One of my long time U2 buddies has finally caved in and decided to ditch the seats and bring his kids to the mosh with us for Sydney’s second concert. We make the top 500 without trying as there is less demand for the second show and get an early entry to the stadium floor giving us our best spot yet, right near the ramp and behind the band’s b-stage.
I’m one person behind the rail where a girl from France is decked out in cowboy hat and jacket decorated to celebrate the ‘Larry Mullen Jnr Band’.
I say to her ‘tonight, you’re going to get some sticks from Larry’ and within 30 minutes Larry’s drum tech pops his head over the rail, taps her on the head and passes her a set of new sticks!
My wife later shows me a video of the band meeting fans in Auckland earlier in the tour and there she is again, getting Bono to tattoo her arm with his signature…the things you have to do get on their radar.
I can’t see how U2 are going to top last night’s concert but there is hope when Bono says ‘last night was an epic night of rock ’n roll, but we we’re just warming up’ after New Year’s Day.
Larry throws me a stick from the b-stage
U2 finally swap out ‘Angel of Harlem’ for ‘Desire’ after the Joshua Tree is finished tonight and it gets a raucous reception. The band stand tightly together to play it on the b-stage; clearly this track is not as familiar, but they play it fine.
Larry throws a stick my way, I hold my hand out, but I can’t see it land into my hand, so as it hits my palm it pops out and lands on the floor. Larry’s new drum tech standing by picks it up and gives it to some guy whose travelled from overseas and has a make-shift cardboard box sign,
‘Larry please give me a stick’.
Another notch in my bug bear with internationally travelling fans, who soak up the very limited attention space the band has to engage with real Aussies who’ve been waiting 10 years to see them.
I Will Follow is again added to the opening set where U2 play unadorned under lights on the b-stage in an aesthetic that matches the era such songs came from.
Some fans on social complain that the screen isn’t turned on for this set and from where they are, they can’t see the band, only shimmering figures, floating in the middle of a sea of fans on the floor.
But those complaints really miss the point and having seen the show from the nose bleeds in Brisbane, I’m disappointed some peeps can’t seem to appreciate how well this opening act testifies to the bands punk rock origins and sheer power as a four piece; how it sets the main course on the table, ready for the big screen to fire up and blow your mind.
Tripping Through the Wires of Bono’s Canon
For the first time seeing U2 over 30 years I feel an appreciation of what it must be like to tread the line between private faith and public performance.
For Sydney’s second show I’m standing just a few metres directly behind the band as they harness the energy of 50,000 fans at the SCG and start playing a song from their first album in 1980, I Will Follow. I can feel the sense of what you can and can’t say.
I suddenly have this empathy or understanding…’oh yeah, so this is what you can do…and this you can’t’. Many fans have come here for a great night of rock ‘n roll. They haven’t come to be preached to. I’m impressed that Bono invites them in, to share the world from his mind, his experience.
Bono introduces the song as a sort of ‘suicide note’ written to his mother to say he would follow her into the grave after she collapsed with a blood clot at her own father’s funeral and later died when he was just 14.
‘If you walk away, walk away, walk away, walk away, I will follow’
But then he discovered ‘agape love’, (or ‘it’ discovered him):
‘I was on the inside when they pulled the four walls down
You looked under the rubble
I was lost, now I’m found’
I’ve always appreciated Bono’s reflections on Scripture and how he reflects and interprets the world around him with eyes of faith.
Sunday Bloody Sunday, the first song played in each concert, provided the way for them to reconcile their Christian faith (only three were Christian at the time) with the vain pursuit of rock stardom after a noticeably torturous time recording their second album, October.
Why hasn’t Bono Found What He’s Looking for Yet?
But it’s not until we get to the main act and the song, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For that Bono asks us to clap and ‘take it to church’. Bono introduces it as a ‘gospel song, for those who don’t like gospel songs’ in Melbourne.
Many Christians have struggled with this song, criticizing Bono for being dissatisfied with Jesus work on the cross:
‘You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross and
Oh, my shame, Oh my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’
I cringe when I hear Christians smugly mock him in sermons or on social saying ‘has Bono found what he’s looking for yet?’ Implying they have and how could he possibly be Christian if he can’t be happy with the gospel.
