I remember seeing U2 live for the first time back in the original The Joshua Tree days circa 1987, and the concert was all about the music—the artistry of Bono, the brilliance of Edge on guitar, the percussion mastery of Larry Mullen Jr. and the superb resounding bass of Adam Clayton. It was a simple stage setup, and as a fan, you could easily concentrate from one song to the next.
Entering the Capital One Arena on Monday, June 18—more than three decades since my first show—I immediately knew seeing the legendary band from Dublin, Ireland was going to be a whole new ballgame. For starters, a large augmented reality screen occupied the center of the arena and people were using their cell phones to see a cascading waterfall through the power of a special concert app you could download.
Once it was time for the concert to begin, the images of the U2 quartet were flashed on a giant, rectangular screen floating in the middle of the arena, and then it turned transparent, allowing the audience to see the band suspended in mid-air over the crowd. Through thunderous applause, they started with “It’s a Beautiful World” and “Rain.”
The same screen would serve as an important part of the show, projecting different images, graphic-art-like cartoons and even special augmented live shots of Bono distorting his face into a sort of demon during a song introduction. This was only a taste of the theatrics involved. Throughout the almost-three-hour concert, there was a sensory overload of sights and sounds coming at you—some more effective than others.
In an effort to ensure everyone in the sold-out arena got their money’s worth, the stage mapping for the concert positioned brilliantly. There was a large traditional stage on one side of the arena, and a smaller circle stage on the other. In between, an elevated walkway acted as a third area, with Bono particularly spending a lot of time in the middle ground. This walkway also allowed the band members to be stationed behind the giant screen at times and have their images integrated with the video display, which made it appear as if they were inside the images during some songs.
The four U2 members stood there on “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” utilizing the entire platform, which was easily a highlight of the night. It was raw U2 and it was much more enjoyable than some of the out there things going on during some others.
Early on, the band relied more their latest two releases, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, which was fitting given the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour title. After jamming through “Love is All We Have Left,” “The Blackout” and “Lights of Home,” Bono made it appear as if another newbie was following the trio, proclaiming “We are out of Dublin and here is our new song,” but it was actually a nod to their beginnings in 1980, with the song “I Will Follow” off their debut album Boy; the fans ate it up.
U2 continued with some old-school hits, playing “All Because of You,” “Beautiful Day” and “The Ocean” on the main stage, letting the music overtake the sometimes circus-like atmosphere. This is where the foursome is at their best, and prove why they are among the top bands of all-time.
For “Iris,” Bono again traveled mid-stage and began telling a story of his mom and then the powerful lyrics of the song were expressed through images on the screen, further influencing the scene.
After a few other tunes—including “Cedarwood Road” and “Until the End of the World,” and a short break with a somewhat surreal graphic novel-like story set to “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” displayed on the projection screen, the band headed for the smaller stage on the opposite side of the arena, with Bono asking if people were “ready to elevate?”
That naturally led to “Elevation” and more up-tempo songs such as “Vertigo,” fan-favorite “Desire” and “Acrobat.”
In another highlight, Bono and The Edge did an acoustic version of “Staring at the Sun,” which hearkened memories of U2 at its early-’90s peak. The full band was back in swing for “Pride (In the Name of Love” and the song still hit home with the crowd as if it was 1984.
An encore consisted of “Women of the World,” “One,” “Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way” and “13 (There Is a Light),” though surprisingly left out faves such as “Where the Streets Have No Name,” With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
Not that anyone was complaining. With close to three hours of music and a great mix of old and new material, the show was one to remember. Obviously, I’m more from an old-school frame of mind and didn’t need so much happening around me, but it didn’t ruin the enjoyment of the overall experience and it’s one I’m glad to have been a part of.
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