U2 at Glastonbury: Not Such A Beautiful Day For Bono

Maybe it was the driving rain, the tax dodging or Bono's decision to wear double leather, but Glastonbury just didn't take to U2.
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Maybe it was the driving rain, the tax dodging or Bono's decision to wear double leather, but Glastonbury just didn't take to U2.

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It was one of the more hyped headline sets of recent years. U2, undisputed kings of bombast, making a rare foray into festival season by leading the Friday night at

Glastonbury

. It was a choice praised and reviled in equal measure. So after more debate than Prime Minister's Questions and a year-long delay due to Bono's sick note, the only real question is: was it any good?

Well, yes and no. Thankfully there was no attempt to shove the full 'For The Fans' set down the throats of the mostly intrigued-at-best Glasto crowd. It was, for the most part, a Greatest Hits set, designed to win over the ambivalent while satiating the hardcore down the front.

Kicking off with 'Even Better Than The Real Thing', it quickly became obvious that this was going to be 'The History Of U2 For Dummies', moving mostly throughout the band's late 80s'/early 90s' heyday.  The requisite mad lighting show was in full effect of course, lighting up the Pyramid field with a sloganeering meltdown from the Zooropa era that, to the uninitiated, could easily pass for a cheeky nod to Bono's second occupation.  It wasn't until 'Mysterious Ways' three tracks in, though, that the audience started waking up. And therein lies the rub.

The frankly bizarre decision to close the set with 'Out Of Control' meant the band went out with a whimper, not a bang.

U2 have not, for a very long time, had to work to win over those who've come to see them live. And it shows. It's admirable that they've even bothered with Glastonbury, as they clearly have no need to, and their choice of songs highlights at least a passing awareness of the precariousness of this particular situation. But in a festival environment, just entertaining the ten thousand dedicated down the front is no good: you have to entertain absolutely everyone, including the blokes who get dragged along by their ladies. It's a different playing field.  On this score, judging by the hoards of people down the front who started leaving early on and kept leaving throughout, the band couldn't hold court strongly enough to convert passing interest into new converts to the U2 cult.

Most telling was the fact that during  'Where The Streets Have No Name' and 'Pride (In The Name Of Love)', large sections of the audience could be heard mumbling in that way you do when you should know the words but don't.   There was too much of that in an overly front-loaded set, and although it was somewhat redeemed by the late appearance of 'With Or Without You', there simply weren't enough mass singalong moments to drive a festival headline set. The frankly bizarre decision to close the set with 'Out Of Control' meant the band went out with a whimper, not a bang.

U2, of course, can't be faulted for showmanship; they are indisputably the world's best at what they do, and so it was again here. But when it comes to The Great Glastonbury Experiment, they were only moderately successful.  In the end a passing observation I overheard sums up the problem: U2 didn't seem sure if the audience liked them, and the audience weren't sure if they should like U2. It was a worthy effort, but in the end, just not good enough.

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