Review: U2

The Experience + Innocence tour at Manchester Arena, 19 Oct

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With a crowd made up of fans middling their fifties it’s clear that U2 haven’t really gained a new generation of support, but that doesn’t stop their old ones turning up in droves. The band, now in its fourth decade together, still sell out stadiums around the world with ease.

In an interesting move, they opt for arenas for their current tour Experience+Innocence, a sequel to their 2015 tour Innocence+Experience, both supporting linked concept albums. Picking up where they left off, Bono and co utilise every part of the Manchester Arena to treat their diehard fans to seemingly all the technology available to them. The stage is a sight to behold. Produced by long-time creative director Willie Williams, the set-up consists of a main stage, walkway and smaller circular platform, covering the entirety of the arena floor. The crowd is in for a two-hour assault of the senses.

With no support act, anticipation is high when they grace the stage at 8.30pm sharp. Opening with a wall of image and sound (known as the barricade), images of fallen cities during the Second World War appear as a sample from The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin’s infamous American political satire, plays over the top of a recording of 1993 track Zooropa. Of course Bono doesn’t just use this tour as a stage for the latest album and tech indulgence, but for his politics too. Later he decries Brexit and its potential threat to Irish peace, includes a video in support of the One group’s Poverty is Sexist campaign alongside a chorus of female voices, and dedicates the final song, touchingly, to the victims of the Arena bombing

Bass player Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr continue to play it cool in the rhythm section

The band appears lit up inside the LED screen itself, suspended above the crowd, and break into recent single The Blackout. After being slowly lowered back down to the ground, U2 dive headlong into a set of songs old and new. Though he’s pushing 60 Bono’s voice appears not to have aged a day as he hits high notes in songs such as Elevation and New Year’s Day effortlessly. The Edge, known for his reverb-driven guitar playing, still mystifies with his distinctive sound but it’s his often-overlooked backing vocals that complete the unmistakable sound.

Bass player Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr continue to play it cool in the rhythm section and keep the band on the right side of the fashion curve. Avoiding a dad-rock look Clayton owns his white ruffled-up hair and channels modern punk as he struts around the stage in desert boots and jackets, which change depending on his mood. Mullen opts for a greaser look with slicked back hair and snug-fitting t-shirt.

U2 pack a lot of songs into their gig and long-time fans no doubt welcomed a mix of hits, new songs and forgotten gems. Finally hearing an album track from 30 years ago may be what certain people want to hear. For the rest, leaving huge songs out of the set list, such as With Or Without You or Still Haven’t Found What I’m looking For, is disappointing. And although it’s entertaining to see Bono swinging a huge lightbulb around the stage to the sombre tones of the Edge’s keyboard, finishing with new song 13 (There is a Light) was anticlimactic.

Tonight’s performance demonstrates that after 40 years U2 show little sign of stopping or even slowing down. Rather than relying on their reputation they’re continuing to innovate and having fun doing it. Each band member is clearly happy to be there and there’s a strong a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood between the four as they exchange smiles and hugs throughout. These four men from Dublin have made a legacy for themselves and they appreciate it, as demonstrated by Bono, who tells the cheering crowd: “Thank you for giving us this wonderful life.”

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