One, but we’re not the same

"If we stop playing new songs, will you stop throwing bottles of piss?"- Bono at Glasto.

It was supposed to be a triumph, and indeed for many it was. But for those of us with a longer memory, the U2 fireworks at Glastonbury were a damp squib.

I never got all the fuss about Glastonbury, nor about U2 playing it. I’ve never been, so to me it’s just another festival.

This year it was a little more, but not much.

Having agonised over whether to make the five-hour drive to Gothenburg the last time U2 played there (in the end I didn’t), it represented a rare chance to see them live on TV and see what I missed.

It wasn’t much.

For one thing, the set list seemed have been chosen by an iPod with all their albums on shuffle. There was no rhythm or pace to the performance as there has been at the great shows on the great tours of the past.

Of course, it’s hard to make a complete mess of it when you have a back catalogue as strong as U2, but it seemed flat most of the way through, with the audience unusually subdued too.

Then there is the new material, most of which is frankly awful – OK for some journeyman band touring the highways and byways, but far short of what one has come to expect from the biggest rock band in the world.

There isn’t a single song from the last two records that would have made it anywhere near “Achtung Baby” or “The Joshua Tree”, yet rubbish like “Get On Your Boots” is given parity of esteem.

It’s as if the more often it is inflicted on their fans, the more likely it is to become accepted as a great song, rather than the less-than-hilairious out-take it should have been.

No-one there had paid their money to hear that rubbish either, and if they wanted to hear Coldplay sung badly they could have waited till tonight, when Chris Martin and the boys will no doubt be happy to oblige.

I may not have made it to Gothenburg to see U2 on this tour, but my good friend Pelle Blohm did.

He got into U2 in the early 80s and even though he’s not prone to nostalgia, I was surprised by his report.

“The most soulless gig I’ve seen in a long time,” he said of the current vintage, and on last night’s evidence it’s hard not to agree.

But the Irish Twitterati were of course out in force last night, accusing anyone who didn’t think it was the best gig ever played of “begrudgery”, as if somehow that was the problem – that the critics didn’t like U2 being rich or succesful.

Which got me thinking- maybe they could be right, but for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe U2’s soullessness is down to the fact that they’ve sold out completely, releasing “Greatest Hits” albums (something they once recoiled in horror from) and moving out of Ireland overnight when they were finally asked to pay a little tax on their publishing royalties.

(This despite Bono’s now-hollow assertion in 2001 that, when a young U2 got signed, they wouldn’t “go to London … or New York City. We’re going to stay and base our crew in Dublin! Because these people – this is OUR TRIBE!”. If you’re going to make a hypocrite of yourself, what better way to do it than in front of 80,000 at Slane Castle).

Maybe the pressure to come up with a dud album and a staid arena show once every three years is telling on them.

Maybe, in hindsight, they now want to tear up the pact with the devil that delivered great riches- at an even greater cost.

U2’s best work has always been done when the band were in the throes of a crisis, whether it be the crisis of growing up in Dublin, dealing with their exploding fame post-Live Aid, or struggling to redefine themselves after “Rattle and Hum”.

And maybe, with the cash-driven announcement of the re-release of their last truly great album “Achtung Baby”, they might finally get around to making another.

For the battle against irrelevance that Bono and the boys now face could well be their last great artistic challenge.

Rise to it, and some great new U2 music surely awaits.

Fail, and they will become the Irish Rolling Stones.

Come to think of it, on last night’s evidence, they already have.