How U2 won India over in 3 hours
With 22 Grammy Awards, more than 170 million records sold, and a fanbase that transcends generations, there is no bigger band in the world than U2. And it sure took them a while to reach the world’s second-largest country — a cool 43 years, but when Bono, Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr, landed in Mumbai, they were on a mission. The mission was a simple one, to win India over in 3 odd hours of their performance, which they would’ve by just playing but they went the extra mile and made their first concert in India worth the 43-year wait to over 50,000 fans at Navi Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium.
· Perhaps the biggest concern was how good would the band be. Many feared that the band was well past its prime with its last two albums not being the smash hits that they were known for and Bono being in his late 50’s not having the famed operatic vocal rage that makes U2’s music timeless. Well, that myth got debunked. As a band, the quartet was magnetic and Bono’s vocal range was immense. You sure got U2 at its prime so that alone is worth all the time.
· They had some big surprises in store for the audience. From Oasis’s Noel Gallagher joining the band for a special version of Desire to AR Rahman and his daughters co-signing the last two tracks of the concert — including the new song Ahimsa which was released in November and a special closing rendition of One which wrapped up the Joshua Tree tour. These were moments that are once in a lifetime.
· U2 ran through all the fan favourites and rocked the DY Patil Stadium. They started predictably with “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, rolled quickly into the second act which featured famous tracks from the iconic Joshua Tree album like With or Without you and Where Streets have no name, rolling into some of their 90s tracks flowing soothingly into their 2000’s hits Elevation, Vertigo and Beautiful Day. For most people, U2 played it safe which was the right thing for the fans.
· The scale and setup of the concert was unlike any other show I’ve seen in India. The moment you entered the show, you knew that you were entering a concert with arguably the biggest band in the world playing. The LED screen which was the backdrop for the visuals was not only the largest ever to be used in India, but it was bright, vivid and monstrous, showcasing the type of effort that was put into the production of the show.
· When its U2, then you’ll always expect some political commentary and you got that. It may be coincidental but with what’s happening in India with the divisiveness amongst communities, Bono often between songs promoted a message of harmony. He even celebrated the women of the world that are making the planet a better place featuring the faces of thought leaders from around the world like Greta Thunberg alongside women from India like Rana Ayyub, Arundhati Roy, the late Gauri Lankesh, the late Kalpana Chawla amongst others. They really were on a mission of spreading the gospel of unity, positivity and women empowerment and the crowd was very receptive to the band.
· The way U2 played with the crowd was a lesson for all bands in the world. On numerous occasions during the concert, a pitch-black DY Patil Stadium was lit up by smartphone flashlights as the crowd swayed and hummed along some of the intimate U2 songs along with the band. It was magical and many people were visibly moved.
· This was perhaps the most well-behaved crowd I’ve ever seen at a concert in India. That could be also because U2 being a band from the 70’s cuts across generations as the audience was a happy mixture of people in their 60s to teenagers. I’ve never seen an act cut through generations the way U2 did; even Cold Play didn’t manage that, even though their concert was arguably bigger.
· Perhaps the biggest downer of the concert was the sound which is shocking as it was one of the biggest bands in the world performing. If you were in the stands, Bono sounded too reverberated, and often you wouldn’t hear his voice properly on some of the more intimate songs. For instance, when AR Rahman, performed the last two songs you couldn’t hear his instruments or Bono.
· For a band like U2, the organizers could’ve ensured that at least “Beer” was being poured at most of the stands, not just for the VIP area. As DY Patil is a sports stadium, they ideally should’ve ensured the concert happened someplace else. Another problem with DY Patil was that it was in Navi Mumbai, a good 2-hour drive from most places within the city. They certainly would’ve attracted more people if they decided to host the band at a more agreeable venue.
· By the end of the set, especially on a song like Beautiful Day, you could sense that Bono was running out of steam vocally. He sounded tired and not as energetic on what many would consider the band’s most famous song. Even versions like Desire with Noel Gallagher and One with AR Rahman and his daughters didn’t sound that impressive.
· A lot of things about the concert just felt abrupt — from the way the band came on the stage with no opening act for them, to when they arrived back on stage after a short break launching into “Elevation”.
. For a band that’s known to be outspoken about political issues, it was disappointing to see them have Smriti Irani’s face flash up on the huge LED wall amongst luminaries like Gauri Lankesh, Kalpana Chawla, Arundhati Roy — it just wasn’t a good fit for everyone.
At the end of the day, U2 came and conquered India. They just didn’t come and performed and packed their bags. They came with intent, integrity and with a message of peace. Everything didn’t go perfectly, but few things in life do, and despite the unruliness in India, particularly Delhi over the Citizen Amendment Act, which literally turned December 15, into Sunday Bloody Sunday, for most people at DY Patil Stadium for 3 hours at least, it was indeed a “beautiful day”. They really won the hearts of everyone in the stadium.
Originally published at https://warpcore.live on December 17, 2019.
Words by Sahil Mohan Gupta