Near the midway point of every recent U2 show, a simulated bomb goes off. The sound of the explosion, which along with the song “Raised by Wolves” commemorates 1974 terrorist car bombings in Dublin, is meant to mark the end of innocence on the band’s autobiographical “Innocence and Experience” tour.
“Blood in the house/Blood on the street,” Bono sings. “The worst things in the world are justified by belief.” Tribute messages scroll past on high-tech screens: “Remember the victims,” “Leave our culture alone,” “Justice for the forgotten.”
Already steeped in geopolitics, U2’s elaborate arena show will be imbued with fresh symbolism when this Irish band ends its tour with two shows in Paris on Sunday and Monday, Dec. 6 and 7, the last of which will be broadcast on HBO at 9 p.m. Eastern. Originally scheduled for Nov. 14 and 15 at the AccorHotels Arena, the concerts and television special were postponed in the wake of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks that killed 130 people, including 89 at the Bataclan, a concert hall where the band Eagles of Death Metal was performing.
Less than a month later, U2 — which played Madison Square Garden several weeks after 9/11 and honored emergency workers from the stage — will perform the biggest concert in Paris since the Islamic State-coordinated assault.
“Some of our songs from back in the ’80s, about events in Ireland, suddenly have a new meaning and a connectedness to these terrible events in Paris,” said the Edge, U2’s guitarist, who added that the band was “thinking about some special guests” to honor the tragedy.
By phone from New York, where he honored the 10-year anniversary of his humanitarian organizations, ONE and (RED), Bono, U2’s frontman, was characteristically hopeful about returning to Paris, stressing joy and defiance in the face of terror. These are excerpts from the conversation.
Q. You played two shows in Paris ahead of the attacks and were preparing for the HBO show. Where were you when you learned what had occurred?
A.I was onstage, and we were rehearsing at the Bercy [now AccorHotels Arena]. We were evacuated from the building. We were hoping that the reports of multiple incidents were wrong. It was kind of chaos.
What was the decision process like to cancel the shows?
U2 doesn’t have a history of canceling many shows. I suppose the Irish in us just doesn’t want to give in to terrorism. We’ve had it all our lives. But the look on [the head of global touring for Live Nation] Arthur Fogel’s face, I could just see that this was not going to happen. And then: How could we be useful for the Eagles of Death Metal? What could we do while we were here in Paris?
You visited the Bataclan to pay your respects.
We did that on our way to the airport. We left the next evening — we had a plane, which we put at the Eagles’ use if they wanted it, but they found another way. The best thing we could do for our fellow musicians was to buy them phones.
So you were able to speak with Eagles of Death Metal?
I spoke to Julian [Dorio] and to Jesse [Hughes]. But that was the best thing, Jesse said, just getting the phones to be texting and all the stuff that you do — social media — to find out what’s going on. Their phones were in the venue.
Jesse took me through every moment. They really need proper counseling, though — not from a well-meaning Irish rock star. Because post-traumatic stress disorder is a real issue for people who go through these things. They’re going to come through fine, but it was pretty bad.
When it came time to start thinking about rescheduling, was it important to you to get back out there as soon as possible?
Absolutely. Terrorism relies on people being terrorized, and we were not going to be. We felt the biggest and the only real contribution we can make at moment like that is to honor the people of Paris, who brought us the concept of liberté, égalité, fraternité.
ISIS and these kinds of extremists are a death cult. We’re a life cult. Rock ’n’ roll is a life force, and it’s joy as an act of defiance. That’s what U2 is. That’s at the very heart of our band. More importantly in this case, it’s the very heart of our audience. I can now already hear that we will be drowned out by that French crowd. And that’s powerful.
Have you kept up with the political response to the attacks?
There’s a line I’ve been using since, which is that in Ireland we know not to become a monster in order to defeat a monster. It’s not just the 130 lives that were stolen. They were also trying to steal equality and justice. In fact, from some of the reaction and overreaction — i.e. we’ll only take in Christian refugees — you can say they had a direct hit. If they change us, then they were effective.
You grew up with the threat of homegrown terrorism looming. How does that affect how you view the recent events in Paris, Beirut and around the world?
“Raised by Wolves” — on any other Friday, I would be standing right at the center of one of the car bombs in Dublin. Thirty-three people died on that Friday. I missed it. There was a bus strike on that day, which is why I cycled to school. In my sort of self-interrogation as to why I write the way I write, I thought, why am I always writing songs about social justice? I realized that this incident when I was 14 must have really affected me even though I escaped it.
My best friend’s brother did not escape it, and he was forever affected by it. He came to the show last week in Belfast and in Dublin with a piece of shrapnel from the car. He was never properly counseled, and he saw terrible, terrible things. He later became a heroin addict; he slept on the street. Now he’s restored, but he brought a piece of the car that blew up in front of him. I asked him why, and he said, “I took a little piece of it because it took a little piece of me.” Forty years later, people are still hurting.
When it comes to rebuilding the show after what’s happened, are there sections that you will adjust? For instance, the parts about the car bombings, with loud explosions?
If you were to write a script for Paris, and if it was U2 playing, you’d come up with a show similar to what we have. That’s the funny thing. But it’s not only joy as an act of defiance; it’s business as usual as an act of defiance. This is not a concert for heroes. This is just: Do your thing. That’s what the French want us to do. We’re doing what we’re told.
The tour was scheduled to end in Ireland, and now the Paris shows will become the last dates. How does that change the experience?
How bizarre is it — and in a funny way, how inspiring is it — that when we left Paris we went straight to Belfast and we found peace? We found hope. This was supposed to be an intractable problem. And this was a peace that was brutal. People had to really compromise to make this peace.
When you get bleak about things and think, Gosh, is there an end to this? Yeah, there is, it just takes lots of work, lots of time. I was never a hippie — I’m punk rock, really. I was never into: “Let’s hold hands, and peace will come just because we’ll dream it into the world.” No. Peace is the opposite of dreaming. It’s built slowly and surely through brutal compromises and tiny victories that you don’t even see. It’s a messy business, bringing peace into the world. But it can be done, I’m sure of that.