I remember as a teenager hearing God’s Squad Biker, pastor and evangelist, John Smith, tell us about his conversations with Bono that led him to believe that what Bono was looking for was for people to know Jesus. I also recall feeling unconvinced; not to say that isn’t true; it all sounded a bit too neat.
One thing to note is that Bono doesn’t see his songs as set in concrete and often applies them to new situations. For example, he might apply the song to ‘still not having found’ the eradication of extreme poverty as he did during concerts around the drop the debt campaign, circa. 2000.
In its original form I think it just stands as a very honest statement of discontent and restlessness.
The pursuit of contentment
The wellness, contentment industry is huge right now. Christians are not exempt from lacking contentment while ‘all things’ are theirs in Christ.
How many of us know the gospel and are ‘still running’ for the Lord but are not content?
It could be for all kinds of reasons and sometimes it’s hard to admit it…even feels shameful.
Bono dares to tread where most Christian artists balk.
How many songs of doubt and lament to do you sing in church?
The Psalms, however, are numerous, that speak of lament and grief and ‘how long?’.
Yet, as preachers, we prefer black and white.
So, our musicians write songs of triumphalism, confession, faith. But rarely doubt, struggle or longing.
As Bono said in a series of videos with Fuller Seminary, ‘Why can’t I find the Psalms in Christian music?’ (btw It’s no secret the band have been working on another album called ‘Songs of Ascent’ based on Psalms 102-134)
You can check it out the video series here:
“Psalm 82 Is a Good Start” | Bono & David Taylor: Beyond the Psalms
Thank God for the Psalms and Job that take us into faith’s real walk.
Thank God for Bono for being honest.
At least some of us can find acceptance and resonance for our human hearts and experience in his ‘church’.
“We have to bend the arc of the universe toward justice”
At the end of the second Sydney show Bono says,
“Martin Luther King once said the ‘arc of the universe bends toward justice’. But I don’t believe that anymore. I believe we have to bend it toward justice"
He says, social action, when we work together as one is what changes the world.
The theme of justice and equality has a lot of influence in the band’s catalogue and stems from the Bible’s emphasis on ‘justice for the poor and needy’ that dominates many verses of the Old Testament and Jesus' own ministry (cf Luke 4:18-19)
However, there are some ‘justice’ issues the band throws their weight behind that I feel uncomfortable with as a Christian.
When Jesus’ silence signals permission and nullifies St Paul
During the Joshua Tree, In God’s Country has been introduced with Bono saying,
‘in a blink of an eye a country’s landscape can change spiritually’
He refers to places like the United States where the open arms of welcome to the refugee, like the Irish in the past, is turning 180 degrees because of fear from terror and ‘contamination’. In our own country we see similar things happening, with our very expensive offshore processing of refugees.
However, another area we can see things changing in the ‘blink of an eye’ even more recently is the passing of Same Sex Marriage laws, recent changes to Abortion in NSW and now euthanasia.
In Ireland, U2 supported both SSM and changes to abortion laws, causing quite a stir amongst traditional believers.
Why do they do this?
Is Bono a liberal?
I’m confident Bono has a high view of Scripture.
I’m confident that he believes in miracles, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the divinity of Jesus, the atoning sacrifice for sins made by Jesus on our behalf, that he is banking on God’s grace for forgiveness and eternal life.
However, I read in a Rolling Stone article that quoted Bono as saying that he didn’t think St Paul is inspired by God for his words against homosexuality nor for his expectation that women should be submissive to their husbands and have a different role in leadership of churches.
It seems that where Jesus is silent (and he is pretty much on these issues), this is taken as permission to pursue justice and equality for all on all issues, disregarding St Paul’s views.
Perhaps the band feels that gay people can't help being gay and therefore its wrong to be a downer on their lifestyle. Maybe from there they read back into the Bible what they see as 'self evident'.
