With the U2 360 tour underway, it’s time for another tour related list - the top five places to see U2 play live. I've only notched up a show at one of the places on the list (Croke Park) but I'll be making it two in October when I see U2 play in New York City. Well, kind of: it won't be Madison Square Garden, but Giants Stadium is close enough for me. So what makes a great U2 venue? I think the great venues, the ones with that certain extra something - or as the French would say, that “je ne sais quoi” - are the ones that have a shared history and strong connection to the band. They also have the right combination of ingredients to create that magic U2 show atmosphere. If you've been lucky enough to hang out with 80,000 fellow U2 fans chanting "40" or singing along to "Pride" or "Where The Streets Have No Name" at a show, you'll know what I'm talking about - that indescribable high that swells through the crowd and makes you feel like life really couldn't get any better. It's a feeling of joy, love, hope and hurt all rolled into one. It's a moment when the heart really is "a bloom." Here are my top five U2 live venues; the places where the magic is most likely to happen.
5. Wembley Stadium, London, England
It might have just been through an expensive and tumultuous rebuilding process (don’t blame the Aussie builders!), but Wembley Stadium is still considered sacred ground by music fans around the globe. The new Wembley Stadium opened its doors in 2007 and has a few claims to fame, including the most expensive stadium ever built, the second largest stadium in Europe and the largest stadium in the world that can seat everyone under cover. The original Wembley Stadium was in operation from 1923 and played host to a who’s who of modern music including Madonna, Michael Jackson, Queen, Bon Jovi, INXS, Metallica, Aerosmith, Prince, The Foo Fighters and the Spice Girls. The old stadium was the venue for the original Live Aid charity event in 1985, which catapulted U2 to international stardom. On the recent U2 360 tour, The Sun newspaper allegedly received a hand-written letter from Bono promising the band would put on a stellar performance at their new Wembley Stadium gig on August 14 allegedly saying: "I swear by the green green sacred grass of Wembley stadium that the sun will shine out of our collective arses this weekend.” The band’s second show on August 15, 2009, reportedly broke the Wembley Stadium attendance record, with 88,000 fans gathering for the event – 5000 more than the previous record set by Rod Stewart back in the old Wembley Stadium in 1995.
4. Madison Square Garden, New York City, USA
“The Irish have been coming here for years, feels like they own the place,” sings Bono in the song “New York” on the album All That You Can’t Leave Behind. And indeed, he does own a place in New York, choosing to make this pulsating metropolis his US home away from home. And if there’s one venue that’s synonymous with the Big Apple, it’s Madison Square Garden. The Garden has played host to big NYC events for 130 years, starting life as a velodrome for competitive cycling in 1879. The current Garden, located above Pennsylvania Station on 7th Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets, opened on February 14, 1968 and has the capacity to hold about 20,000 people. U2 played the Garden as part of their Elevation tour in October 2001, not long after the September 11 attacks on New York City. Bono and the Edge have called these shows some of the most memorable and emotional of their careers.
3. Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland
There’s something special about seeing U2 play to their home crowd in Dublin. The buzz in the city before and after the show is truly amazing, especially when the crowds take to the streets to do the 15 minute walk to and from the city centre to the stadium. And of course, when the gig is over, you can party the night away with thousands of other fans in Temple Bar. With a capacity of more than 82,000 people, Croke Park is the largest sports stadium in Ireland and the fourth largest stadium in Europe. Croke Park – better known as ‘Croker’ to the locals - has played an important part in both the history of Ireland and U2. On November 21, 1920, 14 people were killed in the stadium when British army auxiliaries entered the ground and shot indiscriminately into the crowd as a reprisal for the earlier assassination of 14 British Intelligence officers. That massacre became known as “Bloody Sunday.” The song U2 wrote and recorded about the massacre - more than 60 years after it took place - turned out to be a defining moment for their musical careers and the start of their continued work towards the peace process in their homeland.
2. Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado, USA
It’s an intimate concert venue – only seating about 9500 people – but everything else about the Red Rocks Amphitheatre is big: big on atmosphere, big on natural grandeur and big on sound. The breathtaking amphitheatre in the Rocky Mountain foothills, 15 miles west of Denver, was created by two 300-foot monoliths of red sandstone that dwarf the stage and provide a dramatic concert backdrop. The venue is also reputed to offer one thing all concert goers search for but rarely find, “acoustic perfection.” U2’s performance at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre on a cold, wet night in June 1983 was, according to Rolling Stone, one of the “50 Moments that Changed Rock and Roll.” The bad weather that night only added to the show’s unique atmosphere: mist rolled in from the hills, torches were lit on the cliffs and Bono waved that white flag. Magic.
1. Slane Castle, near Dublin, Ireland
A significant piece of Irish history and a major piece of U2 history, Slane Castle in County Meath, Ireland, is the ultimate venue to catch a U2 show. A favourite venue for rock music’s A-list, including the likes of Thin Lizzy, The Rolling Stones, Oasis, Bob Dylan, Madonna and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, U2 has played Slane more times than any other band, with shows in 1981 and two shows in 2001. The natural amphitheatre can hold a massive 100,000 people, creating an atmosphere and concert experience that is hard to top. I can’t think of anything better than standing with100,000 other U2 fans, in the shadow of the centuries-old castle, and hearing Bono yell “This is our city; this is our tribe.” The castle’s gothic ballroom also helped give The Unforgettable Fire its ambient, experimental sound (well, that and Brian Eno) back in 1984. All this and it’s only 25 minutes from Dublin’s airport. It’s an experience that should be on every U2 fan’s to-do list.