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Review: U2 play Belfast iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE gig at the SSE Arena

By Andrew Johnston

A lot has changed since U2 last played Belfast, in 1997.

Heck, a lot has happened since U2 last played a gig.

U2 pays tribute to Paris #StrongerThanFear Photo: Ross Stewart
U2 pays tribute to Paris #StrongerThanFear Photo: Ross Stewart

The Irish rock legends had just completed two nights of a four-night run in Paris last week when Islamic State terrorists struck the French capital.

The band's shows on Saturday and Sunday were dramatically called off, with frontman Bono lamenting, "This is the first direct hit on music that we've had in this so-called 'war on terror' or whatever it's called."

And on Wednesday night, the band returned to live action in a city that has witnessed its own share of bloodshed over the years.

The SSE Arena must be amongst the smallest venues the supergroup has played in years.

And they were determined to create an intimate atmosphere for their fans.

Bono entered from the back of the hall, striding along a walkway and holding his fist aloft triumphantly, before joining guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr, on stage.

"We're a band from the northside of Dublin called the U2, formerly the Hype," the sunglasses-sporting vocalist announced.

The foursome were welcomed like heroes, and the feeling was mutual.

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"You are heroes to us," Bono told the sold-out crowd.

"It's great to be here in the heart of Belfast."

Opening track The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) harked back to the days before U2 had ventured outside Dublin.

But even then, they were tuned into the news coming from the north.

"What was happening up here made a big impact in our teenage years," Bono said.

The first few numbers were played punk-style, four guys in a row, blasting it out.

The jolting riffs of Vertigo had the whole arena bouncing, while a massive I Will Follow got everyone singing along.

And Iris (Hold Me Close) was a deeply personal tribute to Bono's late mother.

But it wouldn't be a U2 show without some grand spectacle, and the video screens were soon sparking into life.

Sunday Bloody Sunday saw a procession of murals from both loyalist and republican areas, alternating with the slogan, 'Remember the victims'.

And despite the events of the past week, the band didn't flinch from using explosive sound effects and a striking car bomb graphic to introduce Raised by Wolves.

Nor did they drop the controversial video footage they have been using during the song itself.

A roll call of notorious Northern Ireland terrorist atrocities played out on screen, from the Miami Showband Massacre to the Omagh bombing, ending with a dedication to all the victims of the Troubles, with an emphasis made on 'all'.

There was no explicit commentary about Paris during the set, though the iconic Eiffel Tower peace logo was shown alongside the message, 'Stronger than fear'.

The Syrian Civil War was also referenced in powerful images during a brooding Bullet the Blue Sky.

If things could get a bit heavy at times, the quartet also knew when to switch gears into big, roof-raising hits.

An Italian fan was hauled on stage to dance with Bono for Mysterious Ways, while With or without You closed the main set in epic fashion.

It may have been a difficult few days for U2 - for the world - but last night proved you can't keep a good band - or their audience - down.

4/5

Online Editors

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