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2010-12-19 - 2:54 p.m.

My relationship with U2 has had its ups and downs since I saw them at the Sydney Football Stadium in February 1998. Later that year they released "The Best of 1980-1990" including the revamped "Sweetest Thing" and a bonus disc of good B-sides, many of which were new to me. In 2000 they released their return-to-form album "All That You Can't Leave Behind", although you could argue that when you put aside the hit-and-miss experimenting of "Pop" they were never out of form as a live band in the 90s. I was disappointed that they didn't bring their "Elevation" tour to Australia, as it would have been cool to hear people cheering the new songs as much as the classics.

Then the cracks started to form in 2002. "The Best of 1990-2000" featured a couple of pretty ordinary new songs ("Electrical Storm" and "The Hands That Built America") and a B-sides disc full of mind numbing remixes. The next year "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" was released, which I featured "Vertigo" (which was essentially "Elevation 2") and the pedestrian "Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own". I couldn't tell you what I thought of the other songs at the time because I didn't buy the album until about a month ago. The new song on their singles compilation- "Window in the Skies" is possibly the most boring thing they've ever released. And then "No Line on the Horizon" came out with the embarrassing "Get on Your Boots" as the lead single. By the time they were announced as the headliners to Glastonbury 2010, I was, as I've previously said, disappointed that I was going to the biggest festival in the world to see a band who I'd already seen back when they were my favourite band since the Beatles, and who now appeared to be well past their creative prime.

All the while I never had the issues with Bono that many others have. So he lives somewhat hypocritically- so did John Lennon, but nobody seemed to mind. People could see with Lennon that using your profile to make a difference couldn't be faulted even if many other aspects of your life could be. Bono has been instrumental in cancelling Third World Debt, raising awareness of the AIDS epidemic in Africa and political prisoners in Burma. Yes he flies around in a private jet, lives in a tax haven and manages to justify that to himself but hey, I liked his music and admired his passion.

I came around to U2 again a few months ago when I was reading their "autobiography" ("U2 by U2") and saw them as a bunch of ordinary guys living the rock star dream without hurting anyone. They admit they're not great musicians, but they know what works, and I like it. Or more to the point I liked it until about 2002. Having already decided to go to the gig this year, I gave their last two albums another go, and decided that they were okay, but definitely not their best work. Pretty much what I think about the last 2 Whitlams albums and the last 2 Crowded House albums.

So if I've got myself back into a U2 phase, why was I disappointed with Monday night's gig, despite looking forward to it a lot more than I thought I would? Maybe that was part of the reason- instead of going along to see what this band had left in them I went along expected to see them still at the top of their game. I don't think Bono is ageing gracefully as a singer and songwriter, even if he is still the consumate performer. Songs like "With or Without You" and "One" seemed to miss the mark, although I think the rest of the band are still playing very well.

The other disappointment was the atmosphere- we couldn't get tickets on the "floor", yet the entire back section of the floor seemed empty- of course it's because everybody was getting as far forward as they could in a general admission section, and we just happened to be in seats just behind the empty spaces, but I think they undersold that section just so they could have a bar at the back of it. And the 5 rows of seats in front of me were empty, probably because the view was obstructed, but those singalong moments just weren't the same. And apart from a few people, nobody was standing up, so even during moments like "Where The Streets Have No Name", I didn't feel comfortable getting up and getting into it.

There were highlights- "Streets" is one of the greatest live songs of all time (but it was never going to top the Muse featuring the Edge version for sheer surprise and energy), "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" did it for me a lot more than "With or Without You" this time around, and songs like "Bad" just seemed to work even if it has never been one of my favourites and on paper I would have preferred to hear "Pride" (which they subbed it for on the Tuesday night- but I have a feeling that "Bad" would have been the better performance). I briefly considered buying a $40 ticket for Tuesday night so I could experience it with a different atmosphere, different expectations, and see which songs they subbed ("New Year's Day" for "I Will Follow", "Pride" for "Bad", "All I Want is You" and a dusted off "Love Rescue Me" for "I Still Haven't Found" and "Stuck in a Moment") but I don't think I could have made it in time anyway.

I no longer care whether it's cool or not to be a U2 fan, but I think their days of being the biggest band in the world are all but over.

For reference, the setlist (from U2setlists.com rather than from memory):

Return Of The Stingray Guitar, Beautiful Day / Blackbird (snippet), I Will Follow, Get On Your Boots, Magnificent, Mysterious Ways, Elevation, Until The End Of The World / Anthem (snippet), I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For / Do They Know It's Christmas (snippet), Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of, Bad / Need You Tonight (snippet) / Never Tear Us Apart (snippet), In A Little While, Miss Sarajevo, City Of Blinding Lights, Vertigo, Miss You (snippet) / I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight / Relax (snippet) / Two Tribes (snippet), Sunday Bloody Sunday / Get Up Stand Up (snippet), Scarlet, Walk On
encores: One, Amazing Grace (snippet) / Where The Streets Have No Name, Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me, With Or Without You, Moment of Surrender

For further reference, Jay-Z was crap.


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