I’ll come clean – I went to this gig because the tickets were free and I wanted to be able to say I’d seen a U2 concert. I expected the band to be average at best, tiredly regurgitating old hits and bashing out turgid new tunes that drove home how they’ve never grown up from being mildly rebellious post-punk adolescents in north Dublin in the late 1970s but now sound ever more like a bland, easy listening ‘drive-time’ compilation you don’t mind but would rather talk over. I was proven very wrong.

Reviewing Larry Mullen Jr feels like I’m asking the wrong question, because Mullen is not about playing the drums. To quote legendary jazz-rock drummer Jon Hiseman’s phrase – he’s all about playing the band. Mullen’s drumming is integral to the sound and feel of U2, and U2 has an incredible groove. I don’t care who’s reading this – your band just does not sound as awesome as U2. The sixteenth notes and eighth notes from Mullen’s hi-hats were symbiotic with Edge’s guitar. Mullen and the band weren’t even playing the groove – they were the groove. I’ve been going to gigs for around about 30 years, and I’ve not heard another band with that level of togetherness and flow. It was genuinely amazing.

My seat was at a higher altitude than the speakers, and there was a good deal of chilly October air in the cavernous venue (soon warmed by the cheers and body-heat of the 20,000 capacity audience), on account of which there were plenty of flinchingly high mid frequencies from Bono’s voice and the guitar. The good thing about the prominence of these, though, was that the crash cymbals cut through beautifully (especially the one positioned stage-right on Mullen’s main kit), although the hi-hats remained somewhat muted.

I heard not one ‘flammed’ note between the bass drum and the bass guitar – that’s what happens when you play the same songs with the same people for 39 years: you become inseparably musically cohesive. And the snare drum sounded epic! While at a place like the O2 anyone’s drum sound is entirely at the discretion of the sound engineer/s, it helped, visually (which made it sound bigger too!), that Mullen really made a point of demonstrating why the top skin is called the ‘batter’ head; when the live video close-ups showed him in the throes of playing, he always appeared 100% focused, in the zone, smashing home the two and the four. He played three drum kits this evening – one at either end of the arena, and another in the middle of the walkway extending into the crowd. He also shouldered a snare drum, marching-band style, for an emotional rendition of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ – playing that song in London takes courage, even for U2.

The high point of the concert for me came in ‘With or Without You’, when the Edge and Adam Clayton moved right up to the small drum riser (the Edge climbed on to it), and the three instrumentalists looked at each other while they rocked out like band mates in a rehearsal studio. Appropriately, they finished the night with ‘One’, the killer groove on this again being equal parts spellbinding, exhilarating and uplifting.

I once read an interview with Bono in which he claimed that U2’s job is to ‘bring joy’ to people’s lives. While at the time I was highly dubious, I now believe he was right. The effect of U2 playing together in a room – even a warehouse like the O2 – is utterly wonderful.

One Response to “U2 @ the O2 (Larry Mullen Jr review)”

  1. Like you I wasn’t expecting much when I attended; my money was on a rather dull evening. What I witnessed was nothing short of remarkable. For a group of aging rockers U2 certainly put on a heck of a show and played with an energy usually seen by those artists coming up.

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