U2 360°: The Good, The Bono and The Unnecessary.

Six days ago I received a group e-mail from a friend titled U2 Pre Funk-Saturday and it sparked an internal debate.  Is this something I would be interested in seeing?  Would I be able to handle being around 70,000 people?  Am I comfortable contributing to a $1 billion tour sponsored by Live Nation?  Would I regret missing this show that some had been waiting two years for?  Do I even like U2?  I put on Rattle and Hum and decided I would go.  I put on No Line on the Horizon and decided I wouldn’t.  To go or not to go?  I decided this was a decision best left to someone else.  I let the group decide for me.  If those that didn’t have tickets found a few together for a reasonable price, I would join the party.  If not, so be it, I would hear all about how it was ‘the best show ever’ from those that go to one concert a year.  As it turns out, there were more sellers than buyers on Stubhub and by Thursday I was the proud (if skeptical) owner of a GA Field ticket to something I thought died long ago…a stadium rock show.

When my flight touched down at DIA 3 hours late and I had to rush over to INVESCO Field, I couldn’t help but doubt my decision to go to the show, but I fought my urge to be jaded and decided I was going to have a good time no matter what.  It had been a long day and all I needed was a cold beer and some loud music.  Before I was able to get these basic ingredients to a good evening, we would have to fight traffic around the stadium, navigate the tailgaters to the entrance and then figure our way through the bowels of INVESCO to get to the field.  Zig-zagging through the crowd, tickets, tickets, id, tickets again, wristband and 30 minutes later we are standing in line for a large, shitty, $9 domestic beer.  Are we having fun yet?  No, dude who just puked all over the field, we are not.

$27 in Budweiser later and I felt human again.  Standing on that field, in front of the ginormous, insect-looking spaceship they called a stage, while tens of thousands of people created a human wave around the seats above us, I realized something very cool about this event…it provided something that only sporting events can do these days.  It provided a shared space, a shared event and shared time and place that doesn’t happen in music anymore.  It doesn’t really happen in most pop culture anymore.  We don’t watch the same television shows at the same time anymore.  We arn’t all listening to the same record, for the first time, on release day anymore.  It is even rare for everyone to rush out and see the new blockbuster movie during opening weekend anymore.  We all do our own thing, on our own time, in this interconnected, on-demand world and it’s very rare to have a true connection with 70,000 people.  70,000 people watching the same band. 70,000 voices singing the same songs.  Sure, there is a lot of bullshit that goes along with that many people congregating in a single place, but there’s also something special about it. Something we might just miss once it’s gone.  And gone it will be.  I can only think of two bands that could fill a stadium today, U2 and The Rolling Stones.  In fact, in my 15+ years of going to shows, I have only seen two bands in a stadium, Pink Floyd and U2.  Who are the biggest rock bands in the world these days?  RadioheadFoo FightersColdplayMuse?  Even pop acts like Black Eyed Peas, Jay-Z, Kanye, Madonna and Prince play arenas, not stadiums.  I predict stadium shows will be a thing of the past within the next decade.  So there we were,  the roar of the crowd flowing over us, $9 beers in hand and in place to watch the rock show, wondering if it might be the last of its kind.

It was 8:55pm when the vessel roared to life with Space Oddity.  As the monstrous legs of the beast lit up, black-and-white images of the band making their way to the stage on the 360 degree screen incited fanatical approval from the crowd.  The show came to life with Even Better Than The Real Thing, a fitting soundtrack to the spectacle in front of us.  Sure, Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry were all there, as real as could be, but there was so much more going on.  The real-time, larger-than-life images projecting from the screen really were better than the real thing.  I Will Follow, one of the few pre-Joshua treats, was up next before they indulged themselves in a couple tracks off the latest album.  Mysterious Ways and Elevation provided the much needed reprieve from the newest material, but it wasn’t until the ‘never more appropriate’ Until The End Of The World, dedicated to the Rev. Harold Camping, that the lads from Ireland took it to the level I knew they were capable of.  ‘It might be the end of the world for some, somewhere, but not here!‘  All I Want Is You, the sole track  from my personal favorite, Rattle and Hum, led into Stay (Faraway, So Close!) into Beautiful Day into Pride (In The Name Of Love)…now that was a run!  Bono managed to let the band and the music do the talking, only stopping to thank Denver for their patience, reminding some of the ever painful truth that they were ‘2 years younger when they bought the tickets to this show‘ and thanking the Germans for his health, even joking he had Made In Germany stamped on his ass. But the ‘new and improved’ Bono ended there.

