Last night, BBC2 broadcast U2’s show from Paris earlier this month. The show was rescheduled after the tragic events of November 13th in Paris. U2 promised their best for Paris and made good on their promise to return and put on their two remaining shows. They did so with their typical sanctimony and gusto. U2’s Innocence & Experience show was played out in two parts. Part one: Innocence. Part Two: Experience. Each half of the show contained songs old and new. The show was a bombastic piece of rock theatre and showed why U2 still pack a punch worldwide. Some people love U2; a lot of people hate U2…but here are ten reasons why U2 are a great rock band (in no particular order)…
Say what you want about U2 and Bono’s extracurricular activities, at the end of the day they have an incredible back catalogue littered with great songs that resonate with cause and effect. Where The Streets Have No Name has one of the most joyous, emotive and open introductions in music. The undulating guitar of the Edge coupled with the dance oriented beat makes for complete euphoria in a song. Any YouTube search for this song live will send shivers up your spine. The same can be said for Bad’s epic, repetitive and hypnotic melody. It is as effective as it was on July 13th 1985 when U2 turned the world’s head along with Queen at Live Aid; a gig that Larry Mullen Jr thought had ruined the band due to Bono’s cahorting with the crowd.
The track ran to nearly twelve minutes meaning that they couldn’t play their current hit, Pride (In The Name of Love), due to time restrictions. As it goes, it made them. Every Breaking Wave is a modern classic from the pen of Bono and Bullet The Blue Sky’s political bombast is U2 at their visceral and confrontational best. Originally written as a reply to the horror in El Salavador, 2015’s Bullet swipes at the Greek economy, the refugee crisis and the terror in Paris, amongst other world struggles. This is before you even mention a single song from 1991’s game changing Achtung Baby; Even Better Than The Real Thing was a Madchester latecomer, Until The End Of The World is an intense pivotal conversation between Jesus and Judas, and Mysterious Ways is one funky tune. Then, there is the Joshua Tree and U2’s raw and emotive debut; Boy. Out Of Control contains the angst of an 18 year old Bono in complete innocence and I Will Follow shows a boy not quite sure about what to do at the loss of his mother at the age of 14. Open wounds make for great music, and when you have a band like U2 that wears their heart on their sleeve, it’s hard not to get washed up in their emotion.
2. Achtung Baby
The best U2 album with the best U2 songs. An album born in Madchester, recorded in Berlin and and owing great tips of the hat to Grunge and Industrial Rock. Truly timeless and will stand up to any album in the past or the future. A true benchmark. Made in the same studio where Bowie, Cave and Reed all created masterpieces. The last three tracks on this album are unheralded U2 classics, sonically and lyrically (Ultraviolet, Acrobat and Love Is Blindness if you want a look on Spotify).
3. Boundary Pushing Stadium Rock
In 1989, U2 said they had to go back and ‘dream it all up again.’ Their size as a band had become to big for them to deal with. The Joshua Tree was massive and they needed to chop it down. In 1991 they returned with the game changing Achtung Baby and the even more pivotal ZOO TV tour of 1992-93. Stadiums around the world were transformed into satellite TV channels for the masses. Bono got an alter ego (or three) and sowed the seeds for his megalomania. The shows were triumphant and they reinvented stadium rock; fact. In 1997, U2 toured with the largest production TV screen ever created and a 35 foot mirror ball lemon. U2 took their own trip aboard the Mothership. They mislaid the funk but they still proved that they were the stadium rock band and anyone else were merely pretenders to the throne. 2009’s 360 tour featured a space ship like stage set that created an arena intimacy that only U2 could pull off successfully.
4. Boundary Pushing Arena Shows
2015’s Tour saw U2 playing arena’s again. Not because they couldn’t play stadiums, but because they wanted a closer connection. Their latest live extravaganza featured a huge arena splicing screen which divided the audience. Metaphorically, the north/south side (a not to their Dublin heritage). In 2001, the Elevation tour saw the band reconnect with a disillusioned audience after 1997’s humongous, overblown PopMart tour. According to the band themselves, they were reapplying for the job of the greatest rock band in the world. They got employed and unduly obliged with some stunning shows. The two largest shows they played on this tour were documented in their amazing shows at Slane Castle; the first band to play more than one gig there in one year. Another tick on the ‘we’ve done that’ list.
