Wednesday, July 08, 2015

U2, Twice

(picture credit: a Facebook friend of a Facebook friend.  I wasn’t sitting nearly that close, nor am I nearly that good a photographer.)

Of all the times I’ve seen U2 play live, I’ve never seen them even on the same engagement, let alone back-to-back nights.  I’ve seen the band perform twice on the same tour during both Elevation and the 360 Tour, though those shows were separated by (respectively) five months and two years, so there was plenty of variation in the setlist and presentation.

In this case, however, I was seeing U2 perform on consecutive evenings.  Back in December, I bought tickets to both shows due to rumours that U2 was booking two-night stands (or other even numbers like four-night stands, six-nighters, etc.) since they were going to live up to the “Innocence & Experience Tour” name by playing totally different shows on each night.  Somewhere along the way, however, the band’s plan changed, reportedly since they didn’t want any ticket buyers to leave disappointed that they’d seen “the second-best show” of the duo.  Instead, the I&E theme was compressed into a single setlist, with two separate 10-song collections reflecting both ideas.

IAt first I was worried that going on consecutive nights would somewhat dampen my enthusiasm for the second show, yet this was kind of silly in retrospect.  How many umpteen times have I listened to, say, a U2 album on consecutive days in my life?  I certainly wasn’t bored on that second listen, and I sure wasn’t bored here.  If anything, I’d say the second show might’ve actually been the better of the two.  It seemed musically tighter to me, though admittedly I was more focused on the music the second night since in the initial show, I was a) wowed by the video screen and the overall staging, and b) on edge thanks to the idiot that nearly spilled a beer on me just before showtime.  This brain surgeon walks down my row and realizes that she’s in the row behind, so she decides the complicated move of ducking under the bar and climbing over a chair should be made EVEN MORE COMPLICATED by holding her beer at the same time.  Naturally, it went everywhere; the poor woman next to me for a full beer shower, whereas I only had a soaked sleeve.  Did the beer-spiller apologize?  Nope, she just kept right on walking down the row towards her seat.

So yeah, perhaps I wasn’t quite in the proper mood to fully soak in the peace & togetherness vibe of the evening, but still, the first show was still excellent.  I had pretty much an ideal seat, located in the upper tier of the arena with a full-on central view of the screen.  I was actually right under where I sit for my rare occasions covering Leafs games at the ACC, so it was a familiar vantage point for me.  On the second night I had a bit of an obstructed view in the upper tier…if the e-stage was at six o’clock, I was between six and seven.  I didn’t mind, though, since I’d already seen the video effects the previous night.  Lucky for me the situation wasn’t reversed, since kinda half-seeing the video might’ve spoiled things for a clearer view on the second night.  Though, in that scenario, my sleeve would’ve been beer-free.

Let’s go track-by-track on the mostly static setlist….

1. The Miracle Of Joey Ramone
2a. Out Of Control
2b. The Electric Co.
3. Vertigo
4. I Will Follow

The “story” of the opening set is U2’s early days in Ireland, and so they start at one end of the arena on a basic open stage (looks like a capital ‘I’ for innocence) with one big light bulb hanging overhead to simulate the lighting from when they rehearsed in the garage as kids.  The first four songs reflect their love of punk music, ranging from the Joey Ramone tribute to one of their rockers from “Boy” (Electric Co was clearly better in my books, though I’m biased since it’s one of my favourites) to Vertigo to I Will Follow.  Since the latter is about Bono’s mother, it provides a natural segue into…

5. Iris
This is where the big partition thing hanging over the centre of the arena suddenly comes to life, showing pictures of Bono’s mother (who passed away when he was 14) as well as him as a young lad running around his yard.  Listening to the track on the album, Iris didn’t stand out to me as a song that would take off live, yet the combination of Bono’s emotional pre-song story, the music and the video imagery just made for a wonderful experience.

6. Cedarwood Road
This is where we learned that the video screen was also a catwalk, as Bono walked into it as an animated version of his old home street in Dublin was shown.  Bono then literally “walked down the street” as the band played, with Edge and Adam walking beneath him on the long stage path that ran down the middle of the arena.  This might’ve well been the highlight of the entire show — the crowd was wowed by the video effects.  There were audible “holy shit” comments as the screen kicked into gear, and the song itself was an absolutely rocking blast.

7. Song For Someone
Theme here is Bono as a young man in his bedroom writing a song to his girlfriend (and future wife), with the video screen going him moving between the rooms of his house.  I can’t get over what a shrewd idea it was to put these three non-single new songs together with the video screen switching on, in order to keep the audience invested through this admittedly somewhat somber portion of the show.

8. Sunday Bloody Sunday
Speaking of somber, when we get the stripped-down semi-acoustic version of SBS with the band all playing out on the connector stage (Larry has a kettle drum) that has the entire audience singing along.  U2 has been accused of not playing this one with the fire it demands on recent tours; doing a stripped-down version sidesteps that issue beautifully.

9. Raised By Wolves
Forget what I said about Cedarwood Road, THIS was the best of the new songs in a live setting.  Not only is it full of energy, as expected, but it’s enhanced and made legitimately kinda creepy in a Nightcrawler sort of way by the video effect.  It’s just Bono and the band walking around the connector and playing the song, except it’s through this static-y filter.  (Here’s how it looked in their Denver show last month.)