U2 is no longer the band of young men in the desert, wandering streets with no names.  With an average age of half a decade, I have a massive amount of respect for what they are doing up there.  I also have to say that I agree with most of Bono‘s politics.  I have been to ravaged countries in Africa, I have been to Burma…I have seen the ‘end of the world’ that he preaches.  I believe the average American should be aware of the human rights atrocities that go on in 3rd world nations.  But I also believe it does not belong at a rock show.  I also believe Bono‘s ego is as big as his heart and sometimes I just get sick of hearing him talk.   Miss Sarajevo was just the start of a long run of downer music, political references that were lost on the crowd and shitty songs.  A run that didn’t end until the last note of the incredibly trite I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight, a song where I swear Bono almost starts rapping. That being said, they could have been singing showtunes up there and we would have been enthralled with ever-changing structure in front of us.  A huge grate came down and built itself around the band, projecting images out to the crowd.  Spot lights shot out of the top all the way to space.  One minute the bridges were east-west, the next they were north-south.  It was so dynamic if you looked away for just a minute you would not recognize anything when you turned back around.

The band redeemed themselves after that disappointing run with the next few songs.  I’m sure ‘how long must we sing this song‘ means something different to the ‘designer sunglasses wearing’, 51-year-old Bono than it did to the long haired kid howling on the stage at Red Rocks, but he didn’t really have to sing the words to Sunday Bloody Sunday, he was being drown out by thousands of voices singing it for him.  That classic cry to arms along with Scarlet from October were a bittersweet couple, just reminding me of how good this band can be when they are on…and how much I don’t care for the new material.  All That I Can’t Leave Behind is the only post-Achtung album I do care for, so I was excited that they ended the set with one of the highlights, Walk On.   A song dedicated to and introduced (via video) by Burma‘s Aung San Suu Kyi.  I care too much about the Burmese cause to say anything negative about this, but I can’t help but think there is a better way to get this message out.  People come to concerts like this to escape the realities of this world.  I’m sure, for many in the audience, this was one of very few ‘big’ nights they could afford all year.  Why push the world’s problems on them on THIS night?

The encore was bizarre test of the audience’s patience and emotions.  One is a great song, but they just couldn’t cut the politics.  Where The Streets Have No Name was a sing-along that once again reminded me of what the night could’ve been, but throwing Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me in between the two Joshua Tree tracks was the first amateur thing I’ve ever seen U2 do. With or Without You turned the football field into one big prom and that was followed by I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For before the explosive…or wait, nevermind, that is what SHOULD have happened.  Instead we got to hear Bono thank the people, corporations and politicians that made this possible (everyone except for the people who paid to watch him go on like he just won some award) and the uninspiring Moment of Surrender.  He then left us with a bizarre announcement about how someone who worked on Achtung Baby had made it to the show, like we were supposed to give a shit. He left us in bewilderment.  This was easily the weakest, most disappointing end to a show I have ever witnessed.

So there you have it, U2 are in their 50’s and remain one of the biggest bands in the world.  They are one of the few that can fill a stadium and although I think there are much better bands in the world, I’m happy someone is able to do it.  In fact, they have done it 90-something times on this tour alone. They are still building stages for the Guinness Book of World Records and they can still rock it like they did in their 20’s.   Bono is still larger than life…his heart, his showmanship, his ego and his mouth.  The Edge is a living legend.  They can perform for 2 1/2 hrs and at least one hour of that performance is well worth HEARING, the rest is worth SEEING.

Photos from Reverb

Videos from various people on youtube.

Even Better Than The Real Thing
I Will Follow
Get On Your Boots
Mysterious Ways
Until The End Of The World
All I Want Is You
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
Beautiful Day
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Miss Sarajevo
City Of Blinding Lights
I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight / Discothèque (snippet) / Please (snippet)
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On / You’ll Never Walk Alone (snippet)

Where The Streets Have No Name
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
With Or Without You
Moment of Surrender