The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then than I do now
One of the beauties of living in cities like Chicago, Boston and New York is that your favorite acts will very often play multiple nights in your hometown when they pass through on tour. Why is this a big deal? Well, it gives the audience a change-up of songs from night-to-night, most of the time. For example, U2 came to Chicago in May of 2001, a solid seven weeks into the tour and over the course of their four nights in Chicago, the band played every song they had performed on the tour up to that point
and then some, with the four night total pushing close to 40 different and unique songs. I had similar expectations for this year's run of four shows. However, a planned DVD filming put a halt to radical changes over the four-night run. Unfortunately, the sets were pretty static over the first three nights but as the final night came to fruition, the band took the standard set and basically ripped it up for what proved to be one of the three best shows of the entire first leg of the Vertigo 2005 tour. The fourth and final two hour-twenty minute show would be a night big on music and short on small talk, as the band (excuse the pun) let the music do the talking.
The moments the lights dimmed Larry Mullen's driving drum beats led into "Uno, Dose, Threce, Catorce..." for which the crowd went into hysteria picking up right where the band left the crowd on Tuesday night, where they ended the show with "Vertigo". The hysterics of the crowd was at the same level as the ending of the previous show making me wonder why every show does not open with "Vertigo" and "All Because of You", something me and a number of friends have discussed prior to Thursday's show, making us wonder if they really do read news postings on the net or not.
"Elevation" led into the evening's biggest treat, "Gloria" which was monumental for me as I have never seen a song off of "October" performed live. The last time the band played anything off this album, before this tour, was in 1990 at their "Lovetown" tour wound down. It's been a dream of mine to see either "Tomorrow" or "Gloria for years. The performance of the Gloria on night four in Chicago proved that you truly can go home once again as the band played the song flawlessly, highlighted by Adam Claytons pounding bass and the thriving riffs from The Edge. Following the rousing forgotten classic was a rarity off of "Boy", "The Ocean". Even though most of the 20,000 in attendance were not familiar with the tune, I am proud of U2 for sticking to their guns and allowing a spot in the set for early material. Towards the end of "The Ocean" Bono reminisced about playing the song on the band's first trip to Chicago in 1980 at the Park West. As the strains of the song slowly disappeared, the crowds thunderous reaction could be heard as the opening chords of "Beautiful Day" was a welcome return to the crowd who were largely unfamiliar with the previous tune.
Up next was a suite of tunes from the new album, "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb"; "Miracle Drug", "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" and "Love & Peace or Else". All of these songs are significantly enhanced in concert compared to their studio counterparts. The inner stage design (specifically designed for those in the balcony) for "Miracle Drug", is eye-catching as the lights within the stage swirl and move round and round. Over the course of the four nights, at every show, Bono hit that all-important note in "Sometimes... he walloped the crowd when he held the ending note of "Can you hear me when I sing?. Then when he sang the lyric, almost as if he was having an actual conversation with his father up above, he pleaded "Don't leave me here alone, I thought he was going to break down in tears-the performance was that poignant. You can tell that he digs deeper into his soul on this one track every night more than any other song in their repertoire. It's about his father and the impassioned delivery on this tune is nothing short of exceptional and astonishing. While watching the band deliver "Love & Peace or Else" it hit me that the band have immense faith in How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. It took them close to three years to complete this album and they poured every ounce of their soul into this record. Regardless whether you love or hate the album, one cant deny the bands appetite to showcase it. The intensity of these performances is substantiation that they have faith in each and every track on the album.
"Sunday Bloody Sunday" has found its legs once again with a driving performance where the band is not playing half hearted. The 2001 performances were arousing and in some ways they had more of an emotional punch, especially post 9/11, but they have stepped up the arrangement a notch on this tour. As I looked around the rafters, one cannot deny the power of this band and its message as you could see 20,000 fists in the air pumping. However, this time around, the message of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is of co-existence and understanding. After Edge's scorching solo, Bono went into preacher mode as he spoke of us as "All Sons of Abraham". He then pointed to his headband, which had religious imagery as he sang "Jesus, Jew Mohammed" over and over again, until the song led right into "Bullet the Blue Sky" and then the prayer hymn like "Running To Stand Still". This trio of tunes is arguably the best-sequenced set of numbers in their set list and ironically, the sequencing gives new light into three songs that span three decades.
