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January 2004 Pick of the Month

U2 Go Home - Live From Slane Castle, Ireland 

Think again! I know that going through your head is “another DVD from the same tour, same album, same heart shaped stage set.” It is a valid suspicion but one that is crumpled in the hands of the emotions of what is a very unique concert in the lives and careers of the four members of U2. It is not a scandal that they are trying to squeeze the Elevation Tour dry; it would have been an omission of catastrophic proportions if there had not been a record of this event available to the U2 world.

With U2 a concert is always so much more than a collection of songs. They are as they once described “preacher(s) stealing hearts at a travelling show.” There is always so much more going on under and over and in between the riffs and rhymes and drumbeats and basslines, never mind the lyrics. There is always a looking in to the depths of soul and looking out to the furthest of this world’s horizons and a band trying to make sense of it, opening the wounds but ultimately aiming at some healing. 

U2 have always built an emotional powerhouse from what is going on around them. The news or their lives or their faith or their country all tend to blend in a cocktail to build a rock ‘n roll show upon. Maybe never have there been so many such things to blend as in the two gigs that ended the Elevation Tour. Two days at Ireland most famous open air venue had seen 160,000 tickets selling like hot cakes in a population of 3.5 million. This was as major a homecoming as U2 had had in a long time. They had left Dublin to take Elevation on the road with no real concept of how successful a tour that would be. Here they were back with their own tribe, in the place they had refused to leave when fame beckoned. The national pride was obvious.

Then there is the venue and the obvious historical significance to U2 who played at Slane Castle as support for Thin Lizzy exactly two decades before and Bono introduces one of their first songs "Out of Control" as if it were indeed that day “We’d like to think Phillip Lynott for letting us to open the show. We are a band from the north side of Dublin. We are called U2 and this is our first single. We hope you like it.” Ireland’s premier rock writer Stuart Bailie adds a little more on the historicity in his brilliant inner booklet notes by saying how many vintage U2 t-shorts there were in the crowd. Yes, many would be seeing the band for the first time, getting hooked on the "All That You Can’t Leave Behind" mania but some were here at Slane in ’81 and even before that!

Bailie, being based in Belfast, also sees that this place on the Boyne river is also a fulcrum swinging event in the Irish politics that Bono and the band have immersed themselves in 300 years after the protestant King William of Orange defeated the Roman Catholic King James on the very river that the majestic Slane Castle sits upon. This is U2’s first Irish gig since the Omagh bomb of 1998 when 29 people lost their lives in the worst of all the heinous deeds of the Irish troubles. Tonight during "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Bono with his voice cracking reads out all the names of those killed. The “no mores” have always been a powerful venting of Bono’s anger at the political divisions on his island which sadly have manifested them in the death and devastation so common place in the eighties and early nineties. In "Sunday Bloody Sunday" he calls for compromise and sends the song as this whole tour has sent the entire concert into prayer. Walking into the crowd along the heart shaped stage he chants: - 

              Put your hands in the sky 
               Put your hands in the air
               If you’re the praying kind
               Make this song into a prayer
               Put your hands in the sky
               Put your hands in the air
               If you’re the praying kind
               Cos we’re not going back there

The spiritual energy that has been generated over the course of the Elevation Tour is more intensified than ever with eyes closed, hands raised and face often gesturing skyward. "Wake Up Dead Man" becomes the ballad prayer, full of realism and belligerent hoping. "Walk On" as always ends the show with the hallelujahs and declaration that “the spirit is in the house” even though this is not a house! 

There are three songs that caught my eye and ear in particular in this context. Obviously the emotion of "Kite" as he dedicates it to his father has a poignancy that it never had before or is likely to have again. Bono is often criticized for taking on the big questions, trying to change the world and there is no doubt that that is exactly what he is trying to do. What cannot be lost in his addressing of the universal is how much emphasis he puts on the personal. "Kite" is about how his children look at him and he them and later     how he looks at his father and him he! At its end he simply says “talk to each other” and we have the wisdom of a man whose heart is still raw from loss and the realization that all he can say to his parents has now been said. It is powerful advice in the micro-political in the midst of all the macro-political stuff that makes up a U2 concert.

Which leads nicely (‘nicely’ will never be used in such a wrong place) to "Bullet the Blue Sky." As the song is about to begin the words USA, UK, France, Russia and China are emblazoned on the back drop. Edge’s guitar roars into war zone turmoil and we get a howling frustrating rant against those who fire the arms industry that not only did its damage in the central America of the mid-eighties that inspired this rage but has resourced the murdering terrorist groups in counties within hearing distance of where the    song is bring sung. The concert is near crescendo and Bono’s anger has rarely been so demented. The song ends with some sense that justice will prevail and that these nations will be brought to task for the atrocities handed down. It is September 1st and in just ten days time, a cowardly and criminal response would change the New York skyline and our world forever. It is a very haunting juxtaposition.

I’ll finish with the song that gets hidden away. "She Moves In Mysterious Ways" is one of  the obligatory DVD extras! It is not in the sequence of the concert but it is U2 at their best in bringing the sensual and the spiritual together in one tune. A belly dancer and the Holy Spirit waltz together. Add Bono’s eleven year old daughter Eve and there is that U2 moment where they sit on the very edge of bad taste or sentimental exploitation. Yet as Bono holds his daughter instead of someone form the crowd, as she waves confidently around her and as the crowd smile at the cuteness of it all, U2 gets away with it again.

This whole day and entire DVD is a band who wear it all on their sleeves and bring humor and celebration out of personal, national and world tragedies. Here in a Boyne Valley that brims and bristles with national pride, they entertain like few other bands can, all the time sympathizing with us in our weakness and giving us some unseen strength to take with us into the night. This is the best of who they are, what they have been to here and where they will go after the hallelujahs have faded away to the outer reaches of the world in 2004. Until then…walk on!

Steve Stockman 12/8/2003
 
 

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has just finished a book on U2, Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2, is the poetic half of Stevenson and Samuel who have just released their debut album Gracenotes, and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ www.bbc.co.uk/ni/religion/rhythmandsoul). He has his own web page--Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine.
   
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