An old friend got me a ticket for the U2 gig in Croke Park last Saturday so out of politeness, and I suppose curiosity, I agreed to go along. I'm more at home in intimate venues with the likes of Steve Earle or Richard Thompson and would have reservations about the excess and bombast of stadium rock; and the people you might meet there. I haven't really listened to U2 since the Joshua Tree days so I was mildly interested in seeing how they have aged.
Croke Park was an impressive sight, bounded by steeply-raked futuristic stands on 3 sides and with the immense stage in front of Hill Sixteen. My seat was about as far as it could be from the stage in the heights of the premier section. The band were mere specks in the distance but huge video screens flanking the stage brought us close up to them - but suggested a TV experience rather than a real encounter with the band. The sound was good enough but unfortunately those around me sang along to every anthem, which meant I heard little of the men themselves. It was more a fan-fest than a concert. And of course everyone was getting hammered. I was trapped next to a thuggish looking middle-aged guy who kept proferring me his plastic bottle of vodka and coke - and getting upset when I kept on refusing it. I began to entertain priggish thoughts and Yeats' phrase "the contagion of the throng" was on my mind.
The band seemed fresh and on song but I felt alienated from the whole thing. The recent album songs seemed very ordinary and the only flicker of fire came from the old standards: "Where the Streets Have no Name"; "Sunday Bloody Sunday"; and "Pride".
Maybe down close to the stage things were more intense. Maybe I am too old to enjoy stadium gigs. Maybe, dare I say it, U2 are a bit bland. Also, rock and roll should be about sex not politics - I hate being preached at.