U2 India Concert: A Retirement Pit Stop for Rock Stars Past Their Prime?


U2 India Concert: A Retirement Pit Stop for Rock Stars Past Their Prime?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas


Indian culture teaches us to respect our elders at all costs. This is why you must refrain from throttling that annoying grey-haired relative who seems to turn up at your house at least once a year to comment on your weight and marital status, and touch their feet instead. Our reverence for old age could go some way toward explaining the mass hysteria surrounding the announcement that Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees U2 are bringing their Joshua Tree world tour to India in December.

Before we begin, let’s give some credit where it’s due – U2 are true rock legends, and command a massive fan base across the world, India included. For many, this announcement is the end of a long wait. But what’s also true is that U2’s maiden Indian appearance is coming around 15 years too late. Of course, die-hard fans will say, “Better late than never,” but compared to some of the other acts that have been making their way to India to perform in recent years, there’s no denying U2 are practically ancient.

Consider this: in the weeks leading to U2’s show in Mumbai, there will be other gigs in the city also headlined by international artists, all of whom are decades younger and more relevant today than the Irish rockers. In October, there is a festival where Mura Masa is the main attraction, and November has Katy Perry and Dua Lipa performing in the same venue that U2 will play in December. Out of these three acts, only Perry was alive when U2 released The Joshua Tree – the album they are playing on this tour – and even she was only three years old. Meanwhile, the combined age of U2’s four members is 233 years, with their 57-year-old drummer Larry Mullen Jr. being the sprightly young lad of the group.

This is not ageism. Nobody is saying that U2’s age is a detriment to the quality of show they will put up for fans. But we can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu at this announcement, since it’s a reminder of the days when international artists came to Mumbai only in the twilight of their careers. Barring a few notable exceptions like Michael Jackson, most foreign acts visited India years after their drawing power had diminished. Take Shaggy, who was a Grammy-winning reggae sensation in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Last year, he played a concert in Phoenix Market City Kurla, a far cry from the sold-out stadiums of his prime.

But what’s also true is that U2’s maiden Indian appearance is coming around 15 years too late.

The list of acts guilty of the same crime as U2 is long, and features some illustrious names. From Metallica, to Carlos Santana, and even Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, many a storied and glorious career has entered its autumn years before Indian audiences. The most egregious offenders, and arguably the ones who set the trend, are probably Iron Maiden, who already had 14 albums in their back catalogue by the time they made their first Indian appearance in 2007. The concerts themselves were passable (except for Metallica in Delhi, which was such a clusterfuck that the band didn’t even take the stage), but they were hardly cutting-edge entertainment; more like a nostalgic diversion. For instance, Axl Rose showed for a “Guns N’ Roses” concert, without any of the other original GnR members, providing those ticket-holders willing to overlook his has-been quality with a pleasant trip down memory lane.

Coming back to U2, this concert feels even more dated, because they aren’t promoting a new album, but instead touring for 1987’s The Joshua Tree. For a frame of reference, in 1987, Anil Kapoor was trying to dodge the colour red in Mr India. This means that U2 will be playing songs that are crowd-pleasing classics – another way of saying they’ll be playing songs you’ve already heard a million times.

However, given how U2 are such sentimental favourites for so many people, it is refreshing to hear people discussing the band with some excitement again. The last time they were in the news was in 2014, for releasing an album that auto-downloaded itself into people’s iTunes accounts and refused to be deleted. Songs of Innocence was a worldwide violation of consent, and the presumptuous attitude that U2 displayed in thinking their album was something every iTunes user had to have led to them receiving a lot of bad press and becoming the butt of many jokes. Five years later, it’s good to see that most people have gotten over that, and are excited to see the band play in December. Voluntarily, this time.