U2 exclusive: Our man goes backstage ahead of fab four's huge Belfast gig
These days any group with a couple of hits to their name and the ability to sell out a few arenas calls themselves “the biggest rock and roll band in the world”.
The truth, however, is very simple.
U2 are the biggest rock and roll band in the world. No one even comes close. They’ve got the hits, the history and the heavyweight stage show to prove it.
As huge, heart-pumping performances go, Bono and the boys deliver the goods like no stadium rockers have done before or since.
Go see the Innocence + Experience tour when it rolls into the SEE Arena in Belfast later this month if you don’t believe me.
On Friday I had the pleasure of seeing the show at the Hydro Arena in Glasgow and all I can say is that Northern Ireland is not going to know what hits it this November 18 and 19.
On a backstage tour in the afternoon with their long-serving live music supremo Arthur Fogel the sheer scale of the event is very clear.
With a team of 110 people and 28 trucks required to keep the show on the road, this is a huge undertaking by any standards but one that Arthur revels in.
“I’m amazed every tour,” he told me, as we strolled up the neon-lit catwalk that stretches out from the stage to almost the back of the hall.
“They come at every tour in a different way but it always ends up being special. This is the first time in 14 years they’ve played arenas in Europe.
“The incredible connection that’s been generated on this tour gives the band and their fans a chance to connect in a way that stadiums don’t give you”.
Standing by Bono’s vocal mic and looking out on the vast empty stadium before me, it’s hard to imagine that the fans can feel up close and personal to their heroes in such a cavernous hall, but a couple of hours later when the venue is full and the band are working their magic it all becomes clear.
“I think they’re loving the more intimate feeling – if an arena can be intimate,” Arthur said, laughing.
“They’re at the very top of their game physically and emotionally. It’s pretty magical.”
So just how “magical” are we talking then? Well the band practically lift the roof off in Glasgow with a sparkling set peppered with gems pulled from all corners of their four-decade career.
Early favourites like I Will Follow sit side by side with more recent crowd pleasers like Beautiful Day and Vertigo. Offerings from the Songs Of Innocence album like Iris provide real emotional clout while showstoppers like With Or Without You and Sunday Bloody Sunday are delivered with real passion and get the whole crowd on their feet screaming for more.
If musically it’s bang on the money, visually it’s simply stunning.
Huge, flexible, almost see-through screens that stretch along that vast central catwalk flicker and flash into life throughout throwing out an astonishing array of images and colour.
Hollow to the point that the band can actually climb inside to do their thing, they are spectacular to see. Ever changing, ever moving they split into two, four then six huge canvasses spitting out all manner of visuals from powerful news footage to hand held mobile phone footage. The effect is so dazzling as to almost be overpowering at times.
Of course anyone who’s witnessed U2 in the flesh before knows the band rarely do anything in half measures. Previous globetrotting tours like Zoo TV and Popmart were state of the art concert experiences and this show continues to push the performance envelope.
Through it all, the band perform like men possessed.
The rhythm section of Adam and Larry anchor it all down beautifully as always while The Edge weaves his guitar magic stage right and Bono careens around the venue punching the air, throwing water out into the crowd and generally behaving like the born frontman he so clearly is.
For the faithful Arthur, the man who oversees this feast for the eyes and ears, the sense of occasion is very real.
“I think this ranks right up there with the greatest live performances the band have done,” he told me as I stare out from the stage into the sea of seats one more time.
“They’re playing so well together. It’s really incredible how they’ve re-energised themselves. It’s pretty spectacular.”
Belfast you have been warned.