Inside the Waterboys and the Beatles are blaring through the speakers. The overall sound quality puts to shame anything London has to offer. Draped over the stage are colourful, symbolic murals by Rene Castro a Cuban artist. On one side, the Amnesty symbol of a candle covered in twisting barbed wire and on the other, a large dollar-sign (blood-money?). After being warmed up by B.B. King, there is a sense of anticipation, the atmosphere crackling with excitement.
The taped Beatles music fades and Jimi Hendrix's apocalyptic rendering of Stars and Stripes heralds the arrival of Eire's best-selling export (or is it still Guinness?). U2 Launch straight into a carousing Bullet the Blue Sky, a roadie comes on for his moment of glory and shines a large spotlight alternatively on The Edge and Bono (echoes of Rattle and Hum!). Bono informs us, "There’s nowhere else I'd rather be," and then delivers us the songs final line...into the arms of Australia, Britain...AMERICA. However, "home is where the heart is," as the old cliché goes and Bono obviously thinks so: "Let’s stay right here, shall we?" Fine by me.
The homecoming theme is extended during Running to Stand Still, which is introduced as "a Dublin ballad." The audience sways along, singing the chorus "still running" to this stark ballad touching on Dublin's drug problem. Bono sings a snatch from the Pogue's Dirty Old Town – very apt.
Bono, in a smart black cowboy suit and black suede boots, is in good voice, rich and emotive. The Edge is dressed like Axl Rose in Max Wall trousers. Adam's trademark is a dangling fag billowing out clouds of smoke and Larry is still trying to be James Dean.
The pace quickens: God Part II, a much improved, lustful Desire. The big firelighter brigade spark up for All I Want is You, where Bono threads in a line from Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, but sounds a little like Smokey Robinson! Epic keyboard strains introduce Where the Streets Have No Name, which receives the best response thus far. Larry’s fierce, insistent backbeat drives it headlong and The Edge’s chiming notes ring all around The Point.
There's no respite as they hurtle into I Will Follow, a song about death, but bursting with life. Someone near me bellows out sarcastically, "Speech, Bono speech!" I glance at my programme: "We’ve been uptight for a long time, this tour is about loosening up." So maybe no speech tonight from the conscience of rock. But wait, Bono speaks. "Anything you want me to give out about?" the gleeful self-parody evident. "Sellafield, that’s about 60 miles from here. That’s a lot further than Maggie Thatcher’s house!" He then boldly dedicates I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For to the Birmingham Six.
One Tree Hill is a personal highlight. The image of a snake slithers through a moon, river and guitar on the stage backdrop, whilst the Edge's guitar slithers out reams of silvery notes, yer man constantly adding different styles and textures to his original and distinctive sound. As Bono puts it, "The guitar player of this generation." The Edge is back in the spotlight for his self-penned Van Diemans Land. He plays a sparse haunting version, his vocal tremulous and melodic.
The Edge produces his old Gibson. Rumble, rumble, stomp, stomp Out Of Control and we're taken back to the dark twilight world of U2s late adolescence. Bono in mock American accent tells us, "Its beautiful to be back in Las Vegas. I remember playing Dublin in 1980!" Yet cynics sneer and call this band humourless.
We rattle and hum through New Years Day, Pride and a passable version of Mystery Girl, a song written for the sadly missed Roy Orbison, and "a song we've never played before."
The band proceed to do several encores starting with the introduction of "The Lord Mayor Of Lovetown" Mr BB King complete with his LARGE orchestra. The stage groans under the combined weight! At this point Bono and the boys indulge themselves in the blues, "getting to know the type of music we don't know," before breaking into When Love Comes to Town and Angel of Harlem. But for my money they are far more convincing when they slip into their more country influenced style with Love Rescue Me where Bono shares verses with BB backed by some maudlin country piano.
The band go off stage and roadies rush about disconnecting inessential pieces of equipment, i.e. Bono's guitar!! However, this does not fool anybody. Having raised the crowd to a frenzy, Bono returns announcing that they were coming back anyway!
They leave us with the timeless 11 O'Clock Tick Tock and With or Without You, where the stage is flooded in pale blue light, shadows cast on Bono's face. Brooding, melodic and powerful. Bono's voice soars and sings "we'll shine like stars in the night." They've certainly managed that tonight. Bono then shoots a spotlight over the audience, I try to catch the light, but somehow it always slips through your fingers!
As we look back on the eighties, U2 are undoubtedly the best and the most original rock band of the decade.