So what did you expect to happen? After two year’s worth of debate and controversy the highest earning band in the world took to the Glastonbury stage, and they owned the moment in the way that only U2 possibly could.
There were flaws of course, U2 are still too shiny, too slick, and at times too distant….and then there’s Bono. No matter how hard he tries, he simply isn’t cool; his dancing is cringe worthy, his interaction with his fellow band mates awkward and his sense of style abysmal. Even when he hits the upon the right sentiment his inter-track banter is unsettling. At times it felt as if the crowd were resisting his attempts at interaction, but then Edge’s guitar, those big booming hooks and those evergreen, and eternally resonant, sentiments took over, taking the crowd with them.
The opening is electric, and undeniably intense, “Even Better Than The Real Thing”, “The Fly” and “Mysterious Ways” are simply irresistible in the live arena. In search of inspiration and in need of a home U2 have often turned to the G-A-Y scene and the European club circuit, and these deliciously camp anthems still irrepressibly kick, stick and thrust with the same urgency as they did in 1991.
After engaging the crowd, U2 embark on a series of remarkable high points; “Until The End Of The World” rides Edge’s crunching chiming guitar for all its worth, while Bono begins to paint with those broad emotional brush strokes that colour even the furthest reaches of the festival field. “Stay (So Close So Far)” is a paradox, wonderfully understated yet so forceful in its subtlety that it carries across the great rainy expanse of Worthy Farm. Then all that refinement is blasted away by a reinvigorated reading of “I Will Follow”, U2’s first true hit, buzzing with post-punk energy, its sounds are condensed, frantic and clustered all the things that U2 in 2011 aren’t. It serves as a much needed, and refreshing reminder, of who U2 used to be (to the Edge and Bono as much their skeptical audience).
From then on in failure isn’t a possibility, and even the cheese ball midlife crisis quasi-hits “Elevation”, “Get Your Boots On” and “Vertigo” are transformed into bounce along anthems (well almost in “Get Your Boots On’s” case). Thankfully, the “up tempo” portion is surrounded by the divine “Streets Have No Name”, which the crowd sing on Bono’s behalf, and the gorgeously understated “Bad” which has the crowd gentle chanting their way into the unquestionably sublime “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”. It might have been BBC3’s edit but it appeared the crowd would have happily hooted the track’s refrain for far longer than Bono allowed.
The encore falls slightly flat as even the mighty “With or Without You” finds the impossibly slick and remarkable powerful past hour impossible to top. “Moment Of Surrender” is beautifully arranged and patiently considered but you feel it’s subtleties are lost on the Worthy Farm faithful, thankfully “Out Of Control” is on hand to give them a final chance to release any remaining pent up energy.
Strictly Our Opinion: Despite the noteworthy tributes to, and reliance upon, Achtung Baby, and the rare airing of both “I Will Follow” and “Out Of Control”, this felt like business as usual for the world’s biggest band, but that’s no bad thing. U2 proved tonight that their show still translates in any circumstance, no matter how mixed or skeptical the crowd, as their setlist filled Worthy Farm with energy, colour and easy to interpret sentiments. In short it was a triumph, and somewhere between the Boy oldies, the raucous “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and The Edge’s towering riffs U2 showed that they can rock mud soaked fields just as readily as they can sterilized stadiums and perverse political functions.