U2 at Gillette Stadium - Foxboro, MA (Sept 20, 2009)
U2 does not do things in a small way. It's not what you would expect from arguably the most popular band in the world over the last two decades. They've got an enormous budget, and the wherewithall to spend it in ways most bands can't even begin to imagine. So when they launched their first stadium tour in a decade, you knew that bigger and better would be part of the end equation of whatever stage and show design they came up with. The so-called 'spaceship' was the end result, a monstrous claw set over the stage like some HG Wells vision, containing a massive 360 degree screen that not only projected the band members' images via camera, but could lower, rise, and separate into different panels. To go along with the full circle idea, PAs were set out in direction of the stadium providing good sound throughout, and a large circular walkway ringed the stage, connected by two mobile bridges.
This would mark the fifth time I've seen the band, but the first since the ZooTV tour in '93 and while I don't make a point of seeing bands in massive stadia very often, U2 is the rare band that can make a fan in the upper reaches of the balconies feel part of the show, like she's seeing a band at the local club down the street. They've successfully done this in past via select crowd participation, and tonight would not stray from that game plan. The set started out with a few songs off the new record, kicking off with "Breathe," a rush back to the days when Adam Clayton played some hard-edged bass riffs like he was auditioning for Killing Joke. The audience participation would start with "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," as Bono stick a mic outward as a cue for the audience to sing the first verse. They gladly complied in this inferred game of karaoke. Individuals as well as the collective whole played roles, with a lucky woman plucked from the pit upfront for a personal walk around the perimeter with Bono, as they held hands and he sang "City Of Blinding Lights" to her (I saw Bono do a similar stunt on the War tour, with "Party Girl" as the song). Kudos to her for resisting the impulse and not pulling out her cellphone to snap a new Facebook profile picture. Legions of volunteers later walked that same perimeter, carrying cut-out faces of political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, as the band played "Walk On," a self-declared 'message of love' from the band.
Politics is a favorite Irish pastime, and Bono has a lot more pull than most people when it comes to expressing opinions in front of world leaders. In keeping with this predilection, the projection screen was filled with arabic writing as their famous Irish protest song "Sunday Bloody Sunday" started, and Bono lifted fellow protest singer Joe Strummer's words to "Rock The Casbah." How long will they have to sing this song? It seems as though tyranny is a built-in human control mechanism, so I would guess for the foreseeable future. I know people give a lot of crap to Bono for mixing music with politics, but you've got to give the guy credit for going after just causes and using his might where he can; how many other bands will you see that have a pre-recorded snippet from Desmond Tutu addressing the crowd? Other short seque/tips of the cap included tonight were "Stand By Me," "She Loves You" as an outro to "Vertigo," "Amazing Grace" and "All You Need Is Love."
The band did stick more than a bit to playing their No Line On The Horizon material, including a disco-fied "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" which sounded like mid-80s New Order song, but also trotted out some fan favorites, including "New Year's Day," the utterly stirring set closer (and clear standout of the night) of "Where The Streets Have No Name," and a pensive "The Unforgettable Fire." The song featured Bono walking halfway across one of the bridges, leaning over and directly addressing the crowd below. He'd earlier thanked the audience for providing them a wonderful life, and this moment rang true, as if Bono was back in his native Dublin, strolling across the River Liffey via the Ha'penny Bridge and truly counting his blessings.
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