IT’S 1982 and the roadies have just hoisted four white flags onto flagpoles as the young Dublin band run onto stage at the Maysfield Leisure Centre in Belfast and launched into their set in front of about 1,500 people.
The theatrics are gimmicky and the singer is a bit of a show off as he clambers on to stack of amps to serenade the audience from on high now and again but there is something infectious about this band with the singer’s earnest, falsetto voice and the guitarists searing, echoing guitar riffs.
Forward 27 years and the same band are playing below a sixty-metre-high space rocket, surrounded by huge girders in the shape of the claw in front of 80,000 people.
There are movable bridges jutting out from the stage that allows the band to promenade into the heart of the audience in Croke Park and a dazzling light show that probably uses up more electricity than a small city.
From the moment that drummer Larry Mullen strode on to the stage and started pounding at his kit a collective adulation gripped the Croke Park audience, which intensified to devotion as bass player Adam Clayton and guitarist The Edge joined in and then rose to all-out worship as singer Bono joined the band
U2 are a genuine phenomenon and probably the most successful band in the world but beneath all the hi-tech gimmickry and strutting about the place there was still that distinctive guitar sound and warbling voice.
When I first went to see them at Maysfield Leisure Centre it was to hear songs from their early albums – I Will Follow, Eleven O’Clock Tick Tock, Gloria, Sunday Bloody Sunday and The Electric Co.
In the years since then most of those early songs have been dumped from their set list to be replaced by some of the most iconic tracks in rock music – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Pride, With or Without You, Elevation, Vertigo, The Unforgettable Fire, One, Where the Streets Have No Name, and Angel of Harlem were all played on Saturday as well as three or four tracks from their new album No Line on the Horizon.
There were occasional musical diversions when Beautiful Day segued into the chorus of the Beatles Here Comes the Sun, and Bono paid tribute to Michael Jackson with an impromptu version of Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough.
U2 have always used their huge popularity to draw attention to global poverty and human rights abuses and on this tour it is the continued captivity of Burmese prime minister-elect Aung San Suu Kyi who has been held captive by the country’s military for most of the past 20 years.
As U2 played the song Walk On, 100 or so people holding Aung San Suu Kyi masks in front of them paraded in front of the audience and her face was flashed onto the huge overhead screen.
There were also video messages from Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the astronauts on the International Space Station.
It was a long way from the days when the edgy, post punk quartet played in a Belfast leisure centre and while I departed musically from U2 some time in the mid-1980s it was still a hell of a show.
(This review was puyblished in The Irish News on Monday.