U2's eight night run at Madison Square Garden began with a powerhouse performance including many of their classics and a huge production that embodies a global theme.
That U2 can even host an eight-night run at Madison Square Garden is certainly affirmation that they are the biggest band in the world. What assures the fact that U2 deserves the throne is how graciously and charitably they approach the world around them and engage with it. Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton are global citizens who inspire and promote social change. While he never sidelined the music at MSG, Bono made it clear that he has a political agenda. As the NY Times reported, "As the spectacle went on, Bono delivered speeches, interior dialogues and eventually pitches for his anti-poverty and AIDS prevention organizations, ONE and (RED). But the concert was an achievement, integrated and sure-footed."
This was only the second time I had seen U2 (the first was about four years earlier) and I knew the show would be extraordinary. It was in fact majestic. I may not know much off of Songs of Innocence as I favor their older material (to put it nicely) but all their songs sounded fantastic, apparently thanks to particularly arena-friendly speaker placement. The band wowed me for the full almost-three hour performance with classics, bombastic hits and even a few rare gems, including "October", marking its first live performance in 25 years.
With huge video monitors running down the middle of the arena, and above the catwalk that separated the main stage from a smaller circular stage on the other side of the floor, U2's visuals were unlike any I'd seen before. The first striking use came during "Cedarwood Road" as the visuals depicted a street that Bono had grown up on and he strolled between the projection on a platform. I was thrilled to hear "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from the moment I recognized its staccato drum pattern that draw from the incident in Ireland the song is named after. Two Achtung Baby tracks, "Even Better than the Real Thing" and "Mysterious Ways" arrived one after the other before U2 burst into "Elevation" (with an audience member projecting the band on screen via a mobile video link). Perhaps the only newer song I enjoy, "City of Blinding Lights" was transcendent and spectacular. It was leading up to the main set combo finale, "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Pride", fantastic classics.
The encore set, with "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "One", was the real metaphysical climax as the music encouraged social change. "Streets" strips away all the differences between people leaving them with their humanity while "One" shows people a reason to forge a path towards a better future. I commend the band for their political activism and for their recognition of heroes in their songs (like Nelson Mandela with "Ordinary Love") and speech (Bono commended Harry Belafonte who was in attendance). They will always be powerful musicians but, as statesmen, U2's noble message requires other people to unleash its potential. True social change will only happen if everyone contributes.
U2 continue their MSG residency on July 22nd and July 23rd this week before a final stretch next week -- July 26, 27, 30 and 31. Tickets may still be available.
The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)
The Electric Co.
I Will Follow
Iris (Hold Me Close)
Song for Someone
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Raised by Wolves
Until the End of the World
Even Better Than the Real Thing
Every Breaking Wave
With or Without You
City of Blinding Lights
Bullet the Blue Sky
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Where the Streets Have No Name