On February 4th, 1985, during The Unforgettable Fire Tour, U2 hit Italy for the first time to play a concert in Italy, in the city of Milan. The concert was originally scheduled at the Palasport but due to heavy snowfall which caused the collapse of the structure, it was moved to the Teatro Palatenda. This is where U2’s connection with the Italians began. As some prankster put sugar in the fuel tank of one of the stage trucks, U2 barely made to the venue on time and had to skip the soundcheck. The show had all of the classics from The Unforgettable Fire including a rare performance of Indian Summer Sky, which turned out to be its last to date. “La prima, ma non ultima volta” as Bono would shout during the show: “The first, but not the last time”. In the following days, U2 continued their tour with two shows in Bologna, of which the show on 5 February turned out to be a fan-favourite and a reason why a recording for this show is named as “The Unforgettable Night”.
The second leg of the Joshua Tree Tour started on 27 May, 1987, at the Flaminio Stadium in Rome. It was the first time a leg started in Italy, U2’s first show in the city of Rome and the first open-air show of the year. In 2010, when asked about this show, Bono recalled the great connection between the audience and U2, and the passion shown by fans. On 29 May and 30 May, U2 played two more shows in Italy, in Modena. The first show had the tour debut of Party Girl and Edge played bass guitar on People Get Ready.
In the spring of 1992, U2 once again hit Milan, this time for the Zoo TV tour. The first show was supposed to take place on May 20th, but the +10,000 fans who had queued for hours learnt that the show would not take place that night. As happened with their first show in Milan 7 years earlier, one of U2’s trucks got into trouble on its way from Barcelona, meaning some of the equipment did not get into time in Milan. This would make the show on 21 May (which went on as scheduled) the first, and then the cancelled show got moved to 22 May, where U2 put on an outstanding show hoping to make up for the troubles two days earlier. For the first time, U2 performed a brief acoustic version of So Cruel. To this day, many fans regard the 2nd Milan show as one of the peaks not only of the Zoo TV tour, but from the whole history of U2 live performances.
During the summer of 1993 U2 played eight shows in Italy (in Verona, Rome, Naples, Turin, and Bologna), the highest number of shows in Italy in a leg and the most for a single country in the Zooropa leg of ZooTV. U2 at that time was immensely popular and the hot-blooded Italians were highly enthusiastic during these eight shows. The first show in Rome on 6 July (which was overcrowded because U2’s promoter illegally sold an extra 7,000 tickets for each of the two nights) featured the last performance of Van Diemen’s Land for over 15 years, whereas the second show on July 7 - taking place 2 days after the release of the Zooropa album - saw the live debut of Numb. Two days later, in Napels, U2 played a full band version of Sunday Bloody Sunday for the last time until 2001. The show in Bologna on 17 July was notable for the fact that during this show, U2 began a satellite broadcast with American aid worked Bill Carter in Sarajevo, with whom they spoke during the earlier Verona shows, to discuss the deteriorating situation in the city. The same show had a great MacPhisto’s phone call with “Maestro” Pavarotti, to whom U2 dedicated “I just called to say I love you”. This show in Bologna also had the last full band performance of Redemption Song. The second show in Bologna - the final Italian show of the leg - had MacPhisto calling Alessandra Mussolini (Benito’s granddaughter), a phone call which also made its way to the 20th anniversary release of ZooTV as an easter egg.
After Zoo TV, the band members appeared in various formations on various events in Italy. As revealed by Bono in a recent interview, Pavarotti put pressure on U2 to make them write a song for him once they finished touring. With this and the inspiration of Bill Carter’s experiences, U2 wrote Miss Sarajevo featuring an operatic part for Pavarotti. The song was performed live for the first time on 12 September, 1995 in Modena at the annual Pavarotti and Friends concert. The song was performed by Bono, The Edge, and Brian Eno. Five years later, Bono and The Edge took part in the San Remo festival on 26 February, 2000, where they performed All I Want Is You and a rare live version of The Ground Beneath Her Feet. In 2003, Bono was once again featured in the Pavarotti and Friends concert on 27 May, where he sung One, Ave Maria and Miserere.
