Music

My Five Nights with U2

Kevin Pang
Chicago Tribune (TNS)

I attended all five shows of U2’s Chicago residency -- nearly 12 hours of Bono & Co. in the flesh -- that ended Thursday night at the United Center.

CHICAGO — The final tally: 123 songs. This includes five performances each of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Beautiful Day” and “With or Without You,” earworms that have now burrowed deep inside my brain and sought asylum.

I attended all five shows of U2’s Chicago residency — nearly 12 hours of Bono & Co. in the flesh — that ended Thursday night at the United Center. My motivation was neither born of excessive fandom nor a death wish. It was to reconcile a nagging feeling lodged in my psyche.

You might remember last September when U2 gave away its new album “Songs of Innocence” by uploading it into people’s iTunes — for free, mind you — a controversy in retrospect blown out of proportion, an overreaction that merited the old trope, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

I was excited to be gifted a new U2 album. My problem came after pressing play. Even with Danger Mouse at the production helm, I found the effort lukewarm, the sound of a band trading in its experimental verve of the ‘90s for the color-by-numbers homogeneity of top 40 radio. It wasn’t that I hated the album, more so I played through “Songs of Innocence” twice and forgot about it. At least hating evokes an emotion. A far worse response to art would be indifference.

My nagging feeling was about arriving at a crossroads. My love for U2 has trended downward for nearly 15 years. This latest record brought it perilously close to the 50 percent line. The question I hoped five live shows would answer: Should I still be a fan of U2 in 2015?

U2’s Innocence + Experience tour is a 20-city, six-month circuit through North America and Europe, their first indoor arena shows in a decade. To gain a fuller perspective, I sat in the lower bowl a dozen rows up, stood 10 feet from the stage on the arena floor, and watched one show high above in the 300 level.

From all angles, what strikes you immediately is the spectacle of the staging. The setup comprises two stages on either ends of the arena, with a walkway spanning the length of the floor. Hovering over this walkway is a 95-by-30 foot transparent video screen, in which band members could enter through the side and be one with the graphics.

At one point, Bono is inside the screen walking through his childhood neighborhood in (and figuratively on) “Cedarwood Road.” Images of cherry blossoms, cars and joggers scroll past Bono, as if he’s Super Mario in a videogame version of his life. It’s one of several moments that elicited whoas from my seating neighbors. Another was during “Until the End of the World,” the best track from their best album “Achtung Baby,” where the staging achieved Beijing Olympic opening ceremony-level audaciousness. Here, The Edge strutted with his guitar inside the screen while standing on the image of Bono’s outstretched palm, as torn pages from The Psalms, Ulysses and Alice in Wonderland rained down like confetti (it’s meant to evoke the time the Sarajevo library was fire-bombed during the Bosnian War). The best view wasn’t up-close from the arena floor ($65 tickets), nor high up in the upper deck where intimacy gets lost ($95). The optimum sightline — surprise, surprise! — is located in the lower bowl, home to the priciest tickets ($275).

For the bulk of U2’s new songs, the sum of music and visuals is greater than its parts. There’s a track from their album called “Iris (Hold Me Close)” that Bono wrote about his mother, who died when he was 14. I didn’t think much of the song on the record. But at the show, you see a young Iris Hewson in scratchy old home movies, and the live Bono superimposed next to his late mother, a powerful moment indeed. It’s as if “Songs of Innocence” was a Broadway soundtrack that needed the context of a live staging to be appreciated.

The flipside of this is unlike, say, a Bruce Springsteen show, there’s little deviation from the setlist. The songs form a rigid narrative of music, pictures and choreography — much of the show’s first half is a mini-act moving from Bono’s neighborhood, to his bedroom, to Northern Ireland, to the Berlin Wall. Implicitly, an extended residency suggests interchangeable setlists and a deep dive into the back catalog. Out of roughly 25 songs performed each U2 show, a good 20 are nightly fixtures.

After five shows, what you thought were moments of spontaneity are actually carefully blocked and rehearsed. The way Bono Fred-Astaires his mic stand, the manner in which he flings water into the crowd, his fondness for Bono-isms like: “America isn’t just a country, it’s an idea.” I even noticed The Edge and Adam Clayton taking their jackets off at the exact moment every show (always after “I Will Follow,” song no. 4).

Cynicism could have set in, but I was in the strange position of a U2 binge. Most fans likely could only afford one show, and they would approach it with fresh eyes.

On show number three Sunday, I stood next to a thirtysomething couple who drove to Chicago from Cincinnati. Their fandom of U2 could be measured in decades, and yet this was their first live show. I watched them the entire night, and the look on their faces was familiar.

