Nothing, not the sneak preview footage on the band's website, nor the pictures on the front pages of the Spanish dailies Qué! or La Vanguardia can prepare you for the monstrous sight that welcomed 90,000 rabid U2 fans inside the home of Barcelona FC.
The aliens have truly landed on the hallowed turf of the European and La Liga champions and winners of La Copa Del Rey. As envisioned and co-designed by Mark Fisher and Willie Williams, the stage for U2's 360° tour looks like a spaceship or a supersized version of HG Wells' War of the Worlds tripod Martian fighting machines with a dash of Catalan visionary architect Antoni Gaudi thrown in for good measure.
It certainly affords every single one of the capacity crowd inside Europe's biggest stadium a clear view of the biggest band in the world returning to the live arena after four years, the longest hiatus in a career that has already lasted three decades and seen them sell 150 million albums.
What looks like four huge tentacles sprout from a central structure wrapped up in video screens and speakers with a radio transmitter on top. The Irish group look like they're about to be squashed like ants. Now I know a fair few people who would like to do just that to Bono, a campaigner for Africa shaming the West into cancelling debt and sending aid but tonight we get Bono the crowd-conducting showman, the frontman of a band that dares to open with four songs from its current album No Line on the Horizon, opening with the startling 'Breathe' and the title track. This is an unprecedented move in the annals of stadium rock, give or take Elton John's disastrous presentation of his double album Captain Fantastic at Wembley in the mid-seventies. That U2 just about pull it off says a lot about their daring, their sense of danger and a good natured audience who join in on the big bad riff of 'Get On Your Boots' and the chorus of 'Magnificent' and are at full volume for 'Beautiful Day'.
But, it's the first night and guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr make fierce eye contact as they struggle to lock into the chiming 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For'. Bono dedicates 'Angel of Harlem' not to Billie Holliday, who inspired the song, but to Michael Jackson and ad libs his way through the late superstar's 'Man In The Mirror' and 'Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough', and even Mullen cracks a smile.
The linkup with the astronauts on the International space Station currently orbiting the Earth 40 years on from the moon landing is the nod in the direction of past U2 extravaganzas like Zooropa and teeters briefly on the edge of the Popmart opening night debacle but when they hit the home run of 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' and 'Where the Streets Have No Name' no band in the world can touch U2 when it comes to life-enhancing spectacle.
Thirty years on, the four Dublin friends still manage to transcend the limitations of stadium rock. After an emotional 'With Or Without You', they even finish with 'Moment Of Surrender', another one of the salient tracks on an album that was started just across the Mediterranean, in Morocco.Reuse content