Band Concert Review
U2: Chicago, Round #1, Saturday May 7, 2005
United Center, Chicago, May 7, 2005
I love my hometown of Chicago more than words can express. In fact, I don't even think I can write prose than gives the city of my birth its due. What I can say is that it's a illustrious town for culture and art and an immense rock 'n roll town, if not the best. New York, LA, London are all great cities that I love deeply, but there's something about Chicago that makes it the capital of live rock n roll experiences. It may be because we feel that we are underdogs or better yet, underappreciated from sports to music to theater and everything in between while New York and Los Angeles all too often get more attention than my humble city. That being said, I've always felt that Boston and Chicago are the two preeminent cities to ever lay witness to the magic of U2 live in the flesh. Why is this? Well, both Boston and Chicago have large Irish populations which in turn some say equals soul.
On the first leg of U2's 2005 tour the two cities where there would be more than two shows are Boston and Chicago. In fact, Chicago was the only city with four shows, including one on Bono's birthday. Chicago has always held a special place in the heart of U2. The shows on their 1987 and 1992 tours here are considered by many to be the paramount moments of those respective tours. The band points to the Chicago Popmart shows as the turning point for that entire tour. And then their six shows in 2001 were the most extraordinary multi-night stand I have ever witnessed. They were at the top of their game and then their post 9/11 shows were possibly the ultimate live performances ever in the history of music by any act. Therefore, it was with enormous expectancy that I looked forward to their Chicago run this year. I am holding tickets to all four nights and after night #1, I must say, for the first time in my life; I left a U2 show under whelmed.
The tickets for these four Chicago shows (and the entire U2 tour) flew quicker than a 747 airliner. In fact, I don't even want to go into what I had to go through to secure four tickets for the opening night in Chicago. Rumors running up to the show had a DVD filming occurring, which was exciting and disappointing all at the same time. When an act films for a live DVD, they all too often play to close to the script and rarely take chances. As of this writing, I have yet to figure out whether or not a filming occurred, however, the band's reluctance to take a chance led to the most static show I have ever seen them play. Now, let me say the show was solid, well performed, and fun...but not life changing. U2's soul as a live act lies within their spiritual side. In fact, they have this market cornered, without any other act even coming close to the elevation that people tell me they feel after witnessing U2 live. However, I felt Saturday's performance at the United Center was a solid rock spectacle, but it did not take me to that higher plane I was hoping to reach.
At 9pm sharp, the lights went off and the roars of 20,000 could be heard. The bad arrived on stage one by one walking around the ellipse stage (circular stage) with spotlights as the intro to "Love & Peace or Else" cranked out eventually leading into the opener. When the lights were raised, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and Bono were up front and center of the stage. Upon the initial opening notes its apparent what an unbelievable front man Bono is. He worked the crowd magically and whenever he led the way, the 20,000 faithful followed. "Love & Peace Or Else" was a cosmic progression over the album version. In fact, every track off the band's new album, "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" was better live than on disc ("Yahweh being the only exception to this rule). After a feisty opening, the band delved right into "Vertigo" and "Elevation"". The performances were energetic and implemented well, but there was a spark missing, The crowd was good, but not remarkable. I felt that the United Center should have been shaking in a state of ecstasy, but after the first three songs, I felt U2 and the Chicago crowd were merely going through the motions.
"An Cat Dubh/ Into The Heart" was a implausible delicacy for the die-hard fans in attendance. The band's performance was dead on and the fortitude with which it was performed was equal to the new material. However, the crowd was completely lost on it, an inconceivable shame as this was arguably one of the unsurpassed performances of the evening. "City of Blinding Lights" went over incredibly well; as did "Beautiful Day" and newer material like "Miracle Drug" and "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" found their wings live, even with minor mistakes. The latter two performances were elevated to new heights and those who may not have cared for these numbers before the show, left the arena to crank these tunes in their car.
The evening's greatest sequencing of songs was surprisingly a trio I felt would bore me. "Sunday Bloody Sunday", "Bullet The Blue Sky/ The Hands That Built America" and "Running To Stand Still" was the evening's tour de force performance. I have wanted U2 to drop "Bullet" from the set list for fifteen years but the impassioned performance proceeded by the ardent "Sunday Bloody Sunday" brought together the moral fibers of these two songs. The suite finished with the hymn, "Running To Stand Still" which showed me the band can deliver a life changing performance at any time, anywhere. This was the most memorable moment of the evening as the crowd and band sung the song delving deep into their hearts and souls.
The remainder of the main set was an affair of vast heights and astonishing lows. "Bad" was a pleasure to hear, however, it went on a bit long without any direction. "Pride" has finally worn out its welcome as the crowd even appeared to be bored by the song. One of the greatest live songs to ever be performed anywhere by anyone, "Where The Streets Have No Name", did not reach the astounding heights it should have. On past tours, this was the song where everyone lost their minds and went into a mode of hysteria, something I've witnessed by only a handful of other songs. Tonight, while the performance was solid, it was not as good as it should have been. "One" is arguably the greatest song from the last quarter century of music. Its power and promise is so potent it brings me to near tears each time. However, as the main set closer, it does not completely work. Don't get me wrong, "One" will work at anytime, whenever it's played, I just feel that the band would be better suited playing it in the encores or earlier in the set, the main set should always end with a series of fast driving numbers. As emotional and powerful "One" is, it deserves a more fitting place than where it currently resides.
The encores were unyielding with a trio of tunes off "Achtung Baby" leading the way. "Zoo Station" was delivered with precision for the first tour since "Zoo TV". This was followed by an electrifying performance of "The Fly" followed by what proved to be the night's biggest surprise, to me at least, "Mysterious Ways". I have not cared for seeing "Mysterious Ways" since 1992, but once again, The Edge elevated himself to innovative heights as his guitar-playing resonated with a determination Ive not heard or felt before. Besides The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen performed progressively the entire evening never missing a beat. In fact, Adam's presence at the front of the ellipse was a treat for those GA holders farther back on the floor and his interaction with them was a sight to see, the bass player stealing the show from Bono.
The final encore consisted of a solid and rocking "All Because of You", a solemn prayer "Yahweh", (stripped down from its album version) and the finale "40". "40" has not properly closed any shows since 1987 in the US. They performed snippets of the song in '01 and played it a handful of times in early 1998 overseas. It's a welcomed return as the show closer. However, the performance was sloppy and it took the crowd entirely too long to warm up to the song and the final sing-a-long, "How long to sing this song"...the crowd finally caught on as the band members left the stage one by one. Bono was first as he took off his rosary and placed it around his microphone. Adam was next and followed shortly thereafter by The Edge which left the business and moral conscience of the band, drummer Larry Mullen Jr., alone on stage pounding the drum as the crowd continued the chant, "How long to sing this song"...as Larry hit the last note, he waved goodbye, disappeared into the darkness and left the crowd alone chanting the chorus again and again until the house lights went on.
It was a satisfying evening, but one which found the band flubbing a few notes, a static set list and an anemic crowd. I guess my main quibble is that I do not feel that the band has a killer set list in place to actually be filming a DVD. Its solid, but I guarantee you that when the band returns in the fall, the set list from that portion of the tour will be the set remembered years from now.
One of the worlds utmost cities for rock concerts and perhaps the worlds greatest and most important rock band both fell flat on opening night. Maybe my expectations were a little too high but they had a week to get ready for these shows; they are being filmed, taking place in one of the three best cities to witness U2s live magic and sadly, U2 and the Chicago crowd came up a little short. Im hoping that the DVD filming does not hinder them. Lets hope for a more inspiring rounds on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.