Defiant U2 to play in Paris

Arena show will be imbued with fresh symbolism in the wake of terror attacks when the Irish band end tour with two shows

From left: Larry Mullen, the Edge, Bono and Adam Clayton of U2 performing at Madison Square Garden in New York in July.
From left: Larry Mullen, the Edge, Bono and Adam Clayton of U2 performing at Madison Square Garden in New York in July.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • Near the midway point of every recent U2 show, a simulated bomb goes off. The sound of the explosion, which, along with the song Raised By Wolves, commemorates 1974 terrorist car bombings in Dublin, is meant to mark the end of innocence on the band's autobiographical Innocence And Experience tour.

Already steeped in geopolitics, U2's elaborate arena show will be imbued with fresh symbolism when the Irish band end their tour with two shows in Paris on Sunday and Monday, the last of which will be broadcast on HBO at 9pm Eastern (9pm, Singapore time).

Originally scheduled for Nov 14 and 15 at the AccorHotels Arena, the concerts and television special were postponed in the wake of the Nov 13 terrorist attacks that killed 130 people, including 89 at the Bataclan, a concert hall where the band Eagles Of Death Metal were performing.

Less than a month later, U2 will perform the biggest concert in Paris since the assault.

By telephone from New York, Bono, U2's frontman, was charac- teristically hopeful about returning to Paris, stressing joy and defiance in the face of terror. These are excerpts from the conversation.

You played two shows in Paris before the attacks. Where were you when you learnt about it?

I was onstage and we were rehearsing at the Bercy (now AccorHotels Arena). We were evacuated from the building. We were hoping that the reports of multiple incidents were wrong. It was kind of chaos.

What was the decision process like to cancel the shows?

U2 doesn't have a history of cancelling many shows. I suppose the Irish in us just doesn't want to give in to terrorism. We've had it all our lives. But from the look on (the head of global touring for Live Nation) Arthur Fogel's face, I could just see that this was not going to happen.

And then: How could we be useful for the Eagles Of Death Metal? What could we do while we were here in Paris?

You visited the Bataclan to pay your respects.

We did that on our way to the airport. We left the next evening - we had a plane, which we put at the Eagles' use if they wanted it, but they found another way. The best thing we could do for our fellow musicians was to buy them phones.

So you were able to speak with Eagles Of Death Metal?

I spoke to Julian (Dorio) and to Jesse (Hughes). But that was the best thing, Jesse said, just getting the phones to be texting and all the stuff that you do - social media - to find out what's going on. Their phones were in the venue. Jesse took me through every moment. They really need proper counselling, though not from a well-meaning Irish rock star.

Have you kept up with the political response to the attacks?

In Ireland, we know not to become a monster in order to defeat a monster. It's not just the 130 lives that were stolen. They were also trying to steal equality and justice. In fact, from some of the reaction and overreaction - that is, we'll take in only Christian refugees - you can say they had a direct hit. If they change us, then they were effective.

You grew up with the threat of home-grown terrorism looming. How does that affect how you view the recent events in Paris, Beirut and around the world?

Raised By Wolves - on any other Friday, I would be standing right at the centre of one of the car bombs in Dublin. Thirty-three people died on that Friday. I missed it. There was a bus strike on that day, which is why I cycled to school. In my sort of self-interrogation as to why I write the way I write, I thought, why am I always writing songs about social justice? I realised that this incident when I was 14 must have really affected me even though I escaped it.

My best friend's brother did not escape it and he was forever affected by it. He came to the show last week in Belfast and in Dublin with a piece of shrapnel from the car. He was never properly counselled and he saw terrible, terrible things. He later became a heroin addict; he slept on the street.

Now he's restored, but he brought a piece of the car that blew up in front of him. I asked him why and he said, "I took a little piece of it because it took a little piece of me." Forty years later, people are still hurting.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2015, with the headline 'Defiant U2 to play in Paris'. Subscribe