Music

Yes, You Need to Watch U2 Live in Manila Next Week. Here’s Why

The Singapore show proved the band is far from just being a nostalgia act.
IMAGE Arnie Bugay
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On the day of the U2 show in Singapore, I was coming off of an epic and sleepless transcontinental sojourn. I spent 12–and-half hours on a flight from San Francisco to Shanghai, nearly six hours layover there, a three-and-half hour flight from Shanghai to Manila, another six-hour layover at NAIA, then a three-plus hour flight from Manila to Singapore. I had just enough time for a quick shower and a bite to eat before I had to rush to the National Stadium to catch the Irish rockers’ second night in the Lion City. 

It was a trip, for sure, but it was one I was willing to make to finally see arguably the world’s biggest rock band play live.

Larry Mullen Jr., Adam Clayton, The Edge (aka David Evans) and Bono (aka Paul Hewson) have been together as U2 since the late 1970s and have played countless shows all across the planet. But for some reason, this is the first time they made their way over to Singapore. Later in the month, U2 will also play their first-ever shows in South Korea, the Philippines, and India.

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It was no surprise then that the band completely sold out the 50,000-seater National Stadium on both nights they played. But, that likely wasn’t the full number, as the band took up the long side of the stadium, which meant there were no audience members on that entire side, slicing the full number by as much as half.

Still, walking into a full-sized sports stadium filled with fans was a thrill in itself. The energy was palpable, and the overall mood was one of excitement and joy. I know my exhaustion and travel fatigue melted away as soon as the opening song, The Waterboys’ “The Whole of The Moon” started blaring to signal the official start of the show. And the anticipation only intensified as soon as Mullen Jr. himself walked onstage and took his place on the drums in the B-stage.

Photo by Arnie Bugay.
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Some kind of rock and roll

Those who don’t mind getting “spoiled” need only look at past setlists to know what to expect at this iteration of U2’s The Joshua Tree tour. Bathed in intense red lights, the band started on “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and quickly followed up with “I Will Follow,” “New Year’s Day,” and “Bad.” Clearly it was a tip of the hat to the band’s earlier hits, the ones that came before their groundbreaking album The Joshua Tree.

“Let me tell you why I’m here tonight,” Bono said during a brief lull in between the songs. “I’m here for some kind of rock and roll transcendence. I’m here to surrender to the music, and to the band. Anything can happen.” 

For anybody who has ever been a fan of U2 and has dreamed of seeing them perform live, that was a surreal, pinch-me moment. The band of our childhood, of our adolescence, and even of our adulthood, whose music has been the soundtrack of our lives, was finally right there, in the flesh, singing those songs we love back to us. And all of us were singing right back.

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It was hard not to get emotional. The argument can be made that U2 is a nostalgia act by now, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We put on music to stir up emotions—to deepen feelings of pleasure and joy, to wallow in sadness or pain, to soothe anger or frustration—and the artists we listened to during our formative years, when we felt these emotions as intensely as we’ll ever feel them, undoubtedly occupy the most exclusive space in our minds and hearts.

There’s no denying U2 is one of those acts, and whether we got into them because of their poetic, thoughtful lyrics; confident, body-thumping melodies; or even their politics or social advocacies doesn’t matter. We all have our own U2 stories, and those of us who made the pilgrimage to see their show—as well as those who will make them in the coming days and weeks—do so to pay homage to our musical heroes as much as to stir up those feel-good emotions we associate with their music.

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Bono is turning 60 next year, and while I was pretty sure he was still every bit the showman that he’s been since the start of their career, I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as his vocals was concerned. But in songs like “Pride (In the Name of Love),” it was clear he can still soar, hitting those high notes the way he did on record all those years ago.

Photo by Arnie Bugay.
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Emotional impact

The second part of the set involved performing the entire The Joshua Tree album in sequence. The band moved to the main stage, and the gigantic high-definition LED video screen flashed images that heightened the emotional impact of each song. On “Where the Streets Have No Name,” it was that of a seemingly endless highway, with what looked like migrants walking along the sides. On “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “With or Without You,” they showed stunning ethereal landscapes. All of the videos were reportedly shot by noted photographer and filmmaker Anton Corbijn.

I couldn’t help thinking about those days when I borrowed my cousin’s cassette tape copy of “The Joshua Tree,” which I would play constantly on my Walkman. To hear the songs live, all of them, not just my personal favorite tracks, was a deep and unbelievable pleasure. And I appreciated that the band delivered all of it almost exactly like the record as much as they could, not messing around with the arrangements too much (except for a couple where they inserted snippets from other songs), and, in the process preserving my memories of the songs.

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The encore had the band sweeping through a medley of more recent hits—“Elevation,” “Vertigo,” and “Beautiful Day” among them. After “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” Bono’s charisma as a frontman and rock star was on full display.

“Is it so wrong to have 50,000 people telling me that you love me?” he asked, to which the crowd replied with a resounding “Wooooo!”

Toward the end, the band made sure to insert its much-vaunted socio-political activism in the show. They showed a clip of a classic Western TV series with a character named Trump promising to build a wall to protect people from bad things, and they also flashed images of notable women who have contributed to building “herstory” today as we know it. It was a nice touch to include women from the region and host country (such as the Singapore all-women Mount Everest team), so it would be interesting to see who they will honor at the Manila show on December 11.

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“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Bono said, quoting the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.

By the time U2 launched on the finale, the now-classic anthem “One,” people were visibly ecstatic. There were a couple of boys who couldn’t have been more than 21 in front of me, a Caucasian family composed of the parents and their teenaged son to one side, and an entire barkada that spoke Bahasa Malaysia to the other. All around was a cross-section of people that wasn’t at all surprising to see in a U2 show—Gen X-ers, millennials, office types, Singaporeans and other nationalities from across the region, and many others. It’s a testamant to the wide and far-reaching appeal of four Irish blokes who started making music in their hometown of Dublin and ended up touching the lives of millions of people across the globe.

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Including me, who ended up having the best darn sleep of my life later that night. The travel fatigue may have had something to do with it, for sure, but mostly I suspect it was because of the satisfaction of finally getting to check “watched U2 live” off my bucket list.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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