U2 : Twickenham Stadium, Saturday June 18
Rock’s conscience gets back to his day job: taking the biggest band in the world into the spiritual home of English rugby
What’s the biggest thing you can think of? A Christmas Toblerone? The bassist from The Others’ hair? Johnny Borrell’s ego even? No, think BIGGER. Think gargantuan. Think colossal. That’s how big U2 are: unquestionably the biggest band in the world. There’s 80,000 people here today. There’s probably another 5,000 people sat out in the car park, happy to swig their cases of beer in the sun and snatch a note or two of the band’s music drifting out of the stadium. There’s another couple of thousand milling around by the venue gates, attempting to obtain tickets from the trafficking tout scum. And they’re not paying in excess of £500 to see support band Athlete.
Seconds before they stride onstage and tuck into ‘Vertigo’ like a lion tucks into a plump gazelle, there’s a noise that makes our spine wobble like a knackered inner tube. This must be what expectation sounds like. The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr, Adam Clayton and – a few paces behind them – a particularly roguish Bono, walk into view with the assured audacity of pumped-up boxers. ‘Beautiful Day’ comes next, and by the time its chorus reaches take off, Twickenham is a sea of smiles. Bono takes a walk into the crowd via one of the stage’s two extended gangplanks; red lacquered tentacles that take the singer far away from his band and into the ventricles of his flock’s communal heart. He looks like he’s walking on water, held aloft by the extended hands of his beloved. It’s a massive, perfect pop moment. Heck, even the coppers are smiling.
‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ sounds like a song by The Clash reconfigured to fill stadiums, its bruised chorus savvy, yet yearningly naïve. Bono pleads for peace, love and understanding, The Edge smears the sky with breathless guitar-led grace, and Clayton throws his bass around like a teenager playing his first gig.
And then there’s ‘New Year’s Day’, ‘Elevation’, and the dove-white-bright hymn of ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’. These are songs bigger than the linguistic constraints of any superlative. They’re songs bigger than Bono’s cloud-scraping face, projected behind him on the video screen. There’s a horrifying moment where we can see up his nostril, fleetingly catching a glimpse of the man’s brain. He’s thinking about the G8 summit, about a better way, and about what he’s having for his tea later. And the crowd? They’re not thinking. They’re feeling.
U2 don’t possess a pop portfolio to rival The Beatles’ arsenal of melodic magnificence and none of their songs are as good as, say, the Pixies’ career-best. They’ve never rocked with the zeal of Nirvana, matched the iconic sneer of Oasis, or stood astride cultural tectonics like the Stones. But what U2 do, better than anyone in the history of rock, is deal with people in their own emotional currency: passion.
It’s the passion of four adolescent jerks from Dublin who wanted to form a band and change the world. And while at times their sentiment could force Gandhi to choke on his piety, it’s clear they believe wholly in their words, their sound and their vision. For all his theorising and intelligence, it’s unlikely Bono could even spell cynicism.
U2 manage to be monsters of rock without being dinosaurs. They exist as the hugest of the huge without ever getting overweight. Tonight’s a very big show; a very big night out. And up there onstage are four very big hearts.