My first U2 show was during the 2001 Elevation tour at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, two months after 9/11. The concert was a needed respite for an audience still raw with heartache. Emotions welled up from the start of that show, ballooning and pressurizing over several hours, until The Edge began that indelible guitar riff of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and the band came in on that high C-sharp hit, and — boom! — all the lights came on bright, and it was a release valve-moment of such joy and exaltation it left most in the arena a sniffling mess. I certainly lost it.

I watched that couple from Cincinnati — and 20,000 more people around me at the United Center — pumping their arms to the skies during “Pride (In the Name of Love)” as Bono paraded the gay pride flag. Then came “City of Blinding Lights,” another song that reached for the rafters, with its “Streets”-like intro building to a literal blinding lights moment, and an oh-ooh-oh chorus you can’t help but sing along. Not since the Stanley Cup finals has the Madhouse on Madison hosted the happiest people on planet Earth.

The fans there weren’t questioning U2’s relevance in contemporary music, nor expressing outrage over a $45 souvenir T-shirt, nor docking the band for playing the same songs night after night. They were witnessing a Broadway musical under the guise of a rock and roll show, from a band who at their best, can give you the biggest religious high this side of the secular arts.

Yeah, I’d wait in line to buy those tickets.

———

NIGHT 1 SETLIST — JUNE 24

1. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)

2. The Electric Co.

3. Vertigo

4. I Will Follow

5. Iris (Hold Me Close)

6. Cedarwood Road

7. Song For Someone

8. Sunday Bloody Sunday

9. Raised By Wolves

10. Until The End Of The World

11. The Wanderer

12. Invisible

13. Even Better Than The Real Thing

14. Mysterious Ways

15. Elevation

16. Ordinary Love

17. Every Breaking Wave

18. Bullet The Blue Sky

19. Pride (In the Name of Love)

20. Beautiful Day

21. With Or Without You

22. City Of Blinding Lights

23. Where The Streets Have No Name

24. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

NIGHT 2 SETLIST — JUNE 25

1. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)

2. Out of Control

3. Vertigo

4. I Will Follow

5. Iris (Hold Me Close)

6. Cedarwood Road

7. Song For Someone

8. Sunday Bloody Sunday

9. Raised By Wolves

10. Until The End Of The World

11. The Wanderer

12. Invisible

13. Even Better Than The Real Thing

14. Mysterious Ways

15. Angel of Harlem

16. Volcano

17. Every Breaking Wave

18. Bullet The Blue Sky

19. Pride (In the Name of Love)

20. Beautiful Day

21. Bad

22. With Or Without You

23. City Of Blinding Lights

24. Where The Streets Have No Name

25. One

NIGHT 3 SETLIST — JUNE 28

1. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)

2. Gloria

3. Vertigo

4. I Will Follow

5. Iris (Hold Me Close)

6. Cedarwood Road

7. Song For Someone

8. Sunday Bloody Sunday

9. Raised By Wolves

10. Until The End Of The World

11. The Wanderer

12. Invisible

13. Even Better Than The Real Thing

14. Mysterious Ways

15. Desire

16. Lucifer’s Hands

17. Every Breaking Wave

18. Bullet The Blue Sky

19. Pride (In the Name of Love)

20. Beautiful Day

21. All I Want Is You

22. With Or Without You

23. City Of Blinding Lights

24. Where The Streets Have No Name

25. One

NIGHT 4 SETLIST — JUNE 29

1. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)

2. The Electric Co.

3. Vertigo

4. I Will Follow

5. Iris (Hold Me Close)

6. Cedarwood Road

7. Song For Someone

8. Sunday Bloody Sunday

9. Raised By Wolves

10. Until The End Of The World

11. The Wanderer

12. Invisible

13. Even Better Than The Real Thing

14. Mysterious Ways

15. The Crystal Ballroom

16. Sweetest Thing

17. Every Breaking Wave

18. Bullet The Blue Sky

19. Pride (In the Name of Love)

20. Beautiful Day

21. With Or Without You

22. City Of Blinding Lights

23. Where The Streets Have No Name

24. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

NIGHT 5 SETLIST — JULY 2

1. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)

2. Gloria

3. Vertigo

4. I Will Follow

5. Iris (Hold Me Close)

6. Cedarwood Road

7. Song For Someone

8. Sunday Bloody Sunday

9. Raised By Wolves

10. Until The End Of The World

11. The Wanderer

12. Invisible

13. Even Better Than The Real Thing

14. Mysterious Ways

15. California (There Is No End To Love)

16. Ordinary Love

17. Every Breaking Wave

18. Bullet The Blue Sky

19. Pride (In the Name of Love)

20. Beautiful Day

21. Bad

22. With Or Without You

23. City Of Blinding Lights

24. Where The Streets Have No Name

25. 40

U2

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image