10. Until The End Of The World
And then the “end” of U2’s early “world” as we move into the Experience segment.

***brief intermission during which a CGI Johnny Cash face appeared on the video screen to sing The Wanderer to us.  I think the logic here was the line “I went out there/In search of experience…” that tied into the theme of the show’s second half.***

11. Invisible
12. Even Better Than The Real Thing

The break was necessary to give the band time to get into the catwalk en masse, to create some cuteness during Invisible.  The video screen has a static yellow image that occasionally opens to reveal each band member during the opening of the song, then when Bono sings “I AM HERE,” the arena lights come on and the video effects turn off, illuminating all four guys playing on the catwalk.  Then, for EBTTRT, they had their own personalized effects and blown-up versions of their faces projected on the screen until they emerged onto the smaller stage at the other end of the arena before the “Take me higher” coda.

13. Mysterious Ways
So on the first night, they bring up a girl from the crowd decked out in full belly dancer attire and she dances during the song a la the ZooTV Tour.  (Edge ended up marrying their ZooTV dancer, so let’s hope he remained a gentleman here.)  On the second night you had Bono bring a girl up for the latter half of the song and they did some light dancing, though the best was yet to come with her, as explained later.

14a. Elevation
14.5a. “Desire”
15a. Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of

Sticking with the first night, the band stayed on the smaller stage (shaped like a lowercase ‘e’ so the two stages were an I&E…Innocence + Experience.  Aha!) for a set.  Elevation was followed by Bono bringing a whole group of dudes onstage who it turns out are a Canadian U2 cover band.  These guys and Edge end up playing Desire and just rocking the hell out of it.  Bono, Adam and Larry just stood in the audience and watched, as per a funny shot on the video screen.  So now we can finally say that a U2 concert featured Acrobat, in a way.  that was followed by a lovely version of Stuck with Edge on piano instead of guitar.

14b. Angel Of Harlem
15b. All I Want Is You

That girl (Stephanie) who Bono brought on stage to dance during the second night?  Turns out he misread her sign, and she was actually requesting to play guitar with the band.  So they hand her an acoustic guitar and she KILLS IT.  If Bono’s bicycling injuries actually will prevent him from playing guitar in concerts, they have a ready-made replacement right here.  My buddy Trevor is reading this entry right now in tears, by the way.  AIWIY is his favourite U2 song and they’ve never played it at any of the four shows we attended together, so of course now they finally bust it out when he’s not here.  Sorry, Trev.

16. Every Breaking Wave
I enjoy how U2 just decided that the piano/Bono’s voice version was better than the poppy full band version from the album.  Lovely stuff.

17. Bullet The Blue Sky
18. Pride
19. Beautiful Day
20a. Bad (played the first night only)
21a/20b. With Or Without You

Then we get into the old warhorses.  BTBS has never been a real favourite for me and I was pleased they retired it for the 360 Tour, yet it’s back here with a whole new fire as the original topic (the USA bombing El Salvador) has been updated to, essentially, the USA bombing the world with its culture and financial interference.  Pride is still good, better the second night since it was just the song and sans a long speech from Bono about how he still believes in “America, the idea” which was a little-hamhanded since we’re, y’know, Canadians.  BD has officially moved into the realm of beloved classic now, drawing as big a reaction as anything else played that night.  WOWY sounded great and Bono even tossed in the acclaimed ‘shine like stars’ coda he busts out for certain live shows.  The first night had the bonus of Bad, which sounded incredible.

22a/21b. City Of Blinding Lights
23a/22b. Where The Streets Have No Name
24a. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
23b. One

The encore is the only part of the show I’d make changes to, which is ironic since it was pretty much the only thing Ravi and I didn’t try to revise in our most recent chat about U2.  (I realize how it was kind of dumb to offer all these fixes to a show we hadn’t actually seen in person yet.  Half of my suggestions seem really dumb in hindsight…for instance I really like Invisible’s whole gimmick now and think it should stay.)  Part of what makes ‘Streets’ so great is the segue between some other song into the Edge’s legendary opening chiming riff.  Here, we have Bono speaking about the (RED) campaign and a brief cover of Paul Simon’s “Mother And Child Reunion” segueing into Streets and it just isn’t the same.  I’d actually slot the speech and M&CR leading into One or ISHFWILF, and then have Streets flow out of that to close the show with a bang.  Anyway, the songs themselves all still sounded fine, with ‘One’ kind of nicely recast as mostly a crowd singalong.

All in all, two excellent concerts.  Now that I’ve seen two in a row, the next step is clearly to go even more crazy superfan and attend, like, all four shows of their upcoming engagement in Boston.  Or, to all EIGHT of their shows at Madison Square Garden at the end of the month.  Does anyone want to donate the few thousand dollars I need to make this dream happen?!  *crickets*

On my all-time personal rankings of U2 concerts, I’d go…

1. The 2001 Elevation show in Hamilton
2. 2009 360 Tour (Rogers Centre)
3. Tuesday’s Innocence & Experience (Air Canada Centre)
4. Monday’s Innocence & Experience (ACC)
5. 2005 Vertigo Tour (ACC)
6. 2011 360 Tour (Rogers Centre)
7. 2001 Elevation (ACC)

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