Time won't leave me as I am
But time won't take the boy out of this man
Two more songs off of "Bomb" followed-"City of Blinding Lights" in a place it should be performed every night, and "Original of the Species", written for the Edge's daughter. Both performances were spot on and even though "Species" was rough around the edges, however, the willpower of the band outweighed the newness of the song. "Pride" followed and Bono even sung the second half to the back of the stage eliciting roars of approval from the fans behind the stage, and the chanting of "oh-oh-oh-oh" as the band fades out is beautiful, however, I say if any song should be semi-retired from their set, "Pride" is it. It seems to have lost a few steps in performances over the last 2 decades, the tepid reaction of the crowd speaks volumes as this number receives less applause than any of their other warhorses. The chanting of Pride led into the intro music of "Where The Streets Have No Name"...arguably one of the greatest live songs ever. There was a force and vehemence from the band and the crowd during this performance. I love nothing more than to look at the upper rafters and seeing people on the top row surging their arms to the air, and soaring into the upper rafters of the arena. To put it plainly, all 20,000 in attendance lost their minds. The band and crowd were elevated each night to new peaks with this final night reaching a zenith rarely seen before at any concert by this eyewitness. Towards the end of the song, he brought two fans up with a large sign that had "Indifference" on it with a big slash through the name. Its moments like these that define the U2 concert experience. Just like nights two and three when they took a fan from the audience to perform Party Girl. One Monday night, Bono pulls a young female from the audience after Yahweh and they give her Edges acoustic. When Bono asked her what she wanted to play, she said Party Girl which brought the crowd to its knees. Bono had this smirk on his face, but was clearly shocked with a look of You couldnt pick a cover I could make words up to? But they duo performed the song nonetheless, as rough as it was; I left the arena feeling like I had seen something extraordinary. This is where the current tour is faltering. There have far too many shows that are identical to one another. Even one song can change the mood of an entire show; I hope U2 push themselves on the summer and fall leg.
"One" is where Bono does the most "preaching" all night. He is gathering people for his "One" campaign, which will benefit Africa. He told an extraordinary story of his first impression of America; when he was 7 years old he saw that America put a man on the moon. He though that "these people can do anything if they put their minds to it", He went on to say that his goal now is "bring mankind back to Earth", to a cry of approval. His power as a speaker is unheralded, as I believe he could make anyone do anything. People throw down criticisms at the man who is truly trying to make a difference. Here is a man who has the power to convince politicians and world leaders of incredible and undeniable power. Can you name me another politician or celebrity who even does half as much? It's unheralded. Throw whatever rocks you want at him, but he is the real thing. He ended his speech with saying "We are powerful as one"...as the dimmed the lights so nothing could be seen except the lights from cell phones as Bono sang the entire first verse in the dark. I've said it before and will say it again; "One" may arguably be one of the greatest songs ever written at any history in this world. The message is universal
Weve got to carry each other.
