U2, ‘the best band to emerge from north side of Dublin’, arrived in Manchester more than 38 years after first traipsing into the city, with the weight of a career as one of the world’s biggest rock bands riding heavily on their shoulders.
Past tours have used massive stage sets to provide the spectacle but The Barricage, a 89-tonne, 31-metre long set for the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour provided simultaneously both unparalleled spectacle and intimacy.
The band have been in introspective mood, shunning some of the obvious tracks for others to convey the journey they’ve been on, the near disbandment before Achtung Baby, egos running away with them, Bono’s devil alter ego MacPhisto making a reappearance courtesy of some sinister Snapchat style technology before arriving at a heartfelt plea to resist Brexit.
Given last year’s Joshua Tree tour it was left to the bands two most recent releases and Achtung Baby to provide the majority of the set list. The stage was set, literally, in every corner of the arena with the main structure linked to a smaller e-stage by a walkway the length of the venue.
Coming out to a raucous The Blackout after a scene setting extract from the film The Dictator, the first part of the set was the traditional arena set up, main stage, strobe lighting, songs from the new album interspersed with 40 year old tracks, still sounding electrifying.
The spectacle of the show was unrelenting, the entire band covering every square metre of the expansive set, Larry Mullen’s three drum kits, Bono followed every step of the way by cameras broadcasting the entire event on the stunningly high resolution screens.
Achtung Baby was the album that prevented U2 from splitting, Bono affirming that it was recorded ‘when the Cold War was ending, just not within the band’. The importance of those Berlin sessions acknowledged by the snippet of the similarly inspired Bowie’s Rebel Rebel during Vertigo. Gloria was delivered with extreme force, Elevation and Acrobat being the set’s zenith.
The band reappeared in all points of the arena for Pride, each band member winding their way through the crowd to different stages, creating 21,000 front row seats. The skill of the ultimate arena band is total crowd inclusion. Nobody left Manchester thinking they’d seen anything other than the ultimate arena band.
The encore saw the burden of opening up old wounds lifted as the band blasted through the final seven songs. City of Blinding Lights was glorious, the job of singing One assisted ably by everyone last one of the audience before what is the quintessential indicator of a band still in their prime, bringing such a remarkable evening to a close with 13. There is a Light, a ballad that concluded with Bono leaving one solitary light bulb swinging at the end of the stage, before quietly walking off, the rest of the band leaving in darkness.
It was an astonishing evening, the quality of the music, technology and innovativeness vying to take centre stage. In the end none did, they all came together flawlessly to create a live music arena experience that few others, if any, will ever be willing or capable of emulating.