18 years ago today, one of my all-time favorite sporting moments/occasions (Republic of Ireland 1-0 Netherlands at Lansdowne Road) and undoubtedly my all-time favorite musical performance/gig took place. The musical performance/gig is of course “U2 Go Home”; that seminal performance from Bono (aka Paul Hewson) and the boys at Slane Casle in County Meath on September 1st, 2001.
I have referenced the match (Ireland 1-0 Netherlands) in detail in another article today, so this article will focus more on the U2 Slane gig, while also referencing the match from earlier in the day.
The two events are of course connected. The Edge (aka David Evans) and Larry Mullen Junior both attended the match at Lansdowne Road on the day and an hour after the final whistle took a private helicopter to the banks of the River Boyne so as to be on time for that night’s gig (now that is rock-star!)
The dramatic second-half of the Ireland v Netherlands match had been shown live on the big screen at Slane as Moby, Ash, Nelly Furtado, The Walls and Dara warmed up the crowd before that evening’s main event.
As the four men from Dublin’s northside took to the stage that evening shortly after 8pm, the crowd was in raucous mood, not least because of the famous football result that had been achieved by the national football team a few hours earlier less than 50km down the road.
As is typical of a U2 concert, sporadic social, political, current affairs and cultural commentary would feature from frontman Bono. While all of that was interesting and insightful, it was not what made this gig so special.
What made this gig unlike any other was that Bono’s father had passed away nine days previously and Bono had buried him a couple of days earlier and was still clearly in mourning.
Bono’s father (Bob Hewson) had been a postal worker, a part-time opera singer/tenor in a musical society and had been a huge influential on Bono.
What of course made the gig on September 1st, 2001 all the more unique was the result of the football match earlier in the day (with the fortunes of the national football team always having an impact on Ireland) and the juxtaposition of the joy of that occasion coupled with Bono’s grieving for his deceased dad.
As well as mourning his dad, Bono of course reveled in the result of that day’s football match with the fans at Slane Castle that night. During the gig he sporadically references the match, singing “Beautiful GOAL” a number of times during the rendition of “Beautiful Day”.
Also, during “New Year’s Day” an Irish tricolor is thrown on stage. Bono proceeds to pick up the tricolor and wrap the flag around his body before proclaiming: “Close your eyes and imagine – IT’S JASON MCATEER!” (who was the goalscorer that day).
The mourning of his father is of course more significant for Bono than the result of the match and he regularly references and pays tribute to his father during the gig. His voice briefly breaks during “Kite” (which he dedicates to his father) during the line: “I’m a man, I’m not a child, I’m a man who sees the shadow behind your eyes.”
My favorite moment from the gig is possibly (though there are so many highlights for me of that gig that I’m not quite sure if this is the definitive highlight of the gig for me) Bono giving thanks to his father and the fans during “Out of Control”:
“I’ve got some big ideas. Father, I need a lend of 500 pounds. Because we’re going to go over to London and we’re going to score ourselves a record deal. And when we get our record deal, we’re not going to stay in London, we’re not going to go to New York city. We’re going to stay and base our crew in Dublin! Because these people, THIS IS OUR TRIBE! But I still need a lend of 500 pounds. What do you say, my old man?
“500 pounds. I want to thank my old man for that 500 pounds. I want to thank Larry Mullen’s father for 500 pounds. The Edge’s mother and father for 500 pounds. Adam Clayton’s family for 500 pounds. And by now, you (i.e. the fans) have probably all given us about 500 pounds each too, so thank you!”
There are of course numerous other poignant and memorable moments from that gig that stick in the memory. I’ll finally mention one more memory that sticks out. During “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, there’s a pause in singing and Bono once again speaks to the fans:
“Thank you for coming out. Thank you for queuing in the rain and spending your hard earned cash. You’ve given us a great life. This is our love!” – before the frontman looks back to the band with a big smile and the rest of the band members smile back.
Beautiful goal and a beautiful day indeed.