Zoo Station opened the encores over the first three nights. Zoo was alive and well as the intro showcased some exceptional axe work from The Edge. On the third night, I sat mere feet from the ellipse as the Edge slowly made his way up the ramp while I was watching him shred the guitar with illustrious ease. Earlier in the evening, his guitar solo during Electric Co. was sick, unbelievable and I was awed yet again and my two Vegas buddies, Lonn Friend and Nick Ippolito watched as the most innovative guitar player of his time had his moment of the night. As much as I love Zoo Station it was time for a change come night number four. The band resurrected "Until The End of the World" for the first time on the tour. When it was missing from early set lists, I was semi relieved as it's been performed at every show going back to 1992, however, after seeing the performance of this song on the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, I was hoping it would appear as that performance was on fire. As the song kicked in, the band and crowd went to another level, as the stage lighting and strobe lights brought about a thunderous roar from the crowd. "The Fly" and "Mysterious Ways" followed, once again giving dead on performances...however, as "Mysterious Ways" slowly faded, the slow driving bass could be heard. The opening strains of "With Or Without You" were performed for only the second time this tour. If the reaction from the crowd was any indication, this song will be making future appearances on the tour. The most notable aspect of the song was the complete command that Larry Mullen Jr. had with his kit. I watched him from behind the stage as his driving beat drove the song forward evoking feelings or warmth, loss, despair and hope all with his sturdy beat. As the song climaxed, it came down again and slowly before for the final verse (added only during concert performances) Bono sang lines from "Strangers In The Night" before the song built back up again by the lashing bass and drums before concluding.
As the final encore took off, "Yahweh" was performed on stage for the first time this tour (performed at the top of the ellipse at all prior shows). However, the most trancelike moment of what was already an extraordinary evening occurred as the opening chords of "Bad" began. The crowd was fixated on the stage as Bono kept asking for "more keyboards". This was one of those epic performances of "Bad". On night one, "Bad" was performed without any direction...it was the most flat performance of the song I've ever witnessed however tonight was dynamic, sexy and controlled on all cylinders. As the song wound down, Bono sang parts of "Norwegian Wood" and "Sexual Healing" before starting to chant "How long to sing this song..." as "40" began. This version is familiar to those who saw the 2001 tour. However, the way Bono elicited the crowd to sing a long as he carried a spotlight with him and shined it on the crowd and covered every base of the arena. As the chant wound down, the band segued back into "Bad", Bono assembled Adam and The Edge and they congregated around Larry's kit. It was here they performed the final notes of a weeklong stand in Chicago. This was hands down the best performance I had ever witnessed of Bad; I cant even give it credit with my prose...think "Live Aid" twenty years later. Bad should be performed each and every night, the way it can sway an audience is unheralded. I would not be surprised if this is how shows are ended from here on out.
The entire week was surreal, however as the band did not quite reach the height of their 2001 performances. I am sure that in the eyes of most of the 80,000 Chicago fans they are the most important band in rock today, if not ever. With that being said, U2 should have taken more risks on the first leg of the tour, as I know they are capable of more. Over the eight weeks they toured America, the band performed a mere thirty-two songs from their wide, vast and eclectic catalog. U2 performed more songs over four nights in Chicago in May of 2001 than they did over the first 8 weeks of this tour. U2 has been a band for over a quarter century and there is no reason for them to hold back. Here are just a few songs the band has yet to play live this tour: 11 Oclock Tick Tock, Seconds, Two Hearts Beat As One, The Unforgettable Fire, A Sort of Homecoming, MLK, One Tree Hill, Desire, Angel of Harlem, All I Want Is You, Ultraviolet, Even Better Than The Real Thing Stay, Numb, Zooropa, The First Time, Hold Me, Thrill me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, Discothèque, Staring At The Sun, Please, Gone, Wake Up Dead Man, Electrical Storm, Stuck In A Moment and where the heck is Walk On? Then there are about six or seven classic tunes that have only been aired once or twice. Many regard U2 are the preeminent live performers of my generation. I agree with that partially. They nail the spiritual angle better than any other band, ever. You walk out of most shows feeling profoundly moved and those steps back to your car feel like you are walking on air as the reverend Bono gave a sermon for the ages. However, U2s unwillingness to take chances nightly and play longer sets holds them back. So while the fourth Chicago and third Boston shows were off the wall, the first leg overall was far too inert for me and for many fans I spoke to. Lets hope the biggest band in the world expands their musical choices and can hold onto to championship, as the Worlds Greatest Rock Band, which they reclaimed back in 2000/01.
Can you see the beauty inside of me?
What happened to the beauty I had inside of me?
-City of Blinding Lights