Scary stories from a lovely place
This time last week it felt like I had an almighty hangover. But I was just very tired from the U2 concert last Sunday night. It was fantastic, really, really excellent. But I should have realised that going to a U2 concert wouldn’t just be an auditory and visual feast for the senses. I should have realised Bono would also make demands of our intellect, sentiment and guilt. I came away having certainly enjoyed the entertainment, but also feeling a little annoyed by the rhetoric he foisted upon us.
But first – the good. The concert was at Soccer City and any visit there excites me. My only other visit was in September last year to see a Chiefs v Pirates game. This time there were 100 000 people inside the stadium and queuing for the toilets outside. We caught the train from Park Station which I thoroughly enjoyed, even though it was really hot and full of white people. Soccer City is a real spectacle to behold. It’s incredibly beautiful from every angle. Once we made it inside, after enjoying enormous pieces of spicy steak with pap, there were two support acts, both of which meant little to me but I endured them for the sake of U2.
The music was great, even though I can’t help suspecting that most of the songs on their two latest albums are purpose-built for live performances. I hoped they would start with ‘The City of Blinding Lights’ which I thought would be totally appropriate considering we are in Jozi. However they started with ‘Beautiful Day’ which was so obvious I should have predicted it. The best songs were ‘Get on your boots’, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Vertigo’ (Stephen’s fave).
And they genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves. U2 do these concerts all year. They take breaks in between each country and continent, but they seem to be always touring. Even so, they were still into it and seemed to be authentic in the way they related to us, the audience.
It’s hard to work out what U2 (or just Bono) actually thinks about stuff. I know people who swear that Bono is a Christian. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to their lyrics and trying to work out what they actually think. Do they believe in Jesus? Or are they pluralists? What’s absolutely crystal clear is that Bono is a humanitarian and determined to blow the trumpet of AIDS prevention, feeding programs in poor parts of Africa and Asia and emancipation for political prisoners.
‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ started with images of the protests in Egypt which had only just been resolved that day emblazoned on the enormous screen. I cried as they sung about children living in poverty and people dying, because I was overwhelmed and sad for Egypt, but also as I remembered the little I know of Ireland’s long struggle for independence from Britain (which at it’s core is what the song is about). Stephen is very passionate about his country’s history and I now feel, on his behalf, the injustice and oppression the Irish people experienced.
Bono made a resounding appeal for Amnesty International and informed us all of the political and social situation in Burma. A stirring video of Aung San Suu Kyi following text about the hundreds of remaining political prisoners was played with ‘Walk On’ as the background music. Then about 50 Amnesty International kids spaced themselves around the catwalk and lit lanterns. The music coupled with the cliched symbol of lanterns was intended to open our hearts to the cause. I half expected Amnesty International buckets to be passed around collecting donations.
Finally, throughout the concert there were a few moments of, what I felt were, patronising treatment and images of Africa and Africans. Bono told us how much he loved the continent of Africa and how proud of us he was for the way we hosted the 2010 World Cup. (Even so, U2 haven’t played a concert in South Africa since 1993 and on this trip didn’t play in any other African countries). A 1990’s Nelson Mandela was displayed on the screen reading his famous speech about one South Africa for all different kinds of people, regardless of race. In one of the final songs Bono urged us to turn on our LED mobile phone lights and wave them like candles for ‘the man lying in his bed’ – a sick and aged Mandela. And Bono congratulated us on the way we have distributed AIDS medication to children around the country. At this time images of cute black kids filled our eyes.
It’s all good stuff, and I don’t mean to undermine the importance of these causes. But I found it all a little jarring and off kilter with the vibe of the night. I like Bono. I don’t think he’s a tool for pursuing these causes, as a lot of others do. But I think he could have chosen his cause for the night. There was Burma, Egypt, Ireland (of course), HIV prevention and treatment, education for children and racial equality in South Africa and Africa as a whole. I’m not saying all of this should have been left out of the night. But maybe U2 could have selected just a few, or thought about what their audience would have responded best to.
Ultimately though, everyone was there for the music and the performance. Fortunately for U2 they did deliver.