U2 played two shows for the PopMart tour in Italy. The first took place on 18 September, 1997 in Rome, where U2 played at a military airport in front of 56,000 people. Sadly, while fans were enjoying the amazing show -at which The Edge sung, or rather started for the audience to take over, the song Volare-, Andrea Gianotti, a 28 year old student, fell ill during the show and died shortly after at the hospital. Two days later, in Reggio Emilia, U2 played for a record number of people as an estimated 150,000 to 170,000 fans gathered together. The band even flew three times above the crowd before the show to view the immense attendance, a record for a U2 concert and to that date for any one-act show. Bono later dedicated the song MLK and the entire concert to Andrea Gianotti: “May the road rise up with you... Go safely home”.
Four years after the PopMart tour, U2 returned to Italy to play in Turin for the Elevation tour. On 21 July, in front of 73,000 fans, where U2 played the only outdoor show (other than those at Slane Castle) of the Elevation Tour. As this was the first outdoor show, a lot of additional lightning and sound equipment had to be brought in to make it work. The U2-madness in Italy was evident once again as hundreds of fans camped out at the stadium the night before the show and thousands already outside the gates as early as 10 in the morning. The gates were set to open at 2pm but due to the crowds, they opened around noon. During Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bono pointed out how “violence is never right”, referring to the dramatic protests that day in Geneva where the G8 was taking place. At the end of the show, when U2 was leaving the stage with a lap around the heart, they talked amongst themselves and Bono eventually invited all members to return to the stage for “one more song, because we can’t go home”. It was Out Of Control that ended the amazing Elevation in Turin.
During the Vertigo Tour U2 played three shows in Italy, two in Milan on 20 July and 21 July and two days later U2 would return to Rome after 13 a year absence. All three shows featured the same setlist with the exception of Original Of The Species not being performed in Rome. During the shows Bono would joke about his name, which means “sexy person”, naming the audience “sexy people”. On the second show in Milan, U2 dedicated Miss Sarajevo to the victims of the terrorist attacks in London in the weeks prior to the show. This performance marked the third live performance where Bono sang the Miss Sarajevo verses in Italian. Many of the songs performed in Milan ultimately ended up on the DVD “Vertigo ‘05: Live from Milan”, as released together with U218 Singles, capturing U2’s connection with Italy on an official release.
As on the Vertigo Tour, for the 360 Tour, U2 played their Italian shows in Milan during the first leg of the tour. On 7 July, 2009, Bono’s daughter Eve appeared on stage to celebrate her 18th birthday together with the band performing the song Party Girl. The show on the following day had amazing performances of Electrical Storm and Breathe, both selected by The Edge to feature on “Edge’s picks from U2 360”. As can be heard on the (amazing) recordings of these shows, the Italian fans couldn't stop singing along to every song, expressing their passion and love for the band.
Due to Bono’s back injury and resulting postponement of U2's 2010 North American dates, the show on 6 August 2010 in Turin went on to become the first show of the third leg of the 360 tour. The show was full of surprises, as U2 played three unreleased songs, an unprecedented occurence in U2’s history. U2 fans got to know Return Of The Stingray Guitar, North Star and Glastonbury, all of which went on to be played more often during the tour and later evolved into songs for U2’s Songs of Innocence, released four years later. The show also saw the return of Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, a song not performed live since the end of the Popmart Tour on 21 March 1998. Two months later, U2 also closed the leg in Italy with a show in Rome on 8th October. The most special moment of that show happened during I Still Haven’t Found What I'm Looking For, when the entire audience in the stands worked together to create a spectacular scene, joining the Italian flag with the Irish flag, together making the word ONE. An extended version of Bad made the show even more special during yet another special show in Italy.
Four years after the 360 shows in Italy, on 12 October 2014, Bono and Edge appeared on an Italian talk show “Che Tempo Che Fa”, hosted by Fabio Fazio to promote the recently released Songs of Innocence. The show marked the first acoustic performances of The Miracle and Every Breaking Wave. Italian fans now eagerly await 4th and 5th September 2015, where U2 once again will open a leg in Italy and once again will seek to connect with the passionate Italian fans in Turin for their Innocence and Experience Tour. Looking into history, one can already predict that these will be two very special shows full of passion and enthusiasm from the U2 fans.