There's a certain rush that comes to me when I see U2. I got it the first time I saw them, on the Innocence & Experience tour at this exact London venue three years ago. Back then I thought it was just the mad excitement of finally getting to see my favourite band live for the first time, but I still get it now every time I see them. Tonight is no exception.
Opening a rock show with footage of war-torn cities post WWII and Chaplin's famous Great Dictator speech is a bold move, one that demonstrates a band in their latter years still looking to surprise and shock their audience. Ultimately what seems like a downbeat opening at first wrong-foots you, building to a huge crescendo along with Chaplin's speech - footage of the Trump baby balloon flying over London gets a particularly loud cheer from the audience, and, from there, taking us on from the sheer rallying, empowering high of that intro, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr draw us on a true adventure of a show. As the bridge descends from the barricage during opener The Blackout and reveal U2, it is but a hint of the night we are in for.
As The Blackout fades away and three quarters of the band take to the main stage, the urgent strings of Lights of Home sound out across the room. This is the biggest opening one-two punch of any U2 show I've seen. Lights of Home is particularly dramatic, as Bono muses on the verses while desperately belting out choruses. This performance is a representation of Bono's fight with a near-fatal illness almost two years ago. All the while he ascends the proverbial stairway to heaven as the bridge tilts upwards, then down again as the singer drops to his knees, seemingly preparing to exit the mortal realm, before metaphorically declaring "Nope, not done yet!" and descending back to the floor in a moment of stunning euphoria.
"We're a band from the north side of Dublin, called the U2..." Anyone who's ever been to a show and has heard this knows we're about to get something from 4 decades ago - in this case, I Will Follow and Gloria. which get me and the rest of the rabble jumping up and down and belting out the words nowhere near as tunefully as Bono, but hopefully with similar passion. A masterful, uplifting rendition of Beautiful Day draws the same effect, as do many other songs throughout the night.
It's a show full of countless "pinch yourself" moments. The moment Bono is listing off European cities and ending with "...Berlin..." before Edge strums the huge intro to Zoo Station. Witnessing The Fly played with singer and guitarist right in front of me on the barricage. Realising that I'm actually hearing Stay AND Wild Horses played live in the flesh. The moment when Bono has his back to the camera projecting onto the screen singing "Even the greatest stars..." then turns round and, boy oh boy, it's Mr MacPhisto. The moment MacPhisto's half funny, half frightening speech gives way to Acrobat. The moment the EU flag rises behind the band and engine-like synths herald a beefed-up New Year's Day. I could go on.
The lightning rod for the night is, without a doubt, Bono. Whether he's struggling up the stairway to heaven during Lights of Home, throwing himself back and forth during The Fly, twirling and curtsying with exaggerated effect as The Showman during the 'Vertigo' chapter of the show, or imploring us to be the best versions of ourselves with speeches throughout the show, almost everything he says and does is worth paying attention to. Of course, however, the others are of equal importance - Edge delivering huge, spine-tingling guitar lines, Adam pretty much flirting with an entire arena with his infectious basslines and equally infectious smile, and Larry's thunderous, intense drumming holding everything together.
This will probably be the last time we get a U2 tour for a while, and it's a show that makes me shout for joy, laugh, sing and cry sometimes separately, sometimes all at once. We end the show in a very different place to where we started - and, as I watch Bono cast away the lightbulb of his bedroom on Cedarwood Road during 13 (There Is a Light) with tears in my eyes, I understand it's the same place we started at on Innocence & Experience three years ago. "Wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience". What a show. What a band. Quite simply the best.