A disco ball perched atop the four-legged stage apparatus that housed U2; when it illuminated, lights shot heavenward.
That about sums up the dual nature of this Irish band that long ago conquered America with its Christian-oriented rock anthems that, in latter-day incarnations, comfortably fit inside clubland.
At its current juncture, U2 seems to have nothing to prove other than it can continue to fill sports venues and become the favorite mascot of every city it visits. In Chicago at Soldier Field Tuesday, that goal was met easily enough, thanks to striking visual elements and a stage design that was inclusive of its audience at the same time making sure people knew who the big stars were.
Tickets for this current tour throughout North America have been available for two years; last summer the band idled its 16-date summer tour following emergency spine surgery performed on Bono following an injury he sustained during May rehearsals in Munich.
The year-long delay allowed the band to update references and for its lead singer to take it easy from the usual nonstop stage stalking he’s known for in the past.
Familiar themes rippled through the show, from favorite causes (on “Walk On,” children lined the performing walkways holding illuminated boxes to celebrate Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary) to global luminaries (Mark Kelly, astronaut husband of wounded US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, introduced “Beautiful Day” from the international space station).
And for a band known for making bridges, to African aid and, more recently, Broadway, at times there was a reliance on the actual thing: two bridges that rotated left and right, allowing the band to break huddle and separate in what, at times, looked like door-to-door campaigning.
The video funnel that hovered above the action played real-time footage of the band onstage, but at times – especially during “Zooropa” when it enveloped the band like in a cocoon – the visual finesse did too good a job and removed the audience from the actual songs at hand.
Bono’s charisma was larger than life anyway, despite an obvious decision to tone down the frenetic stage bursts of energy he is often known for. There was a superhero turn swinging from a wire while wearing a coat adorned with lasers (he has been writing for Spider-Man, after all), but Bono largely stayed close to his band. His voice, light on the high notes but still robust, sounded especially in league with his yesteryear heroes like Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash – two men who played it straight because their mighty vocal tones were too special to try anything but.
U2 is likely the last stadium band of its era that successfully balances musical integrity with big-ticket stadium authority. The few songs played from “No Line on the Horizon,” its lackluster recent album released two years ago, did not have the simple integrity of earlier hits, especially “Out of Control,” their first-ever single that, 31 years later, still reeled with urgency.
Even though he frequently tapped an arsenal of guitar tones and effects, The Edge still led through elemental melody lines that stood out, just like his harmony vocals that rooted the songs, preventing them from sounding too regal.
“One Tree Hill,” the last song played, was the result of an impromptu band meeting. The band hadn’t played the “Joshua Tree”-era song live in two decades and there was hesitation. “Here’s the deal: If we screw up badly, you don’t put it on the Internet,” Bono said. Turned out, uploading was not necessary.
- Even Better Than The Real Thing
- The Fly
- Mysterious Ways/Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World (snippet)
- Until The End Of The World
- Out Of Control, Get On Your Boots
- I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For / The Promised Land (snippet)
- Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
- Beautiful Day / Space Oddity (snippet)
- Pride (In The Name Of Love)
- Miss Sarajevo
- City Of Blinding Lights / My Kind Of Town (snippet)
- Miss You (snippet) / I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight / Discothèque (snippet) / Life During
- Wartime (snippet)
- Sunday Bloody Sunday
- Walk On / The Battle Hymn Of The Republic (snippet)
- Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (snippet) / Where The Streets Have No Name
- Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me / My Kind Of Town (snippet)
- With Or Without You, Moment of Surrender / One Tree Hill (snippet)
- One Tree Hill