I find their support of same sex marriage hard to square with Scripture and Jesus’ attitude to the Old Testament, where he clearly affirms traditional marriage as between one man and one woman. When Jesus saves a woman caught in adultery, it is hard to imagine that he expected her to go back to her adultery as a result! Jesus seems to affirm created order as we know it in Genesis.
For that reason, alone, I don’t see Jesus’ silence on homosexuality (or women’s roles in ministry or the home), to be a license to upend what St Paul teaches.
Furthermore, the canon of Scripture largely depends on St Paul and our acceptance of his authority as ‘sent by Jesus’. One needs to be very careful about picking and choosing things that don’t fit with changing attitudes in our society.
Justice, Equality and Human Rights vs Natural Right
If there’s one thing U2 have become known for it is sounding the horn on injustice. Raising the banner of the weak and poor. Bono sees this issue as being central to his faith, rooted in God’s concern for the weak.
On this tour the band hasn’t been flogging anything particularly controversial. The Joshua Tree anniversary tour has seen the band weave into their songs the theme of equality for women, altering lyrics, like in Pride,‘one man he resist’ to ‘one woman she resist’.
During Trip Through Your Wires they’ve been contrasting their female partners’ real ‘mega rock star status’ with their own ‘little rock star status’. Edge looks up and plays beneath a giant video of his wife, Morleigh, as she spins a cowboy lasso; perhaps suggesting the need to tether Edge and keep him grounded. For the first time I start to really like this track as the band tell its story and play it so well
Ultraviolet from Achtung Baby is also dedicated to extraordinary women and the need to make room for their stories, altering ‘history’ to ‘herstory’.
On this final night in Sydney, we are also treated to a touching, acoustic version of You’re The Best Thing About Me’ from their latest album, Songs of Experience, dedicated to Bono’s wife.
Whether it’s poverty, women’s rights or gay rights, the assumption of the band seems to be that where a person cannot exercise exactly the same rights and opportunities as another person, injustice has occurred.
I think this needs questioning.
Equality can be achieved without giving everyone exactly the same thing. Unless we attend to the order God has made the world, we likely do people an injustice.
Natural right should inform and shape, human right.
There seems to be an assumption that human rights are wholly Biblical, rather than they need to be shaped by the Bible.
Human rights need an anchor point, but detached from Natural right, they become a shifting sand.
Bono, when can we talk?
I"m not an expert. I don't have alll the answers; nor do I take it lightly to stand on what I believe the Bible's views are on homosexuality.
I seek to understand, with faith.
I don’t have all the information on Bono's inner workings.
I haven’t spoken with Bono.
What I’ve said is the best I can make out.
There is much to love about this band, but some 'justice' issues I can’t celebrate and support with them.
Many of us know Christians in our churches who also think like the band. I don’t think this makes them liberal or unbelievers.
Is This Good bye?
'The show must go on...or does it?' asks Bono rhetorically while he removes some makeup.
Is Bono teasiing us...or is he serious?
Is the band asking themselves this question right now...'does U2 have to go on?'
Tonight, Edge’s guitar isn’t sounding good.
So it becomes a joke...
'I don't think the show can go on without Edge'
Edge disappears into underworld to get it sorted while Bono is left to improvise without him.
Out of nowhere, but as if to bring us full circle from when he opened the concert sharing about his mum; Bono shares something tender about his dad.
‘I loved him very much and I wish I told him while I was still alive
I have the daughter he never had
And he loved Ali (Bono’s wife)’
Edge is back with a new guitar and they play ‘You’re the Best Thing About Me’ acoustically (from their most recent album and for the first time this tour), though Edge’s guitar has been swapped for an electric.
It’s a sweet moment where we remember the people dearest to us.
Michael Hutchence gets another tribute with a repeat of Stuck in A Moment because the band have been deluged with emails and texts from fans.
Before they close the show there is another tender moment where Bono says,
‘We don’t know when we’ll be together again. But without you we can’t write songs like this…’
They play One in the dark, with all the cell phones lighting up the stadium.
We leave feelng very special, appreciated and with a night we'll never forget.
I didn't think the experience of this show could touch 360 in 2010, but this band is playing at its peak.
Maybe those international fans are harbingers of the future for Aussie fans??