5. U2 are a band for the face of adversity
In 2001, U2 were the first band to tour America after 9/11. They took the bull by the horns and helped a grieving nation try to reclaim some normality. Through tracks such as New York and Please, they helped a nation get back on their feet. In 2015 they helped their fellow troubadours, The Eagles of Death Metal, reclaim their stage after it was cruelly taken from them allowing them to end their show in Paris was a great gesture by the band (not Bono), and to see Jesse Hughes parading up and down the U2 catwalk in his white suit was a revelation. A simple ‘Au Revoir’ from Bono was the end of their show. The Eagles of Death Metal were the heroes and got to finish their show.
Rock and Roll should be used a platform for change. U2 have done this. Bono has taken it upon himself to be the messiah on more than one occasion. Whether you love or (most likely) hate Bono, he uses his position to lobby politicians and people of power to try create a better world for people. People might say he is a hypocrite for spouting such platitudes but I fail to see how a person like Bono hasn’t given enough of his own earnings to help these causes. Amnesty International, (RED), One, Music Rising, Greenpeace, Free Burma, Mencap and Chernobyl Children’s Project are all organisations supported and helped by the band. Whatever your stance on the band and frontman, these are all worthwhile causes and the bands involvement should be applauded.
7. Staying Power
Since U2 formed in 1970-something, they have endured various changes in pop culture. Post-Punk, New Romantics, Grunge, Brit-Pop, Hair Metal, Indie and Hip Hop have all come, gone and repeated ad infinitum in their tenure yet U2 still stick around as the constant. They have sought to play with different genre’s and have worked with BB King, Green Day, Pearl Jam, Bob Geldof, Paul McCartney, Lou Reed, Willie Nelson, Brian Eno, Pavarotti, Howie B, Paul Oakenfold, Underworld, Roni Size, Francois K, Sinead O’Connor, Jay Z and Rihanna to name but a handful of collaborative partners. Their influence is huge. Although the less said about the tripe with Wyclef Jean, the better!
8. They’re mates
Since the band formed, they have never had any line-up changes. Four mates, playing the music they love and being in a band. Sure they’ve come to blows and all that, but how many bands can you say the same of for sticking together?
9. Experimentation and Innovation
In 1995, U2 released an album under the name Passengers. They worked with various people to create a set of ambient works for fictional films. Out of this came two stunning U2 sings; Miss Sarajevo and Your Blue Room. Many of the tracks on this album show U2 to be more than just stadium hogging anthem bearers. This is some dark stuff that is worth checking out.
Along with this, U2 has always sought to work with some of the best DJ’s around the world in reworking their tracks. Paul Oakenfold, Francois K, Soul Assassins, Roni Size and Trent Reznor have all being involved with U2’s flirtations with dance music. They have never been afraid to throw their names into the hat of different genres to see what happens. Oakenfold’s remix of Even Better Than The Real thing is straight out of the Hacienda and transformed the track into a dancefloor classic.
The band’s reimagining of Even Better Than The Real thing for the current tour is a clear indicator that the band love to play around with their songs, and the sparse reworking of 1993’s Zooropa showed that with the lyrics laid bare, the message goes hand in hand to highlight the ongoing refugee crisis.
With countless number one albums and singles, U2 are one of the most successful bands on the face of the earth. Does this make them a good band? Of course not, but their stature should not be questioned. Can that many people be wrong?
Whatever you think of U2, their standing in the pantheon of rock is one that is hard to debate. It is easy to pick up the ‘I hate U2’ flag. It’s certainly not cool to like U2. If you like bands on a basis of whether they’re cool or not, or the what the media say about them, you need to check your selection of bands. Chances are you have a shit taste in music. It’s easy to start with that same old about U2…taxes etc, Bono’s a prick, they’ve never remade the Joshua Tree; but put that aside and take that band, as a band. They’ve tried to reinvent themselves so they don’t stagnate, and they’ve essentially created modern day stadium rock.
Seeing U2 sharing the stage with Eagles of Death Metal at the end of their Paris show was excellent. Their clearly once rehearsed performance of Patti Smith’s People Have The Power was a proper show of solidarity that only U2 could have truly pulled off. The lyrics are so apt and it’s a great song. Jesse Hughes thankfulness was genuine and U2’s humility was clear for all to see. Allowing the band to finish the show with I Love You All The Time was a great gesture and one that should go down in history.
Words by Dom Walsh. You can read more from Dom at his author’s archivehere. Dom also tweets as @bwfcdom83.