While Aung San Suu Kyi reminded people that their voices "are louder than any rock band", the captivated audience stayed late to ensure they heard every minute of U2's ageless music.
Its called "The Claw". The first thing you see upon entering, the claw is the centerpiece of U2's 360º Tour. At the New Meadowlands Stadium, from my vantage, I thought it reached up even higher than the upper nosebleed seats (including its antenna/light spire). With numerous references to space and spaceships (Bowie's "Space Oddity" served as the welcoming song for the band as the screens displayed a spaceship), U2 impressed an extraterrestrial sense upon the audience. The piece's crustacean characteristics seemed a bit similar to prawns of the film District 9. As a helicopter circled around the stadium, and occasional planes headed into Newark Airport, it almost felt as if military forces were present to ensure that the four legged exoskeleton did not make an escape.
Although the massive stage was very impressive, hardly anything could marginalize the presence and music of U2. Their longevity has honed their stage style and their relevance remains unsullied. Thirty years have gone by since the band first dropped into New Jersey, playing a gig at the Fastlane pub in Asbury Park where they had to repeat tracks they already performed for the encore. Move the clock forward to now and we find U2 has sold out the massive New Meadowlands Stadium, with a capacity of over 95,000 people, and can easily play for more than two hours.
The progressive band continues to be forward thinking, and they shared the stage with their political activism and personal messages. Even before entering the stadium, concert goers may have crossed paths with ambassadors of the ONE Campaign and even signed up for the cause. Inside security, tents for ONE and Amnesty International were present encouraging people to join. In the midst of the music, U2 even brought a bit of space to Earth and shared sincere messages of hope. A transmitted greeting from NASA Commander Mark Kelly (husband to US Representative Gabrielle Giffords) from the International Space Station to New Jersey ("7 billion / One Nation / Imagination / It's a Beautiful Day" and "Tell my wife I love her very much – she knows) before "Beautiful Day" was humbling. Green and red lights transformed the arena into a reminder of this year's "Arab Spring" uprisings, shifting the political tides of the Middle East and North Africa towards democracy, before "Sunday Bloody Sunday".
Former Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi introduced "One" with an inspirational message. She thanked the audience for the support that has been sent around the world and reminded them that change starts with, "Just one person. One." In the encore, Bono dedicated "Moment of Surrender" to someone much closer to home, Clarence Clemons. Clemons, a member of the E-Street Band with Bruce Springsteen (who did not beam onto stage), passed away last month (a sign that said "For Clarence" was passed up to display on stage).
Cameras tracked every move of the band projecting it on the enormous screen above them. Combined with the smoke and lights, the images made the band seem larger than life and as if we were watching the most polished concert film. U2's flawless performance demonstrated how much honing had been done in thirty plus years of touring. I had not actually seen a U2 show until now and, while watching them perform, I could not help but be captivated. Even watching one audience member get tackled by security when he scampered toward a bridge did not distract me for long.
Powerful classics like "Pride (In the Name of Love)" abutted newer hits like "Elevation" while "Zooropa" met "City of Blinding Lights". Moving across the bridges from the center circle to the outer ring, Bono, guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and even drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. (carrying a djembe between his legs) took laps around to ensure the entire audience got to see them. "Walk On" seared itself into my memory as members of Amnesty International filled and stood in the outer ring with bright lanterns while Bono asked the audience to keep the over two and a half thousand Burmese peaceful protesters in their prayers. A solemn cover of "Hallelujah" transitioned into the epic "Where the Streets Have No Name", the crowd cheering loudly, for what I thought was the conclusion. But the band returned for a true encore, a four-song block (including "Thrill Me" from a '90s Batman movie and "With or Without You") when just two would have sufficed ("Moment" and one of the earliest songs "Out of Control" completed the evening).
With their 360º Tour winding down (the stages will be sold immediately after), U2 will have grossed more than any other band has in a single tour in the past. Yet they clearly are not in it for the money (though Clayton still "thinks it’s a good way to meet girls" quipped Bono). With great conviction, the band seems genuinely happy to perform for their fans. U2's musical success has allowed them to increase the volume to put more weight into their political agenda. The band encourages individuals to express themselves also – instead of being shy in the face of a more vocal minority. Nearly 100,000 people received this message in one night.
U2's shows are a way for fans around the world to experience something greater. Having heard the call to action, people need to take it.
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If you are interested in the ultimate fan collectible, you can purchase the 360º Tour's "Claw" stage (the largest ever built) and rock your own concert under the pavilion at home. (Previously it had been reported that the stages would be donated to various cities).
U2's setlist (20 July 2011):
Even Better than the Real Thing
Until the End of the World
I Will Follow
Get on your Boots
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (with "The Promised Land" snippet)
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
Beautiful Day (with "Space Oddity" snippet)
Pride (In the Name of Love)
City of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight (with "Discotheque", "Life During Wartime/Psycho Killer" snippets)
Sunday Bloody Sunday
One (with "Hallejulah" snippet)
Where the Streets Have No Name
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender
Out of Control
Interpol's setlist (20 July 2011):
Say Hello to the Angels
The Heinrich Maneuver