Two things prompted this piece. First I’m in the middle of writing about U2 for my book. Second, I read on an NME website post that Bono has been apologising about the band’s performance at Glastonbury, saying that amongst other things it was because he was wearing the “wrong shoes” on an ice rink – like stage. If you saw the concert you’ll recall that the rain was absolutely hammering down at the time, so it can’t have been easy to work up a brilliant atmosphere.
Now, I still need to read the original article in Q magazine to see more of what he said, but my first reaction was, stop apologising! I thought the concert was great, especially in the circumstances. Kicking off with three brilliant songs from “Achtung Baby”: “Even Better than The Real Thing”, “The Fly” and “Mysterious Ways”. How much better could it get? Well, it just stayed brilliant. “One”, “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m looking For”. “Beautiful Day” (a little ironic in the conditions) and the three Live Aid songs from “Unforgettable Fire” at the end: “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “Bad” and “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” at the end. Of course at Live Aid they didn’t get to play “Pride” as Bono was dancing for too long with a woman he’d pulled out of the crowd. I didn’t twig while watching Glasto that they were making up for that by running those three songs together.
And they reached back to their early days, playing two absolute classics from their first album, “Boy”: “Out Of Control” and “I Will Follow”. For any longstanding U2 fan, the choice of songs was close to perfect. If they’d done “New Years Day ” as a final encore I would have been completely satisfied.
I liked the way they wove snippets of other songs into the performance too. “Jerusalem” was a bit over the top, but acknowledging Coldplay and Beyonce, other headliners, with “Yellow” and “Independent Women”,was a real act of respect. Typical of U2. There were bits of Bowie, the Beatles, The Clash and Curtis Mayfield, too.
There’s a book which was first published in 2006 to accompany a greatest hits selection, called “U2 by U2”. I picked it up last year in HMV for a fiver. I’d recommend it to anyone with any interest in the band. It’s basically a whole load of interviews with the band about… everything. From childhood, through all the music, to their adult lives. It’s incredibly honest, self-critical, insightful about the music, and enthusiastic about music generally. U2 are often portrayed as pompous and self-righteous, mainly because of Bono’s outspokenness. But I think this is very unfair. He has used his position to argue for change in areas like third world debt. What’s wrong with that? Some of U2’s live shows went a bit over the top. So what, at least they were trying to entertain and experiment with their sound. Their love for music is transparent, they try to share it. They deserve plaudits rather than brickbats.
And so we read about Bono apologising about a concert which was actually superb. He, and the band, take the criticism seriously. I guess it’s hard not to – who isn’t hurt in some way by criticism, however unfounded? But they should always remember that they have made some of the greatest music in the history of rock’n’roll. “The Unforgettable Fire”, “The Joshua Tree”, “Achtung Baby”, “Zooropa”: is there a better run of albums? Only when you start to suggest Bowie, or Dylan, or Springsteen, or the Beatles, or Led Zep, or Radiohead, do you start to identify the company that they keep.
I really hope they remember that.