Thursday, July 21, 2011


Giants still walk the earth, and I'm not talking about a sports team.  Last night, U2's concert at the New Meadowlands Stadium was one of the best concerts I've ever seen. I've seen lots of U2 shows: I've seen every tour since 1985.  This may well have been the best one.

For the past twenty years, I've felt that the band have had a hard time aligning their two sides: the rootsy, earnest Joshua Tree guys and the edgier, darker guys who chopped that tree down with Achtung Baby. Put another way: their '80s material didn't always fit into their shows in the '90s, and then in the '00s, post-All That You Can't Leave Behind, it sometimes felt like the '90s material didn't totally make sense in their sets.  On the 360 Tour, everything seems to work. Their gigantic stage is a visual assault with both heart and mind. I saw the earlier part of the tour, and this time the show was even better.

Clearly, Achtung Baby was on the band's collective mind: they are about to release a 20th anniversary edition of that album, and they opened up with four songs in a row from the LP: "Even Better Than The Real Thing," "The Fly," "Mysterious Ways" and "Until The End Of The World." The songs sounded better live than they ever have: they've lost some of their techno sheen, replaced by a roaring garage rock sound. When those songs first came out, they sounded like a real departure from "rock" music, but last night they all sounded like stadium anthems.

Speaking of anthems: from there they went into "I Will Follow," which still sounds so fresh. I've never gotten tired of this song. It struck me that this must be so much fun on "Rock Band," especially on drums. Listen to this song, you'll understand why U2 should have been called The Larry Mullen Band. His playing is so cool, but he doesn't try and call attention to himself.  You notice it if you're paying attention.  Larry and Adam Clayton really held it down last night: Adam sounded more funky and aggressive than ever.  He's probably getting more girls than ever (Bono remarked that he still thinks that being in the band is a "great way to meet girls"). You can hear it in his playing.

It's the end of the tour, and they've dropped a few songs from No Line On The Horizon. But they did play "Get On Your Boots" (which doesn't really work for me, it always struck me as an attempt to repeat the similar but cooler "Vertigo," which they also played), the remix of "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" (also didn't really work, but they segued into "Discotheque," which is a much better dance jam), and "Magnificent," which is a classic.

There were some of the colossal hits: "Pride (In The Name Of Love)," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "One," "With Or Without You" and "Where The Streets Have No Name." All were incredible as always.

On this tour, they've brought back "Walk On," one of my favorites.  They have Amnesty International volunteers on stage with candles in honor of recently freed Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, (read more about her here). Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the audience via video after the song.  It's one of those powerful moments that U2 pull off so well.  Another moment was astronaut Mark Kelly's video intro to "Beautiful Day," where he floated flash cards with the lyrics before the song, and then quoted Bowie: "Tell my wife I love her very much: she knows." How could you not get a lump in your throat! Kelly read some of the lyrics during the song also. He is already home from his space mission, but still, wow. That moment could have overwhelmed the song, but it didn't.  "Beautiful Day" is that rare rock song about, well, beauty... but played with Zeppelin-esque power.  And last night's performance was righteous, as was the performance of its album-mate, "Elevation," which followed.  I know The Edge isn't a typical "guitar hero," his playing is so rocking while also being zen. Like Larry's drumming, you never feel like The Edge is trying to call all the attention to himself.

Some surprising '90s moments: "Miss Sarajevo" and "Zooropa," both of which were excellent. Bono even sang Pavarotti's part of "Sarajevo," and pretty much pulled it off.  He was in amazing vocal form, and of course, was incredible as a frontman (a great moment came when he read a setlist from a U2 show from The Fastlane, 30 years earlier).  Also, "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" from the Batman soundtrack was great, proving that not all of U2's superhero collaborations aren't disasters.  Although the folks at Marvel Comics probably weren't psyched that "Hold Me" made the playlist ("How about 'Rise Above 1?').

The show ended with No Line On The Horizon's "Moment Of Surrender." My opinion: it holds up with the band's best songs.  Check it out if you haven't.  It's a soul music classic.

And that's the way the show was supposed to end. But Bono says "One more!" And so it was that they launched into "Out Of Control." A song I've always loved and have never seen them perform in the 26 years I've been attending U2 concerts. It's amazing that they are still surprising me after all that time, both with old classics and with their ability to continuously add to their catalog, already bursting at the seam with an embarrassment of riches.

(a few other notes: the show was opened by Interpol, a very Joy Division sounding band, who are no match for Muse, who opened last time. The top photo here was taken by my lovely wife, and the second photo is by my dear friend Ashmi, follow her on Twitter.)

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