U2 at Singapore's National Stadium. Photograph by Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News
Culture Music

What to expect when you’re expecting U2 in the Philippine Arena

“They will be the giants of your youth, and everything they will tell you tonight will be as true as it was 20 years ago” writes this longtime U2 fan, Having experienced watching the band earlier this month in Tokyo.
Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta | Dec 11 2019

In the Saitama Super Arena, you expect Bono, who is pushing 60—and who has played Singapore not three days prior—to be voiceless and tired. You expect Adam Clayton, also hurtling toward his sixth decade here on earth, to conduct himself like a former maestro playing his old band’s greatest hits in the basement of a business hotel. You expect The Edge to be wearing a skullcap under his skullcap—it’s been there so long, it’s maybe spawned a mini. You expect that the handsome Larry Mullen Jr. might now be the formerly handsome Larry Mullen Jr., all those hard and happy decades finally catching up with him, etching broad strokes on his face. You expect him not to have the impunity of  youth—that gone, monomaniacal time he’d allegedly hurl sneakers against the window each time a fanboy or girl squealed behind the glass and distracted the band during practice.

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You expect that the super band of your youth will be late to their concert—not graciously late, but Madonna-late, emerging onstage three hours after call time during her Manila concert in 2016. You expect your managed expectations to live up to its corporate stiffness—and to let your nostalgia make up for it and give it just a little bite.

Bono sings as U2 perform during their U2: The Joshua Tree Tour, at Twickenham Stadium, London. Photograph by Dylan Martinez, Reuters

You expect to report to your older siblings (who introduced you to the band when you were eight years old) that it was great to hear all the big anthems in person, but that the band aren’t what they used to be. Gone, you expect to tell them, are the days they’d swim in the Aegean with supermodels—gone are the days they’d slay billboard hot charts with sweet ditties dedicated to their wives after they’d forgotten birthdays or anniversaries. In short, you expect to report that age has ushered away your favorite band from their gladdest days, electrified as they were by ire and love and slow delays (there’s no such thing, you expect to tell them, in late middle age). But, hey, at least you got to see them in person.

You will expect all these things, and you will be happily disappointed. Because as soon as Larry Mullen (handsomely) strikes the first military beats of Sunday, Bloody, Sunday, the band will be as electrifying to you as they were when you were seventeen, listening to them alone in your 22 square-meter bedroom, busting the speakers of an old player you’d inherited from your sister. They will be the giants of your youth, and everything they will tell you tonight will be as true as it was 20 years ago, the world having changed little, and desire being what it’s been since time immemorial (lyrics like “See the rain coming through the gaping wound, pelting the women and children who run into the arms of America” still ring eerily true today).

As soon as Larry Mullen strikes the first military beats of “Sunday, Bloody, Sunday,” the band will be as electrifying to you as they were when you were 17, listening to them alone in your 22 square-meter bedroom.

Meanwhile, Bono, clad in his signature black (jeans, jacket, shirt, all) will know how to rouse even the most restrained, bobbing head in a Japanese crowd. He’ll predictably move them to click on lighters during With or Without You, the small ticks of light flashing like late stars. Larry Mullen Jr. will pound on the drums like his life depended on it; the Edge’s fingers will glimmer on his guitar like a T’ang Dynasty super harpist, especially during his Bullet the Blue Sky solo; Adam Clayton will wear his shock of hair like a crown. And, paraphrasing a poem I read many years ago and never found occasion for, when Bono sings a song, he’ll make you want to shave your legs.

Apart from being the undisputed gods of the stadium anthem, they will be political—adding to the range of their global activism their response to the #MeToo movement. They will festoon a screen, more than midway through the concert, with colorized photos of remarkable women—Yoko Ono, Yayoi Kusama, Mary Wollstonecraft and Greta Thunburg among them (who will the roster include back home, you wonder—Leni? Leila? Maria Ressa?). As the larger-than-life images flash onscreen, Bono will croon a plaintive Ultra Violet—croon being the operative word, not croak or rasp. During  the refrain, he will switch effortlessly into his signature falsetto, the years doing it little wear and tear. You will believe him when he sings baby, light my way, as if all women had lit the way for all biblical prophets and kings, and all present-day presidents and rockstars.

U2 frontman Bono at Singapore's National Stadium. Photograph by Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

What you don’t expect, however, here in a super stadium in Japan, and jostled aggressively by not-from-here groupies brandishing their home flag as they make their way song by song, and step by step, to the stage, is to be homesick for the Philippines. In the Philippine Arena in Bulacan, you think to yourself, it will be pandemonium. There will be tens of thousands of thudding feet—enough vibration to cause a small earthquake in China. We will sing every song as though it were five minutes to closing time in a neighborhood karaoke joint. In Bulacan, your Gen X siblings, your cusp XY mates, and your Y Insta friends will not only bob their heads or click on lighters, they will sing riotously enough for Bono to step out of the spotlight. In the arena, Bono will not have to sing for his supper.

They will festoon a screen with colorized phots of remarkable women—Yoko, Yayoi, Mary Wollstonecraft, Greta Thunburg among them (who will the roster include back home, you wonder—Leni? Leila? Maria Ressa?)

You bristle, even now, knowing you won’t be there when all the old words take on a new meaning in the face of the current political circus, praying as Joshua might have for the circus and adversity to end, arms outstretched like the spiked branches of the proverbial tree. Had U2 earlier announced that they were playing in the Philippines, you would have spent all your hard-earned money there, in the enforced but welcome intimacy of a packed stadium. We have to carry each other in Japan doesn’t mean to you what it would back home, meaning communal survival for at least the next three years; where a song with a message that goes I have your back, have mine, can be the best and simplest declaration of solidarity during hard times.

And when the band sings their best ballad, you’ll remember what it was like to be 17, held in the clawing grip of your first difficult love, relieved for the only time tonight that you won’t have to see him in Bulacan.