With the hot summer air as heavy over Gateshead stadium as the North East’s coal on pit props and a mere 5,000 or so people sprawled around in front of the stage, none could have expected the magic that U2 and Elvis Costello could instill.
Let’s forget about the chaff that preceded them. Huang Chung were simply forgettable and the Polecats? Who cares? So they played their singles ‘Rockabilly Guy’ and Bowie’s ‘John I’m Only Dancing’ along with a dreadful cover of Marc Bolan’s ‘Jeepster’ – but it was all embarrassingly out of tune.
Nope, it was down to the Irish foursome U2 to drag the event into being something worthwhile. But they did more, far more.
Diminutive lead singer Bono never once took his eyes off the audience, other than to screw them up tighter than the lump that appeared in your throat as he screamed out searing chorus lines, more powerful than the swirling crescendos reached by the band.
It may have been their first appearance in the North East, but anyone there who saw the gig will be crying out for more. Bono coaxed a rapport from the audience that is rarely, if ever, achieved by mightier names. Looking each other eye to eye, crowd and band alike exiled in songs like the tremendous ‘Another Time Another Place’, ‘I Will Follow’ and ‘Fire’.
As the small singer, in customary sartorial black, edged his way in front of the mass of speakers, guitarist the Edge laid thoughtful harmonics and echoing chords over a ferocious but completely controlled backing. And as the screaming chorus of “I will follow” was still echoing round the stadium it was obvious that U2 could be as passion-felt and prolific as …
… Elvis Costello. He’s back with a vengeance. Never one for stage antics, or saying more than an occasional hello, his songs speak for themselves.
Moving from being bitter to a more mellow, sardonicism. EC could hardly contain himself as he clenched his fists and literally cried out the words “being strong is this” to a new “mystery” song ‘Love Honeymoon’ – passion is no ordinary word, and Elvis has it. It’s not so obvious any more, although who can fault the stunning ‘Mystery Dance’ hammered home as an encore today and a now customary, er, semi-dub version of ‘Watching The Detectives.?
The promised country influence came out too, in another new one ‘Tears Before Bedtime’, a ballad where the singer pushes his omnipresent voice harder and harder until it hurts. But it’s not entirely a new direction, country has permeated through so many earlier songs as a superbly re-worked ballad version of ‘I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down’ showed. All this punctuated by one of the beast bands in the business, and certainly the best bassist in Bruce Thomas, along with…
… Norman Watt-Roy. Veteran bassist with Ian Dury’s Blockheads strutted round the stage in his normal determined fashion while Dury creaked out a set that included all the old standards and not a lot else. The only new number was the single ‘Spasticus’ – and a fine one it is too, retaining all the elements that have made Dury a star.