This series of gigs was Sigur Ros’ first in Iceland since their ‘Heima’ tour 5 years ago. Tonight was the first of four consecutive nights at Reykjavik’s Harpa centre, the central point of a four day art and music festival ‘Nordur Og Nidur’ (loosely translated as ‘Go To Hell’).
The live music scene in Dublin is healthy at the best of times, but goes into overdrive the weeks before Christmas. If time and money were no object you could go to top gigs for a fortnight straight. The Kíla Christmas show is something of an institution now and I cannot recall exactly how many I have been. I remember Whelans, Vicar Street and the Meeting House Square. For the last few years they have held it at the Button Factory, a great venue that unfortunately programmes tribute acts a lot of the time.
Ye Vagabonds released their self-titled debut album in October. Carlow-raised Dublin-based brothers Diarmuid and Brían Mac Gloinn launched their album at Marrowbone Books in the Coombe and celebrated with two sell out gigs in the Cobblestone pub. I managed to miss all of that, but did go to the bookshop to get a copy of the album. This then got snowed under in the avalanche of excellent releases this autumn and I did not give the album the attention it warranted.
The Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin's Docklands area opened in 2010. These days it goes by the less attractive name Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. It is mostly used for musicals, which is a shame as it is a great place for live music. On 3 December the venue hosted Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters, with support from Devon folk musician – and new Space Shifter – Seth Lakeman.
I arrived at the Bello Bar a little early, just before a queue formed that stretched all around the corner of the Lower Deck – the Portobello pub that houses this cool venue in its basement. I had come to this show because I knew I liked the support act and I was curious about the headliners. The majority of the folks queueing were presumably already aware of the brilliance of Anna & Elizabeth.
I first became aware of Sam Carter via his role in folk- rock (although a better description is probably rock-folk) band False Lights and their 2016 album 'Salvor'. False Lights headlined the final night at this year's Derby Folk Festival and based upon that performance I bought a ticket for tonight's solo show.
Whilst False Lights make have a great time electrifying, (or electrocuting) a number of trad. folk tunes tonight Sam who was named Best Newcomer at the 2010 Radio2 Folk Awards is flying solo playing tracks from his latest album 'How The City Sings'. The album reflects on his 10 year relationship with London, the city he recently left for the folkie-friendly city of Sheffield.
I still have a really fond but increasingly distant memory of the first time I saw tonight's headliners. It was 1987 at Wembley Stadium where they were one of the supports for a four piece band from Dublin who were on a World tour promoting their latest album which had sold in inexplicably huge quantities, but that day The Pretenders blew them off stage. They were a more engaging band, with a better lead performer and had the better songs. So it was surprising that it's taken me 30 years to catch up with The Pretenders live (the other lot I never bothered with again).
When I saw this concert advertized I immediately decided I wanted to go. I am a huge Bruce Springsteen fan plus a great admirer of Liam Ó Maonlaí, who is best known as the singer of the Hothouse Flowers, but who is an über-talented and versatile musician. Whatever he is involved in is worth hearing. Liam is a an Irish speaker, which made him the perfect choice to front this show.
When this tour was first announced, the thought of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds playing in arenas was off-putting to say the least. Years and years of fabulous shows in theatres has meant an intimacy with this man’s music which, would surely be lost in the vastness of an arena.
“Music Network tours are like Big Brother for musicians”, says Jarlath Henderson, one third of this organisation's latest experiment. I have written on here before about Music Network. They invite musicians who do not normally play together to develop a show, which they then get to perform in some of the nicest theatres across Ireland. Sometimes the end result is not greater than the sum of its parts, but mostly it is.
Damien Dempsey and Lankum - two of the most Dublin of acts playing on a summer's evening in the Iveagh Gardens in the city centre: An opportunity not to be missed. The concert was part of a series of summertime concerts put on by Aiken Promotions at this great location. The number of shows seems to increase year on year. Keep 'em coming guys!
On Saturday 22 July 2017 The Joshua Tree returned to Croke Park. I saw the original Joshua Tree tour at Wembley and was too far back to really enjoy it back then. That was in the days when bands just played stadiums, rather than putting on a show designed for a large venue. U2 have now become the masters of the stadium show. There is no one like them in this regard – beautiful visuals, really imaginative use of the screens.
