Bono looks tired. There are creases round his eyes when he removes his tinted glasses, creases that weren’t there three decades ago. Tonight is an auspicious anniversary in the U2 camp. On May 18, 1978, Paul McGuinness became U2’s manager and de facto fifth member, laying a crucial foundation for U2‘s – and indeed Bono’s – world domination plans.
30 years later, McGuinness sits opposite Bono with his arm in a sling, enjoying the anniversary party in the plush basement restaurant of the Merrion Hotel, Dublin. U2 are not, however, the only notable guests at the hotel. The Merrion is temporary home to Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, who are just back from playing the first of three sell-out shows at Dublin’s 35,000 capacity RDS Stadium. Springsteen himself makes no appearance at the aftershow hotel drinks, leaving Messrs Lofgren, Tallent and the ever-voluble Steve Van Zandt to entertain the local luminaries.
The RDS opener, the first stadium show of the Magic tour, has a few first night sound wobbles, but nothing to seriously unruffle the Boss. In preparation, Springsteen has spent most of the last three weeks making small club appearances round the Jersey shoreline, and his charismatic common touch was in evidence from the opening “Promised Land”. Roaming the edge of the stage, he blows harmonica into a sea of outstretched hands, immediately reducing the size and scale of the gathering, establishing a real intimacy with the audience. But it’s the continuity in Bruce’s songwriting that allows him to maintain this connection through the show – right through, in fact, to the grand slam finale of “Thunder Road”, “Born To Run” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”.
“Promised Land” is one of five songs from “Darkness On The Edge Of The Town” in the set, and it’s striking how the mood of despondency and defiance is reflected in songs written 30 years later, Magic mainstays “Gypsy Biker” and “Livin’ In The Future”. The blues-blasted revamp of “Reason To Believe” proves especially thrilling – as are the three lead guitars duelling on “Future” and “Last To Die”, with the Nils/Steve /Bruce interchange as exhilarating and incandescent as Lynryd Skynryd in their prime. Leaner and meaner, Springsteen in 2008 has cut the flab of his ’80s mainstream heyday. His sense of proportion – and self deprecation – could provide a salutary guide to any rock gladiator preparing to re-enter the arena. . .
Which brings us back to U2. The en masse band turn-out is due to be repeated for the second show, and you imagine Springsteen, relaxed into his run, will probably touch base with the group he first met in the early ’80s. But tonight, with the Boss absent, it’s left to Van Zandt to hold court. He does this easily and aimiably, fulminating at the inherently racist treatment of Barack Obama by his Democratic Party rivals; planning to bring his campaign to save real rock’n’roll, now more vital than ever, across the Atlantic.
Even Steve, though, has a job out-gassing Bono. Tired or otherwise, the U2 man still talks up a storm. He rants about how, with the contemporary devaluation of music, U2 couldn’t exist today. About the paucity of young engaging rock journalists compared with the prophetic nature of Greil Marcus. About the wrongheadedness of John Lennon’s involvement with Irish politics – the rather unseemly inference here being that he, Bono, had GOT IT RIGHT where Lennon fucked up. The curious thing about Bono’s declarations is that he’s making them sat between myself and Dave Marsh – the veteran US rock critic, Springsteen biographer, husband of The Boss’s co-manager Barbara Carr, and, last but not least, one of Bono’s most persistent and penetrating critics.
Perhaps it’s nerves, perhaps it’s bluster but in the midst of the exchange Bono makes an unsolicited offer. He wants to engage in a head-to-head discussion with Marsh on his US Sirius satellite radio show on the subject of celebrity politics (“It’s something I know a lot about,” insists Bono) and the various criticisms Marsh has made of Bono’s extra-curricular activities on his Rap Rock Confidential newsletter.
When Bono leaves, Marsh is somewhat taken aback and, in an offer perhaps just as rash as that made by the U2 singer, he says that if Bono makes good on his offer and it proves to be more than heat of the minute bluster, he wants me to be there too, putting criticisms of my own. I hadn’t really got the much vaunted magic of Bruce’s “Magic” until tonight’s show, which had given me a renewed Reason To Believe in the Bos. Perhaps a head-to-head with Bono will help renew my faith in another performer with whom I’ve become increasingly disillusioned.
Like the man said, watch this space….
Words: GAVIN MARTIN
Pic: PA Photos