The selfie quote would have made TAYLOR SWIFT jealous. I saw people who were filming pretty much all the time, no matter if they even had the band on focus. Especially close to the stage U2 shows have became a horrible endless game of ‘Catch a photo of Bono.’ The spirit of rock and roll might have died long ago in a lot of these people. Hey guys, attending a U2 show every four or five years with your band shirt from 15 years ago doesn’t count if you are not interested in actually watching the show. Yes, there are those special moments, for example when Where The Streets Have No Name starts where you can sense the push in the audience and an emotional outburst. But these moments are rare in the course of the show. In a quite ironic way they reflect what is happening on stage. Event, staging and shallowness that lost its original attention quite a while ago. There was a guy filming with an iPad next to me. No need to say more.
Can we recommend a future show?
Well, obviously not. Don’t get me wrong. U2 are one of the best rock bands of all time and their musical legacy can’t even be destroyed by numerous Apple deals, weirder show concepts or Bono’s ridiculous dyed blonde hair. You can’t burn down The Joshua Tree, seriously. But this is the past and U2 had its greatest live moments in the past. The megalomaniac madness of the ironic Zoo TV tour back in 1991, the colourful rave craziness of the Pop Mart tour (which could only happen in the 90s) – those were great moments. Just buy 2001’s Go Home DVD from the band’s performance at Slane Castle to witness them on the peak of their vitality. Because those days are gone forever and the downward spiral already started. The band slowly but steady becomes a shallow shadow of former greatness. And that’s even sadder when you still got those brilliant moments that shine through every now and then during their current live shows, just to remind you of it. But that’s just a memory. Nobody is to blame for this, really. It’s just the way of life. All those artists U2 refer to these days – THE CLASH or RAMONES – they all split-up quite early and are now gone. DAVID BOWIE made the wise choice to retire because he’s a smart ass. Same goes for R.E.M. Rock’n’Roll was never meant to last forever and even a band like U2 should be aware of that. It’s okay to go. Honestly.