LIVE: U2 (Lanxess Arena, Cologne)
Verdict: Bono raises a glass – and raises the bar
They’ve been one of the world’s biggest bands for more than three decades, but U2 arrive in the UK this weekend in the unfamiliar position of having something to prove.
Last year’s Songs Of Innocence album turned into a PR disaster after it was dumped without warning onto millions of mobile phones and laptops.
The group’s last UK performance, at Glastonbury four years ago, was rain-soaked and muddled, while singer Bono, 55, was laid low by the broken bones he sustained in a cycling accident in New York last November.
But U2 have a habit of emerging victorious from adversity, and their stunning Innocence + Experience tour is a triumph.
They’ve been one of the world’s biggest bands for more than three decades, but U2 arrive in the UK this weekend in the unfamiliar position of having something to prove
This gig was the last before their British dates, and it vindicated their decision to visit Europe’s indoor arenas rather than open-air stadiums for the first time in 14 years. The Irish quartet have always worked to break down the barriers between band and audience.
Here, in front of 18,000 awed Rhinelanders, they did so with the most innovative staging I have ever witnessed at a rock show. The centrepiece was a 96ft walkway that stretched into the audience to connect two separate stages. Halfway through the evening, a towering, double-sided electronic screen was lowered onto this promenade, effectively dividing the venue in two.
The performance was a gig of two halves, too, with the first part concentrating on the band’s teenage years in Seventies Dublin and the second section — the ‘experience’ bit — dominated by the hits that came later: Desire, With Or Without You and Beautiful Day.
In keeping with the loose narrative, the first half featured a replica of Bono’s childhood home, while debut single Out Of Control and the stomping glam-rock of Vertigo played to the quartet’s strengths of visceral power and emotional engagement.
The second half was more celebratory. Sporting a leather jacket and blond hair, the accident-prone singer self-deprecatingly referred to himself as Humpty Dumpty before popping open a bottle of bubbly as U2 were joined by a dancer and guitarist plucked from the crowd.
Playing to the gallery with his usual chutzpah, the wily old showman lavished praise on Cologne before dedicating Pride (In The Name Of Love) to the city’s newly elected mayor Henriette Reker, who was badly injured in a knife attack.
The past few years have seen a number of acts push the parameters of the big arena tour, with Taylor Swift, Coldplay and George Michael delivering spectacular shows. U2 have taken the bar a little higher.
DEMI LOVATO: Confident (Hollywood)
Lovato has more character than most former Disney starlets, but she shows precious little of it on Confident. Super-producer Max Martin adds glitter to the title track, and Lovato sounds as if she’s having fun on Cool For The Summer, allowing her natural vocal gifts to shine. Despite all the polish, though, too many of the numbers are formulaic and predictable. She is a fine singer who deserves better.
CARRIE UNDERWOOD: Storyteller (Sony Music)
A superstar in the States and big enough to headline British arenas, Underwood is American Idol’s greatest success.
The talent show winner’s fifth album blends country-pop and screaming guitars, with the bluesy, harmonica-led Choctaw County Affair a convincingly sung outlaw rocker. Underwood’s voice is powerful and versatile, but her material is patchy, with several fairly mundane ballads.