U2, Harp Lager Band Of 1978, made a long awaited return to Belfast last week with two gigs at The Odyssey. It had been a while since their last gig in Belfast. So long in fact, that The Odyssey didn’t even exist. 1997 to be precise.
For their last indoor gig in Belfast, you have to go back a further ten years, to 1987 at King’s Hall. Before that, they used to be regulars in Belfast during their early days.
On their current tour, they have downsized, having to make do with large arenas rather than large stadiums. This gave hope to an Odyssey gig, with gigs at similar venues in London (The O2) and Glasgow (The Hydro) being announced earlier this year.
Hopes were raised in early September when The Edge hinted at a Belfast gig. Within days, two Belfast gigs were announced, with a further four in Dublin.
My older brother loves U2, and I caught the bug, to the extent that I was prepared to get up at 7am on a Sunday morning to record a whole day of programming on MTV dedicated to U2. There was no Sky+ in them days. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t know how to set the Video Plus, so I had to get up and do it myself.
I even won a copy of The Best Of 1980-1990 in a newspaper competition by correctly answering what Bono’s real name is. It’s Paul Hewson, since you ask.
There have been two occasions when I have been close to U2. When they played Botanic Gardens in 1997, I was close enough to hear them. In 2002, I was invited to a TV recording at Blackstaff Studios. I was tipped off that a famous Irish band would be peforming. I was told it was U2. It was Westlife.
As I counted down the days to this Odyssey gig, I still had a dark fear that Westlife would be turning up on stage instead.
When arriving at the venue, there were little subtle U2 references. When trying to find a parking space, I was trying to fight the temptation to mutter to myself that I still hadn’t found what i’m looking for. Inside the venue, there were billboards for Clayton Hotel. It’s unknown if Adam was staying there during their time in Belfast.
Getting into the venue was a bit of a farce, with admission by credit card rather than paper ticket holding up people getting in, as well as seperate queues not being signposted.
Now in the venue, I took up position near the very end of the stage, on the line that marked off the area of the floor where Bono would be entering. Fans observed the security staff, on the theory that the busier they got, the closer it was to stage time.
At around half eight, the area was sealed off and surrounded by security. Bono casually walked across the floor onto the stage, and kicked into The Miracle Of Joey Ramone, the velvet rope was now removed, and a pile on to get the best position at the stage took place.
The best view of the venue was at the side of the stage. Unfortunately, those spaces were long taken by the time I arrived just after seven.
Adam Clayton paid his own homage to Belfast by wearing a Stiff Little Fingers t-shirt.
They began by playing songs from their early years, with Bono remarking “You have to visit the past if you don’t want to be stuck there”
The crowd sang along with more recent hit Vertigo, even when Bono sang in erroneous Spanish (The intro goes Uno, Does, Tres, Catorce – or 1, 2, 3, 14) that he refuses to change.
The band then performed Sunday Bloody Sunday and Raised By Wolves. The riot that Jim Rodgers had feared never materialised.
Larry Mullan would soon be inundated with offers to join Orange Bands by looking at home walking along while banging a Fife Drum.
Bono even managed to give a brief rendition of Moondance by Van Morrison while also recalling about how he wrote a song to impress a girl called Alison Stewart, and how he hasn’t quite managed it. For those who don’t know, she’s his wife.
They then performed some songs from the Achtung Baby era while inside a cage behind the LED screen. It didn’t work for me.
Bono then pulled a member of the audience, Teresa from Italy, to dance with him, like Bruce Springsteen in the Dancing In The Dark video.
As we entered the second half of the concert it was time for the big hits – With Or Without You, Where The Streets Have No Name, Elevation, City Of Blinding Lights, Beautiful Day, Pride (In The Name Of Love)
We were even treated to a guitar led version of The Sweetest Thing. The concert ended with One, that Bono dedicated to all those who have helped to make it close to being the first generation of babies born without AIDS. In 1992, when One was released as a single, the proceeds were donated to AIDS charities.
The only surprise was that they didn’t play Stay (Faraway So Close) purely for the cheer when Belfast mentioned in the lyrics. In truth, they didn’t need to engineer fake cheers.
After eighteen years away, there would only be one more day to wait until their next Belfast gig.
Hopefully, after that, it won’t be eighteen years until they return.