I am repeatedly looking at my watch: 20:28 – 16 November 2022, it says. Twenty-eight minutes have passed and the London Palladium is filled to the brim with people waiting for the one and only Bono Vox to take possession of the stage.
Two minutes later, and thirty minutes late, the lights dim and a stripped-back version of U2’s ‘City of Blinding Lights’ starts playing. Dressed in black, like he was at his own funeral, Paul Hewson walked on stage, bowing to the adoring public. The experience was different– no phones were allowed, in fact, they were locked away in portable pouches. “The ADHD must be going mad,” Bono laughed.
Among the public, characters like Bob Geldof, Noel Gallagher and Brian Eno could be seen nodding away at Bono’s Irish memories, constellated by numerous references to U2’s first manager, Paul McGuinness, who was also there.
It must be a big difference, the one between stadiums and a 2k-capacity venue. But Bono did not mind, “I could get used to this,” he joked. Theatre is not for everyone: one needs stage presence, humour, and generally experience. But, to everyone’s surprise, Mr Hewson has all of the above. With a harp, a cello, and some percussion behind him, U2’s frontman was stripped bare to present his memoir Surrender.
Much like the old days, when he used to turn into his alter egos Mr. MacPhisto and the Fly, Bono transformed himself into something much bigger than himself: his father. Recalling and re-enacting scenes from Surrender, he remembers how he was only a little boy when his mother Iris died. Instead of crying about her, his father Brendan “did something so much worse: he stopped talking about her”.
Two chairs, one scene. At the local Dublin pub, a needy son and a superficial Da having a conversation. “Anything strange or startling?”, this was how their conversation always started, as Bono recalls. The whole night was both of those. You can take the stage away from a man, but you can’t take the man away from the stage. Or something like that. Boasting a voice that seems to have rejuvenated by at least 30 years, Bono Vox tells a story not only through words but also through music. A slow and reverberated ‘With or Without You’ plays, followed by Bono expressing his gratitude for his wife Ali Stewart who “saved me from myself”, as he describes.
Moving moments alternate with lighthearted ones, following the narrative rollercoaster of his autobiography. “Larry! Can you feel it?” Bono screams into the microphone. “Larry! Can you hear it?”, he dramatically wails while putting a leg up on an empty chair. The intro of ‘I Will Follow’ starts playing, and the public starts clapping. However, with a swift hand movement, the frontman who once loved reassurance, signals everyone to quieten down. It was not clear whether that was just Bono or Bono acting like his father who never endorsed his son’s eccentric lifestyle. Either way, Hewson took a step back to reach “another level of navel-gazing”, as he put it.
Throughout the evening, his love for the people around him was palpable, and it must have taken a lot of courage to be so vulnerable in front of so many people.
The only time that the real Bono came out was during ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, when he allowed the public to sing along during one of the chorus breaks. “We are tired of it”, someone screamed from the upper seats, and Bono just nodded and shook his head. This started a conversation, an open conversation, about activism, and doing what is important. From Sarajevo with tenor Luciano Pavarotti to initiatives like One and Red, Bono’s charity portfolio is full. “Charity?” he asked while impersonating his disapproving Da, “I thought you wanted justice, not charity.”
“Anything strange or startling?” this time Bono asked his invisible, but very visible father. “I have cancer”, his Da whispered. The silence could be heard, it was deafening. Almost as deafening as when Bono, re-enacting the scene of his father’s passing, confessed that his last words were “Fuck off”.
“You are a baritone who thinks he’s a tenor,” Brendan always used to tell his son Paul. In the last scene, Bono finally sat down on his father’s chair, signalling that, in a way, he had become him. The ironic thing was that Bono started singing as a tenor, in an acapella rendition of ‘Torna a Surriento’.
Stories of Surrender goes beyond U2 and their fame, or Bono’s egotistical self-indulgence. It is a journey about fatherhood, being a son, being a friend, being a man. And, perhaps, Bono was scared as he came to terms with the fact that, indeed, he had become, without realising, a father, a son, a friend and, finally, a man.
Words by Silvia Pellegrino
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