Friday, September 18, 2009

U2 Under The Stars

U2. They outdid themselves again during Thursday night's concert, putting on the best rock spectacle I've ever seen. Note I said 'spectacle' --- their 2001 show in Hamilton is still the best concert I've ever seen, but U2's 360 show is such an overwhelming experience visually that the music is almost a second course. My pal Matt loves to rip on U2 for "selling out" with their BlackBerry sponsorship for the tour, but since that cash went towards funding the terrific sound system, awesome Claw stage and monster HD screens, all I can say is well done, BlackBerry. Jim Balsillie can do no wrong! Go, Hamilton Coyotes!

It was the first time I'd seen U2 in a stadium setting, and the pig known as the Rogers Centre put on its best lipstick for the evening. Kudos, kudos, kudos to the person who decided to leave the roof open for the night. It led to a great atmosphere and (on a more practical level) kept the place from being sweltering with over 50,000 fans in attendance. It also led to cool moments like Bono pointing out the condos next to the stadium and asking anyone watching the show from their apartment to flick their lights on and off in response. My roommate's girlfriend, also at the show and sitting up in the 500 level, said that it got pretty cold the higher up you got, but down on the floor, the temperature was just right.

Oh yeah, that's right, DOWN ON THE FLOOR. I finally bit the bullet and got general admission tickets for a U2 concert, helped nicely by the fact that they only went for about $65 a pop. Increased seating in stadiums + BlackBerry sponsorship = better savings for fans. We were situated in shallow right field, site of many a Vernon Wells pop-up, roughly at the four o'clock side of the stage. The only downside to general admission is that we had to stand/dance for four hours on the unforgiving Rogers Centre turf. I will never again roll my eyes at ballplayers who complain about playing on an artificial surface --- my knees and lower back were sore as hell just from standing there for an evening. I couldn't imagine playing games and training on that stuff on a regular basis. Fortunately, I talked to my team trainer and I won't be in danger of missing the playoffs. Uh, the blogging playoffs.

But enough about the atmosphere, let's get to the music. The band was sounding as tight as ever, though the general consensus was that Bono's voice was maybe a B, B+ at best on the evening. Too much partying at TIFF, no doubt. I was pretty pleased with the setlist, especially the inclusion of personal favourite 'Mysterious Ways,' which the band played only sporadically on the European leg of the tour. Apparently the ultra-rare 'Your Blue Room' was played for just the second time ever on the previous night, but hey, you can't win 'em all. As fun as it was to hear the classics, I was actually more fired up to hear the new songs than anything, and they largely lived up to expectations. My buddy Trev, my cohort for all four U2 concerts, was again bitterly disappointed that the band again omitted 'All I Want Is You,' his favourite U2 song. He was so angry that he didn't mention it at all during or after the show. I'll presume he was just internalizing the pain.

*Breathe --- I still feel this is an odd choice for an opener. Something like 'Magnificent' would be so much better-suited to building on the crowd energy when the band takes the stage and then just exploding into a crescendo. That said, I'm not sure where else 'Breathe' would fit into a setlist otherwise.

*No Line On The Horizon

*Get On Your Boots --- Probably the biggest improvement from record-to-live show of any song on the NLOTH record. This one sounded fierce, with Edge's guitar just carving out the main riff.

*Magnificent --- A bit underwhelming, unfortunately. It's arguably my favourite song off the new album and other performances I've heard from other concerts sounded amazing. Might have been hurt a bit by a general lack of crowd enthusiasm, possibly a 'get to the hits' reaction.

*Mysterious Ways --- Sure enough, once MW started up, the crowd exploded. Damn you, fickle Toronto concert-goers!

*Beautiful Day


*I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

*Unknown Caller --- U2 want to make this the sing-along anthem it sounded like on the record, and to that end posted the lyrics of the spiritual cell phone (it makes more sense within the context of the song) up on the video screens to aid the audience's chanting.

*New Year's Day --- Adam Clayton takes a long walk around the stage, basically showcasing the fact that this is *his* song due to the legendary bassline.

*Stuck In A Moment --- Acoustic version with just Bono and Edge. Sounded amazing.

*Unforgettable Fire --- This tour's "chestnut the band brought out of mothballs for the first time in 20+ years." Still sounded terrific, and I was glad I got a chance to hear it live

*City Of Blinding Lights --- Bono took a kid up on stage for the song and gave him his sunglasses in a move reminiscent of Bret "The Hitman" Hart.

*Vertigo --- Might have gotten the biggest crowd response of the night, in an upset. I'll take this space to send a shout out to my pal Eric, who was supposed to attend the concert but had to bow out due to a broken leg. At Eric's first U2 concert in 2005, his instantly-legendary quote in regards to 'Vertigo' after the show was, "Wow, I really liked that song with all of the circles in the stage design. Is that one of their big hits?" Music fail.

*I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight --- U2 threw everyone a curveball by turning what was a decent, mid-tempo rocker on the album (and staple of the 'BlackBerry Loves U2' ads) into a beat-heavy dance track in concert. Somewhere, 'Discotheque' sheds a tear as it sees its best-possible arrangement given over to a newer song.

*Sunday Bloody Sunday


*Walk On --- The song is preceded by a video package and short Bono speech about Burmese prime minister and activist Aung San Suu Kyi, and in the final moments, fans with Suu Kyi masks get up on the outer rim of the stage and look out at the crowd. Rats, I only brought a Lech Walesa mask. Boy, did I ever miss out.

*One/Amazing Grace

*Where The Streets Have No Name --- Best live song ever? By any band? Quite possibly.

*Ultraviolet --- For the encore, Bono busts out a jacket with red lights and a similarly-lit hanging microphone falls from the ceiling like Bono is an old-timey boxing ring announcer introducing a fighter at Madison Square Garden. UV is a nice addition to the setlist; it's an underrated album track from 'Achtung Baby' that hasn't been played live in about 16 years. It's also one of my pal Kyle's favourite U2 songs, which would've given him quite the thrill if....uh, he'd been at the show. Hmm. That was a bit awkward.

*With or Without You --- Bono asks the audience to hold their cellphones in the air to create a field of lights against the stadium's dark backdrop, and then the disco ball atop the huge claw tower starts to rotate, turning the Rogers Centre into the interior of your grade school gymnasium during a dance. All that was missing was all of the guys and girls getting to opposite sides of the field.

*Moment Of Surrender --- Fantastic closing track, great way to end off the show.

So aside from the dull throb in my knees from the fieldturf, it was a perfect evening. I'm glad my friends Talina and Aron got their U2 concert cherries popped; Aron is in a band himself, so I figure that he probably picked up a few staging tips for their next show. For instance, I'm sure at their next show, they'll have purchased a multi-million dollar video screen.

I'm glad the band is still throwing their fastball after over 30 years of touring and hell, I'm just glad. How could anyone not be happy after a concert like that? If U2 returns to Toronto for the next leg of their tour in 2010, I'm there. Hell, even if they go to Montreal or Detroit. That's just how big of a U2 fan I am...I'm willing to go to friggin' Detroit. That's sacrifice, right there.

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