My ticket was for the back part of the field, i.e. not the front pit. I got almost as good a spot as I could with that (three rows from the dividing barrier), which was okay. Would have preferred to have been nearer.
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds were very disappointing. I like Noel. In interviews he comes across as really nice, and he is very witty. He has written all these great songs, but he is no frontman and only an average singer. In the Liam versus Noel battle it is 1-0 for Liam this summer. If only they could patch up their differences... Noel played 'Wonderwall' and 'Don't Look Back In Anger' and it sounded strangely flat. I was dutifully singing along but not enjoying it.
I had been to a wonderful gig the previous night (Damien Dempsey and Lankum) and wondered if this event perhaps was not going to live up to that. But then a magical moment came.
I had purposely avoided reading reviews or looking at clips of the Joshua Tree tour. I knew U2 were going to play the album, but I did not really know about the rest of the show. Suddenly 'The Whole Of The Moon' blasted out of the PA and all of Croke Park sang along. My mood switched instantly. On the last tour U2 had 'People Have The Power' as their walk on song, so my beloved Waterboys are in the best company.
U2 opened with 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'. They played four songs on the smaller podium that extended into the pit, just them playing, with no special effects. Of course one of the most endearing things about U2 is that it is always just the four of them, no additional musicians. 'New Year's Day', 'Bad' and 'Pride (In The Name Of Love') followed. Not a bad opening section.
They moved to the main stage for the actual performance of the Joshua Tree itself and this is when the extravaganza started. Just as 'Where The Streets Have No Name' kicked in, four planes with smoke trails in the colour of the Irish flag flew over the stadium. It was as if they had shot up from the stage. An incredible moment – hard to describe.
The band played in front of a gigantic LED screen on which stunning images were shown, bright and laser sharp. These were shot by Anton Corbijn (which Bono mispronounced as Corbyn; surely he knows Anton long enough to be able to pronounce his name correctly?!). I would love to see these videos again actually. This is the thing with U2 shows: So much happens at once that you do not know where to look. I have DVDs of the '360' and 'Innocence And Experience' tours, but you cannot really capture on DVD what it is like to be there, 'in' the show as it were.
I never actually owned a copy of the Joshua Tree album, so I had a vague idea that I would not know the non-single tracks terribly well, and so it was. Bono specifically welcomed us to side two of the album, and for me that was the best part: Songs that I had not really listened to in great detail before, accompanied by amazing footage: 'Red Hill Mining Town', 'Trip Through Your Wires', 'One Three Hill', 'Exit', fabulous stuff.
There was an enormous ovation when the album finished, followed by a short break. The band returned and the last part of the show was triumphant. Bono talked quite a bit, plugging the ONE campaign, thanking their crew and mentioning what it meant for them to play Croke Park. All the band seemed quite emotional at stages.
'Miss Sarajevo' was accompanied by images of a Syrian refugee camp. This was shot by a French artist at a camp in Jordan and was so compelling that I had to stop watching the band. During 'Ultra Violet (Light My Way)' the screens showed images of pioneering women, politicians, writers, activists, but also Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Patti Smith, Grace Jones and Poly Styrene, all of whom of course inspired U2 in their early days. The roll call also included MP Jo Frost and captain Dara Fitzpatrick.
Unlike some, I am also a fan of U2s later work, and for me 'Elevation' and 'Vertigo' were standouts. To prove they are not a heritage act, they finished with an excellent new song, 'The Little Things That Give You Away'. Full marks for another superb show. I guess like many who attended, I will be playing all my U2 albums today.
Side note: I was standing near the barrier on “Edge's side”, but also close to the VIP section. During Noel's drab set everybody in my area got involved in celebrity spotting. I saw Leo Varadkar, John Rocha, Ali Hewson (very pretty), Gavin Friday, Guggi, Noel Gallagher's wife, Glen Hansard, Mark Geary and Colin Farrell. Once U2 came on people stopped paying attention to them as there was more important stuff to watch.
I did not take my camera. The photo is from U2's Instagram page.