It's been a long time since I really got in to a U2 record, probably not since Achtung Baby, and my last U2 concert was in 1993. But now I'm an Irish expat, once again, and so when the 360 tour made its Montreal stop last night my partner-in-life and I were there.
You could hardly call it a concert as the music was only part of the show and anyway Bono's voice was often drowned out by 80,000 fans all round me singing and shouting along.
With U2's musical catalogue stretching over thirty years you could describe it as musical nostalgia with special effects, and for me it worked well as such, starting as it did with four straight songs from Achtung Baby. I most enjoyed the songs where the crowd didn't or couldn't sing along, allowing Bono's voice and Edge's guitar to ring out: "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)", "Hold me, Thrill me, Kiss me, Kill me" and "Miss Sarajevo".
However the sound wasn't as good as I expected and Edge's guitar was often a bit lost behind the bass and vocals - perhaps that's a limitation of the circular stage set-up as there's no solid structure behind the speakers. Nobody minded though; the crowd was tremendously enthusiastic and a lot more reverential than an Irish crowd would be - it's only bloody Bono after all!
The threatening thunderstorm held off until the last moments of the encore but then a deluge began that cleared the stadium.
Bono's voice seems to be improving with the years - I don't remember him singing so well on any of the five occasions I've seen U2 before:
- December 1982 in front of a few hundred people at the St. Francis Xavier hall in Dublin when the songs that would be included on the "War" album had one of their first public performances. I was blown away by a new song, with the band joined by Steve Wickham on electric violin: "Sunday, Bloody Sunday"
- August 1985 when U2 made a surprise appearance (after Freddie White!) at a free concert in Cork, the "Lark by the Lee", and I was right at the front up against the stage
- June 1987 in Gothenburg when I was swept along in a human wave at the front of the stage and once again at the end of the day when I ended up on the train to Malmo instead of Stockholm and had to take a plane home. U2 gave a really storming performance that day, playing much of The Joshua Tree.
- June 1992 at Globen in Stockholm in what I thought was the best concert musically; Edge's guitar on the final song "Love is Blindness" was haunting and piercing - I can hear it still.
- July 1993 at Stockholm's Stadion which I don't remember much at all except for the rain; I do remember one of the support acts very well though, a young, waif-like and brilliant PJ Harvey in her "Rid of Me" era