Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Concert review: U2

Posted By on May 25, 2011, 4:00 AM

U2 might not have been able to make the U’s Rice-Eccles Stadium feel intimate with their long-awaited show Tuesday night, but they did manage to prove that stadium-sized rock shows don’t have to suck. Indeed, in U2’s hands, they can be exhilarating.---

Tuesday’s show was originally slated for the spring of 2010, before singer Bono was waylaid with back surgery that postponed the entire North American slate of the 360 Tour. But, as the new “Robo-Bono” assured the throngs, “Let me tell you, we are SO much better this year. In all immodesty.”

The band was indeed in fine form, ripping through 24 songs over the course of more than two hours underneath their 360 Tour stage known as The Claw. The Claw proved an impressive bit of technology, delivering mostly excellent sound throughout the venue while also offering a magnificent light show and ever-evolving hi-def video screen that helped project the quartet to the furthest reaches of Rice-Eccles.

The set list wasn’t dramatically different from the band’s past two visits to EnergySolutions Arena, relying heavily on hits from 1991’s Achtung Baby and the albums that followed, from the opening “Even Better Than The Real Thing” through the encore-opening “One,” with winning takes on “Until the End of the World” and “Mysterious Ways” along the way.

U2 did throw a few bones to the oldest fans in the house; “I Will Follow” from the band’s debut, Boy, was the second song of the night, and Bono’s frantic gyrating during the song let everyone on hand know that back surgery is now ancient history. “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” sounded remarkably fresh, given that both songs have been set regulars since the mid-‘80s.

The first half of the show, as the sun set, relied on the band’s musicianship, with guitarist The Edge showing once again that he is a singular force in rock & roll, eliciting sounds and textures from his array of instruments that never ceased to amaze. The buzz-saw grind of his Gibson was a highlight on “Elevation,” a song I would argue is the band’s best of their post-Achtung catalog. Likewise, the feedback-laden squall on “Vertigo” showed the band still knows how to rough up a tune, despite all the technical bells and whistles at their disposal.

At a couple of different points, Bono acknowledged Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday, which was also Tuesday. First it was during “All I Want Is You,” which evolved to include a few lines from “Love Rescue Me,” a song the band shared with Dylan on their Rattle and Hum soundtrack. Bono followed that by leading the crowd in a round of “Happy Birthday” for Dylan. And later, at the start of the encore performance of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” Bono plays a quick verse of “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

Those moments were among a few surprises, including performances of songs like “Stay (Faraway So Close!)” and the techno-heavy title track from the band’s Zooropa album. And a campy encore take on “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” from the Batman Forever soundtrack proved a light-hearted treat shortly after the band had paid tribute to Amnesty International via a taped video message from Aung San Suu Kyi, a recently released Burmese political prisioner: “When you raise your voices we hear them in our country and around the world, they are louder than any rock band, then any army, than rocket fire or fighter jet.”

Hey, it wouldn’t be a U2 concert without a little politics thrown in. And while naysayers take shots at Bono and Co. for wearing their humanitarian and activist hearts on their sleeves, it takes a special talent to mix socio-political commentary with pop music as effectively as the Irish foursome.

The fact that, now in their 50s, U2’s members can still deliver a genuinely rocking show and appear to love doing it, even in a monster-sized venue like Rice-Eccles Stadium, is a testament to their skills as performers. After Tuesday’s show, you certainly get the sense that they’ll never be content just flogging the old hits, instead preferring to keep improving on their stage show and adding new tunes like “Get On Your Boots,” “Magnificent,” “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” and the show-closing “Moment of Surrender”—all from their most recent release, No Line on the Horizon, to the set list. In their recorded form, those songs left me with a ho-hum reaction, but in the live context, they came to life in new and exciting ways.

Much like the band itself.

Here's a little photo gallery of shots by City Weekly's Erik Daenitz:

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Dan Nailen

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