Saturday, 2 June 2012

U2 – Edinburgh - 1983

28th February 1983

Edinburgh Playhouse

Having been pleasantly surprised by U2’s performance at Gateshead the previous year, I had swiftly hoovered up their two albums to date: Boy and October.  Bright-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed affairs they were, both of them.  Brimful of songs bristling with the self-confidence of a group of young men who knew exactly where they were going.  I just loved them both. 

If the rhythm section sounded a touch primitive at times, and the vocalist a tad earnest, one could forgive these flaws by indulging oneself in the luxuriant guitar work.  For a rock guitarist to come up a truly unique sound must be, I imagine, a darned near impossible thing to achieve, but Mr Evans’ chugging/chiming technique is instantly identifiable even today, and I would suggest he has been the true leading light of U2, rather than the occasionally preachy Mr Hewson.

1983 brought the band’s third album War; which led to their breakthrough in the UK – the new set topping the album charts, with its concurrent single New Years Day making the top ten.  As good as the new collection was, I felt it lacked the spark of its predecessors, and one or two of the tracks had filler written all over them.  But the good ‘uns (New Years Day, Sunday Bloody Sunday, 40, Surrender) were good ‘uns indeed – particularly live, as I would discover.

This Edinburgh gig was just the third on the band’s War Tour which would take them to North America, Europe and Japan, and on this leg the support act were a band called The Nightcaps, of whom I shamefully recall not an iota.  U2 by contrast were utterly unforgettable.

Gloria kicked-off proceedings, a wonderful opener, but it was only once the new songs kicked in that the real magic began, and during the Seconds/New Years Day/Sunday Bloody Sunday section it was impossible not be pulled along on the wave of inclusiveness, togetherness and all embracing You Too-ness of the band.  Few frontmen have I seen over the years with such an innate and seemingly natural ability to connect with an audience as Bono, and for 90 minutes we were all willingly in the palm of his hand.  He had this way of somehow making one suspend all cynicism, and to buy in completely to what the band were striving to achieve.  I could not help but think that, should this rock ‘n’ roll thing did not pan out, a career in the US as a TV evangelist beckoned.     

During The Electric Co, the vocalist did his indoor climbing bit, starting out on the amp stacks then leaping up into one of the boxes before, if memory serves, serenading the occupants with a few lines of The Doors’ Break On Through.  Blistering versions of Out of Control, I Will Follow and Surrender maintained the atmosphere at boiling point, and one really had to admit these guys couldn’t half put on a rock ‘n’ roll show.  The evening ended with one of the earliest performances of "40", a song which the band would regularly use to close their concerts over the coming years.

The band’s next album The Unforgettable Fire, was a less bombastic outing, a result no doubt of Brian Eno’s influence as producer.  A clutch of good tunes were hidden within, but it was as patchy as its predecessor.  Even Bad, that wonderful spine-chilling career-altering song performed at Live Aid, was a plodder on vinyl.

And then came The Joshua Tree……..and I just didn’t get it.  Even though the collection sold shitloads, and had most music journos falling over themselves to shower the thing with plaudits, I just didn’t get it.  The album certainly opened with three impressive, if slightly formulaic, hit singles but thereafter it just dropped into mediocrity.  Or so I felt, and still do.  When stood alongside such 1980s releases as New York and The Queen is Dead, it just pales into insignificance.  I have revisited the album a number of times over the years, but rather like whisky or Jonathon Ross, The Joshua Tree remains something which, although apparently exceptionally popular, I just seem genetically predisposed to dislike.

Not the U2 have really needed by patronage, of course, and over the following 20 years they have grown to become perhaps the biggest rock band on the planet.  Their post Live Aid stuff just leaves me cold however, and anytime I hear news of their latest epic Stadium Tour I reach for my mp3 player and the sanctuary of Boy and October.


I Threw a Brick Through a Window
A Day Without Me
New Year’s Day
Sunday Bloody Sunday
The Cry
The Electric Co.
I Fall Down
Out of Control
11 o’clock Tick Tock
I Will Follow

Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl
A Celebration

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