Review: U2 concert Croke Park, Dublin
This is what a crowd-pleasing U2 show looks like. From the moment Larry Mullen enters the stadium, strides to the secondary stage in the mosh-pit, takes his seat at the drum kit and bashes out the famous opening beat of Sunday Bloody Sunday, you sense this show will be different. And so it is.
The crowd in the stands rise to their feet and remain standing for the following two-and-a-quarter hours. Rarely have the seats in the Hogan, Cusack and Davin stands of Croke Park seemed so redundant.
We’re here for The Joshua Tree — U2’s most emblematic and best-selling album — but the stunning opening moments are all about albums that preceded it, such as War and The Unforgettable Fire.
Sunday Bloody Sunday is immediately followed by an incendiary version of New Year’s Day. Then it’s straight into Bad and Pride (In the Name of Love). It could have been the summer of 1985 all over again — the occasion when the band first played the GAA’s HQ.
There are no accompanying visuals — no aids for those at the further reaches of the stadium, but it hardly seems to matter — there’s an urgency to the delivery that the crowd respond to in kind. It’s thrilling.
As foreplay for the main event, it could hardly be better judged. And, almost as if they’re fearful of letting the spine-tingling atmosphere slip, it’s straight into The Joshua Tree — performed as it has been on every night of this tour, from beginning to end and in perfect sequence.
The massive backdrop behind the main stage flickers to life for Where The Streets Have No Name and the mini films from long-time collaborator Anton Corbijn help to accentuate the experience of hearing all 11 of the album’s songs in such a setting.
It’s 30 years since The Joshua Tree was released and, as Bono quips, it’s only now that they’re beginning to understand what some of those songs are all about.
The opening trio of Streets..., I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With Or Without You have long been staples in the U2 live experience but their power has not been diminished by over-familiarity. Some 40 minutes in and it’s hard to recall any U2 show in Dublin in the past quarter century that has felt as intoxicating as this.
The album is front-loaded with huge hits, but much of its true brilliance is to be found elsewhere. The Edge’s guitar comes into its own on the ferocious Bullet The Blue Sky and there’s real emotion in Running To Stand Still when Bono sings of his teen years in Dublin when pockets of the Irish capital were ravaged by drugs. Rarely played songs like Red Hill Mining Town and One Tree Hill offer a reminder of what a creative force U2 were in the mid-1980s. The latter is especially poignant — Bono reminds us that it was written for their New Zealand roadie Greg Carroll, who died in a motorcycle accident.
The extended post-Joshua Tree encore is a mixed bag. There’s a lovely, updated version of the anti-war Miss Sarajevo, accompanied by footage of a sprawling refugee camp, and a stirring take on Ultraviolet (Light My Way) is prefaced by Bono’s heartfelt words about the women in our lives.
The video wall shows pictures of celebrated women from all over the world and from all eras and there are several Irish portrayed, including Rosie Hackett, Katie Taylor and, touchingly, Dara Fitzpatrick, the Coast Guard helicopter pilot who was killed in the line of duty earlier this year.
Throwaway rock anthems Elevation and Vertigo are less successful, although the 80,000 people here don’t seem to care. And while there’s beauty in Bono’s delivery of One, we have seen better performances of this defining song in Dublin before.
There’s no room for any of the band’s most recent albums but it’s telling that they finish with a brand new song.
If this show has all been about looking back, The Little Things That Give You Away is about looking forward to a new chapter for a band that have been part of Ireland’s cultural landscape for four decades.