Being honest about the Irishman

Published: Dec 18, 2019, 05:07 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

Didn't think would ever say this; but well, thought Bono in Bombay was a frickin' bore!

The first U2 (or any other major musician's) concert, for a true-blue U2 fan, is more about celeb-spotting, and tourism, rather than music or even the concert. Pic /AFP
The first U2 (or any other major musician's) concert, for a true-blue U2 fan, is more about celeb-spotting, and tourism, rather than music or even the concert. Pic /AFP

MayankWhat is it about a maiden concert of a top performer, flying into any country of the world that makes it impervious to criticism of any sort — unless the goof-up is massive enough for the lights or sound to have gone off, entirely? It would be critic-proof. Because that has a lot to do with why we go to a concert of someone we know/love, the first time on, anyway.

We go far more to simply watch the performer live, in flesh, reassuringly transmitting to us over a couple of deeply nostalgic hours the fact that the music we heard in dorms/living-rooms, over time, exists in reailty — right there, even if a few hundred yards away! The first U2 (or any other major musician's) concert, for a true-blue U2 fan, is more about celeb-spotting, and tourism, rather than music or even the concert itself.

And that's how, like the rest of Mumbai, and those visiting from other Indian cities, I watched the world's best-known Irishmen/Dubliners U2, fronted by Bono Vox (Latin for 'Good Voice'), at the DY Patil Stadium in New Bombay this Sunday. Was the enthusiasm to die for? As much as you'd expect from a gig-venue that won't allow booze on its premises — actively discourage it, in fact, with signage suggesting that if you "smell alcohol," you won't be allowed in (whatever the hell that means).

We could've been at a packed 'satsang', if it wasn't for the songs. At least some of the popular ones —Where The Streets Have No Name; With Or Without You; Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For; Desire; of course, One, et al — inspiring the predictably collective, "Woah!"

And sometimes this peer-pressured excitement from a 50,000-crowd sounding slightly fake, almost like people trying to fit in. Given so many of the other tracks sounded so meh! Some I'd not heard. That apart, who listens to every track (from Side A to Side B in sequence) of one particular 1987 album, The Joshua Tree? Which is really what the concert/tour was about.

So you knew what you were getting into. Also you've waited for this beautiful day for four decades. You're only too happy to be there. Might as well make the most of it. Or pretend to at any rate. Feel amazing because there's Bono and AR Rahman up there together (so what if their song, Ahimsa, unreservedly sucks).
Does this novelty die out eventually? It would far more, if you've heard the band live before. And you have something to compare it against. More importantly if you've been U2/Bono fan from the '90s, to appreciate their true essence.

For, since the middle of that decade, Bono stood out for expanding the entertaining foundation of rock-n-roll and reach of pop-culture to engage with the apathetic young on issues close to his heart — namely AIDS, and Africa. He produced in its wake proper, real results — whether by way of active donations or debt-relief — lining up top economists to understand issues while strongly lobbying with heads of states.

I first watched Bono live in 2001, only a few years before he was Time Man Of The Year (2005), when as a global icon he was at the top of his game. He'd call up the Bush White House on speaker-phone on stage as audiences gawked in awe. At the concert I went to (in New Jersey), besides walking over my shoulder, having jumped into the crowd, licking off women's fingers behind me, plucking one to the stage to gyrate on her abs, he delivered a thought-provoking spiel on 9/11 attacks, and the Rwandan crisis. Many that night would've googled the latter once home.

Because the man of ultimate cool had so much to say. And we ought to listen, and choose to learn. Unsure at what point did Bono's staggering appeal take a downward turn. Was it when he plastered his album Songs Of Innocence (2014) for free on iTunes — a move that backfired, given that damn album still accidentally starts off on my phone, if I press some wrong, random button?

Is it that as a musician he'd exhausted his arsenal, sounding repetitive, if not formulaic later on (left only with an '87 album)?

Think that it's more likely that he completely lost touch with the changing world to be able to take a fresher/stronger stand on it, when you needed him most. He looks lost, lacking lustre. First sign of age is when the music you grew up on is called retro/classic!

Worse still if your favourite politically inclined artiste of yore, once full of swagger, turns into an old, disconnected bore, simultaneously placing on the wall of his stage an image of journalist Ranna Ayub, and minister Smriti Irani.

Don't know which one he didn't care to read about. To be fair, it's at this phase of a global rock-star's life/career that they've traditionally dropped in for a night for a gig in India anyway. Not complaining!

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14
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