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by Michael West

Birmingham 1 Review

Arrived at the NEC at about 5.45pm, 15 minutes before the doors were scheduled to open. We made our way over to the Seating Admission queue where, due to the diabolical organisation of the staff which is becoming irritatingly commonplace at these UK shows, we waited a further 30 minutes until they started letting people inside. Saw one dude pay 40 (face value) for a seat from a scalper outside. I thought fair play but at the same time also thought bollocks! as my friend (Paul) and I had stumped up 80 notes a piece for this show from an amateur tout on an Internet auction. After the absolutely FANTASTIC shows at Manchester at the weekend I had my doubts as to whether tonights show could even get close. Unfortunately, my fears were to be confirmed

I spent the majority of Kelis set trying to find another mate of mine. So, I got off lightly, then! Our seats were fairly central but VERY far back. When I looked down and to my right to see a store that was hiring out binoculars I thought oh dear, we really are fucking far back tonight!. On the positive side I thought it would be interesting to watch the show from this vantage point. After being behind the stage and then inside the Heart I assumed that this viewpoint would mean I could observe the crowd and screens better. At about 8.55pm Sgt. Peppers filtered through the PA and I felt the familiar tightness in my stomach arrive at the prospect of seeing my favourite band live once again. As Adam made his way out and across the stage I was very pleased that everyone in seats stood up, where they remained for the rest of the concert. Into Elevation they went and I felt optimistic about the prospects for the rest of the show as everyone was getting into it and creating a good atmosphere. However, even at this early stage I knew that I simply wasnt going to be able to get fully into the concert, being so far back and all.

Both Elevation and Beautiful Day were fine but I just felt as if something was missing. The band didnt seem to be as on as in Manchester and the atmosphere just wasnt on a comparable level to the weekend shows either. Until The End Of The World came next and it seemed to me that they were struggling with the mix at this point. Bono was far too quiet in the early reckoning and Edges guitar sounded too harsh and piercing to my ears. The mix at Manchester 1 was nigh-on perfect to my ears (as was everything else the second that show ended I fucking knew it wouldnt be beaten!). The ending to the song was fairly well performed but Edge wasnt his normal funky self and wasnt nailing everything in sight. I was hoping we wouldnt get New Years Day next to be honest with you, but it arrived surely enough. It got the crowd fired-up early on but they soon settled down and an average performance prevailed. Why they persevere with this type of old song when they arent overly keen on playing it perplexes me somewhat. It compromises their passion and subsequently their performance, in my eyes anyway. If you can recall, they originally dropped it at the start of ZooTV and that was close to 10 years ago. Try something else! The crowd will love songs such as Electric Co. or Gloria whatever, just as much.

Kite came up next, a tune that I await more and more eagerly. This was an excellent performance and probably just shaded my pick for song of the night with The Fly (surprise!). A few tears struck me as Bono delivered the I dont wanna see you cry line. In a bizarre kind of way I can judge how good a performance is by the amount of times I cry this was the sole occasion tonight. Gone hit next, always a great moment for me personally. I had my suspicions that Bonos voice wasnt as strong tonight as in Manchester and about halfway through this song Paul turned to me and said his voice sounds shot already. Sure enough, he certainly sounded a LOT rougher than the weekend. He was shying away from the difficult notes and letting the crowd fill in wherever possible (something they just werent as good at as in Manchester). For me, the concert hit a bum note here and rarely managed to climb a great deal higher. Bono truly did sound awful on occasions. However, this wasnt for the want of trying. He was obviously very agitated by his voice and was giving 100% to try and rectify the situation. New York was quite poor simply through the problems Bono was experiencing with his voice. This was one song where I could see a few disinterested people chattering away amongst themselves. The sheer ignorance of some people astounds me sometimes! Fair enough, if youre sad enough to come along just to hear them play the Joshua Tree tracks, at least have the decency to keep your trap shut as, funnily enough; other people near you may want to listen to all the songs!

I Will Follow was one of the evenings high points for me. I really am enjoying seeing this track a lot more than I thought I would do. An old dude in front of me went absolutely out of commission when it started! Jumping up and down and hollering as though the crabs really were having a grand time downstairs. The latter portion of the song, after the Your eyes section, makes this song for me. Edge in particular seems to really get into the groove, stamping his leg in time with the beat and thoroughly enjoying every second. Sunday Bloody Sunday got the crowd involved again but was nothing to write home about. Get Up/Stand Up was again absent. Wake Up Dead Man was another opportunity for the fair weather fans to have a good natter, another irritating moment as I was trying hard to concentrate on watching an emotional Bono deliver his (strained) vocal. I find that closing my eyes during these moments tends to help a great deal but you shouldnt really have to

Stuck arrived next and this was a pretty good version. Decent crowd interaction here. I think it was around this time that one dude was pulled onto the top of the heart by Bono. He received a hug and returned the favour by kissing Bonos hand as he was lowered back down into the crowd. The entire band made their way to the tip of the heart for Desire. Again, nothing special at all happening with this version. There was little connection/contact between the band and audience all night. One of the reasons why the Manchester shows were so special was the extraordinary atmospheres. The band always provides that extra kick when they can feel the love and they werent feeling it tonight. Before Stay, as a means of introduction, Bono told a very funny story about Adam being able to produce some exceptionally rank gaseous emissions! Had the crowd laughing along and was a genuinely amusing moment. I think Stay is a beautiful song but because of Bonos voice tonights version was a disappointment for me. His facial expressions showed he was giving his best but it just wasnt happening.

Bad was next and this was a pretty good version with Bono slipping in a line from The Verves The Drugs Dont Work, which could be either a reference to his dad or the subject matter of the song itself heroin. Streets followed after a brief 40 and, as always, received the biggest ovation of the night. I thought that Edges guitar wasnt as prominent in the mix here as it should have been and, henceforth, the song wasnt as good as it normally is. It was around this point where I thought that the stage set-up/production of the show could be better. When the screens behind the stage are used in songs such as Streets, Mysterious Ways, Bullet, it adds to the song I believe. When you are as far back in the arena as I was it can be very difficult to pick up the boys and it helps to keep your eyes occupied at times like this. Mysterious Ways was a fairly good version but, as with every song tonight, simply could not hold a candle to the Manchester shows. Bonos poor voice, numerous mix problems, a very average crowd and a less enthusiastic band probably sums up this first NEC show in my opinion. I really thought that it was like watching two completely different bands at some points during the evening. The Fly sounded fantastic, however! A really hard, rocking song. Edges guitar on this song blows me away every time. Another brilliant moment was watching Bono run around the heart and splat into the screens behind the stage at the end of the song!

Bullet was another high point for me, though it was shorter and less passionate than the weekend. I am constantly surprised by how much I enjoy this song (an excellent version of which I am listening to right now from the last US show in East Rutherford). With Or Without You didnt pull up any trees for me at all. Its getting to the stage where Im actually getting bored by it. Its sad to see how tired it is compared to the Joshua Tree and ZooTV tours. Larry needs to liven up his drumming and Edge needs to get more involved also. This tour, and also Popmart, WOWY is a shadow of its former self. Perhaps if Bono injected more vigour with the Well shine like stars line every night it would sound better. One was another high point for me. Edge, like Manchester 2, was struggling with technical problems (evidenced by his increasingly pained facial expressions). There was an extended guitar solo from him tonight which was very nice indeed. Walk On was a fairly good version with some Hallelujahs at the end. And that was all she wrote. Pretty much 2 hours on the nose. Im really hoping for a better Bono and crowd tonight

6/10

Mike

michaelwest316@yahoo.co.uk (for the next week or so anyway)


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