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Walking up the North Circular Road on Saturday evening, it was pretty apparent that, for the second night of three, love had come to town in droves. U2 gigs in Dublin’s fair city are always meant to be something else, the only shows on tour that fans will stream to from all over the world, vying for tickets with the homegrown masses whose pride for the Feckin’ Fab Four has never dwindled, and it would have been interesting to see what the home/away ratio was
in a packed-out Croke Park across the three nights. But when you’re on that perpetual job audition treadmill for best band in the world, it always stands to reason that a U2 Dublin show is both an international event and a homecoming celebration. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way I lost my party hat.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like U2. I do. I like them a lot. But, I don’t love them. Can’t say I ever have. And for a non-committed partner like me, Saturday night’s gig at Croke Park was a show that only a U2 lover – or maybe first-timer – could love: good in spots but an overall disappointment.

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Perhaps it’s the law of diminishing returns; this has been the 4th time I’ve seen them live, albeit over a period of 16 years, and I’ve gotta say that while
their massive “Claw” stage set is monstrously impressive, I just felt a lack of engagement throughout, both in sound and vision. Of course, that’s always
a risk when you’re sitting in the back end of the Davin Upper, but ever since
Zoo TV I’ve always come away from their shows sated by good showmanship,
good music, and a wonderful sideshow of visual spectacle to go with it all;
a dazzling, cutting-edge multimedia accompaniment to keep even those in
Row ZZZ enthralled. Occasional moments aside, the 360 Tour visuals didn’t really do it for me, and as for the band themselves? Well…

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No Line On The Horizon isn’t a bad album, but in the pantheon of U2’s output, it’s by no means a great one; I’d wager that only Moment Of Surrender and perhaps Magnificent will truly stand the test of time. To therefore open with four songs in a row from NLOTH (the forgettable duo of Breathe and the title track, the ludicrous Get On Your Boots and the aforementioned Magnificent) was therefore, as Bobby Womack once said, a helluva tester. For sure they were just warming up – and Bono’s vocals on Breathe were initially extremely muddy – but it certainly failed to rouse anyone outside the fabled Red Zone, and it was only Beautiful Day (a song forever ruined for me by its association with ITV’s woeful early-Noughties Premiership coverage) that really kicked things off.

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A decent Mysterious Ways kept the pot boiling, complete with a Dancing-In-
The-Dark-style fan grab from the front row for an equally self-conscious and delighted Chilean girl who managed the rare feat of rendering Bono temporarily tongue-tied with a request to come to his house. Then things picked up nicely with that stadium staple, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. By this stage, the signs were promising: Bono, The Edge and Adam all looked to be enjoying themselves, and Larry – finally starting to show some long-delayed signs of ageing – was keeping it all tight at the back.

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Then, somewhat of a lull: despite being generally well received, Angel Of Harlem came across as anodyne to me and was followed by the midtempo pairing of
In A Little While and Unknown Caller, another so-so NLOTH offering. When you feel the need to display the lyrics to a new song up on screen, karaoke-style,
it’s hardly the most ringing endorsement of your faith in its right to be on the setlist. It felt like the early momentum which had built so belatedly had dissipated and we were right back at square one. Thankfully, dusk had
given way to night by now, and the tapered cylindrical screen which loomed above the band, having so far only shown closeups of the guys on stage,
really started kicking into life, extending downwards and shimmering
with kaleidoscopic colours as the Edge teased out an extended intro to
The Unforgettable Fire. However, even this U2 classic seemed to ring flat, floating away on the air like gossamer.

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Things got back on track somewhat with a punchy City of Blinding Lights and Vertigo, and an entertaining video sequence of the band’s disembodied heads and hands clapping out an ‘avin it laaaaarge intro to I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight (yet another newie). Its uptempo, tribal rhythm lifted it a notch above the blandness of its album incarnation and paved the way for the triple whammy of Sunday Bloody Sunday, Pride and MLK – all admittedly brilliant.
Due to their heart-on-sleeve support of Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi during Walk On, it felt more like a statement than a song, and the bleedin’ literal gesture of getting 40 or so people to – yep – walk on stage holding masks of her face was somewhat undermined by the occasional goon grinning out at the crowd from behind theirs.

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The international incidents keep coming with a Desmond Tutu interlude,
which seems to hint at a neat segue to One, but instead the Edge suckerpunches the crowd with the choppy intro to a somewhat constricted Where The Streets Have No Name, before they do play One, rounding the set off in an 80,000-strong mass singalong.

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Encore time brought a quick wardrobe and mic change for Bono –
an LED-studded leather jacket and “steering wheel” mic on a pole suspended from the Claw which he took great delight from swinging and hanging out of – and they were both to the fore during Ultraviolet, heralded by a bizarre
robotic vocal intro. This was followed by another congregational hymnal of
With Or Without You, and the last song of the night – the beautiful, stately, heartrending Moment Of Surrender. A cracking song, and a cracking rendition, but perhaps a strangely downbeat note on which to finish.

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So on this evidence, are they still the biggest band in the world? Undoubtedly. It felt like a mass religious gathering at times, with zealous fans in regular states of rapture, and even if close scrutiny shows that Bono can’t belt out
the choruses anymore, he’s got plenty of people on hand to do it for him.
On previous visits to the temple I’ve been caught up myself, but on Saturday night I have to say I walked home agnostic.

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DJ Jackson on Power FM

As you may have read elsewhere on this blog, I like to play the occasional tune for the enjoyment of others. So playing on Power FM in its various guises for the past 10 years or so has always been a hugely enjoyable pastime, whether in tandem with the Fantastic Mr Rob Fox or on my sweeny todd.

Here’s the setlist from my most recent show on Sunday 5th July, to give you a sample of the type of stuff you might hear were you to “tune in” and listen:
King Biscuit Time – I Walk The Earth
The Apples – Killing
Mr Chop – Snob
Captain Arsehole – The Message With Honour
The Automator w/ Kool Keith – King of NY
Dangerdoom w/ Talib Kweli – Old School
De La Soul w/ Chaka Khan – All Good?
Nickodemus – Back From Africa
Rebtuz – United States of Africa (M&Y Mix)
Greenwood Rhythm Coalition – Pachanga Pistola
Barry Adamson – The Man With The Golden Arm
Stevie Wonder – Living For The City
James Brown – Public Enemy #1
Aaron Neville – Hercules
Billy Cobham – Stratus
Sergio Mendes – For What It’s Worth
William De Vaughan – Be Thankful For What You Got
Al Green – Driving Wheel
Donald Byrd – One Gun Salute
We All Together – It’s A Sin To Go Away

This Sunday coming, I’ll be playing an all Blue Note Records show for the sheer hell of it. I’ll put up the link and setlist as and when it becomes available…

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