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Touring with an album that has a somewhat disappointing run with the public is both risky and shows signs of uncertainty. But to tour that kind of album in stadiums across the world for 2 or 3 years is pushing it.Then again, this is U2 we are talking about, not some avant garde act who decided to go for bigger venues. They are the innovators of stadium shows let alone stadium rock. Since their breakthrough ZooTV tour, they have always been the leading act in the world to bring both intimacy and technology into the forefront of musical concerts.
U2 360 is no exception. Their stage set up features a four-legged claw that support the heavy sound, lighting and video equipment all suspended in the air and further asserting their authority as masters of the stadium. Furthermore, U2’s stage doubles the size of the previous biggest stage – set by the Rolling Stones – by standing at a neck straining 165 feet.
I am not here to read you the numbers nor the statistics. How does the music fare? Does the technology control U2 or the opposite? Does it show if U2 are just a Greatest Hits Parade or remain relevant in a age where relevancy lasts only but a whimpering breath?
To start their set with an arsenal of new tracks from their latest LP, No Line On the Horizon, follows on U2 tradition of starting things fresh and new. In fact, it contains 4 tracks in comparison to the 2 tracks from their 2 previous tours. The rumble of drums from Breathe, the wails of No Line On the Horizon, the chainsaw riff of Get On Your Boots (which surprisingly got the crowd roaring despite all the negative response with its single release) and atmospheric familiarity of Magnificent truly demonstrate the great contrast between their past two albums. The crowd despite not knowing virtually any words, jumped, screamed and held hands in the air as Bono played, prod and crooned with his loyal audience.
Most of their set is from the 21st century. Gutsy. They have the back catalogue to whip out favourites from their Boy, War, Zooropa, Achtung Baby – well, to put simply, their past 11 critically and commercially successful albums. But no.
The music does work well with the stage. The screen produces 21st century karaoke in unison with Unknown Caller; the screen expands and evolves during the soaring 1984 The Unforgettable Fire; the stadium turns into a glittering disco during Ultraviolet with Bono equipped with a swinging steering wheel and LED jacket as the sea of lights morphs the stadium into a twinkling space simulator.
The song choices, however, are at times too low or mid-tempo and lacking energetic songs – barring Vertigo and Get On Your Boots. Where is The Fly? Mofo? Discotheque? Even Better Than the Real Thing? Until the End of the World – songs that cause riots and eternal amounts of energy?
Some songs just don’t blend well at all, for instance a techno version of I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight into the political Sunday Bloody Sunday? It’s like throwing a bucket of Arctic water over a newborn baby. Plus, a mini acoustic set in the form of Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of just screams “toilet break!”
This is likely to be the last great stadium show spectacle. With climate change and green organizations in full throttle, no way the world’s governments will allow touring like this on this level to happen again. Unless they switch to 100% renewable energy but that’s another story.
I’ll eat my words if their next show covers the length of the Grand Canyon but that’s just a tad too ambitious…..for now.