The show was what fans have always expected from U2: intense, heavy with emotion, soaring in its theatrics and penetrating in its messages.”
U2 – 360 Tour Chicago Show #1, 09.12.09
Reviewed by Ed DeLong
Opening night of The States arm of the 360 Tour brought out plenty of energy from the Boys and the crowd. The show was what fans have always expected from U2: intense, heavy with emotion, soaring in its theatrics and penetrating in its messages. The staging was wonderfully arranged. The visuals created by the “widget” claw in lighting and atmosphere were typical of a good rock show, very cool looking. The band was captured by a variety of cameras that were brilliantly produced onto the very large 360 degree high definition television screen that hung below the widget. Often during the show it felt like you were already watching a video of it, in that the quality of the shots and angles of vision were so well integrated with the ideas in the music and the show. Other media also made its way onto the screen (which also expanded downward during part of the show, increasing its size by three times) setting moods or just adding to the beauty of the show. Though nothing like the visual overload in the ZooTV or Pop Tours, it was still a pleasure just to watch.
U2 has made a point of flat out rocking harder than ever before…And when they are on, like Saturday night, I don’t see anybody out there beating them.”
This show also rocked! It seems to me the last two tours U2 has made a point of flat out rocking harder than ever before. At the end of Vertigo Bono looked down at a camera and threw a couple punches. I knew what he was signaling, and I agree. At this point in their career I’d put up U2 against any other band in a competition for just rocking hard. And when they are on, like Saturday night, I don’t see anybody out there beating them.
Along this line, during several tours U2 has made a point of starting the show in some unusual way, just to prove that they can capture an audience without the usual trappings of a staged rock show. During the Elevation tour they actually began the first song with house lights still up and didn’t switch over to stage lights till well into the song. A powerful move. This show followed suit, beginning with Breathe, off the new Album. It is not a lead off song (I don’t think there is one on the Album), but it is about finding space in the world to relax, to be yourself, to breathe. From that perspective it fits as a lead off tune. Three more new songs followed, then Beautiful Day and Elevation. By the end of this grouping the crowd was so involved, the audience singing so loud, that Bono began to take notice. The mood changed as they played Still Haven’t Found . . ., but at the start of the second verse Bono quieted the band and stepped back from the mic, and just smiled as the audience sang perfectly as one the entire second verse. Singing your heart out at a U2 show is nothing new, but an entire verse? Unique I think.
Several other songs got rearrangements. An acoustic version of Stuck in a Moment was done by just Edge and Bono. The timing was changed giving it a more staccato rhythm, which gave Bono the opportunity to emphasize certain lyrics. He repeated the line “It’s just a moment” four or five times at the end, nicely leading you to the point that whatever the issue, it too can pass, if you can let it go. I’ll Go Crazy . . . was completely revised and sounded like a mushy club dance mix with lots of bass and Larry walking around playing a bongo. I much preferred this take to the albums version.
Another aspect of every U2 show is the thread of ideas flowing through each song and in the transitions between them. I have a particular fondness for this. Some complain that U2 should play a greater variety of their work in their shows. I am not one of them. I love the way old songs can take on added meaning by what other songs they are grouped together with, and how a numbers depth of meaning can be enhanced in the same way. A special one of these moments happened for me with the transition from Elevation to Still Haven’t Found. . . . The first peak of intensity in the show occurred with Elevation. It both summed up the first five songs and provided a kind of closure for them. Well then it’s a natural fit to recognize that even given all the joy and fulfillment of those early songs it is nonetheless true that something still is always missing in life, or that moments of pain can steal it away (the following song). Unknown Caller followed on Stuck in a Moment, offering a path out of your suffering. Then the songs that followed (Unforgettable Fire, City of Blinding Lights, Vertigo) all began to move out into life in the world from a more positive outlook.
Perhaps the spiritual focus for 360 is learning to come to terms with your shortcomings and finding the courage and new direction to continue on anyway.”
These elements lead me to ponder the spiritual content of the show. As always U2s interest is with the soul rather than just the body. For me the most spiritually uplifting Tour was Elevation (2001). It felt the most like being at church, or in the presence of divinity, of which U2 was the conduit, not the focus! I haven’t figured out yet how to classify this one. I think it was second only to that show, but different. There was more here about muddling your way through life rather than just celebrating it, maybe more too about repentance and changing your direction mid-course. Perhaps the spiritual focus for 360 is learning to come to terms with your shortcomings and finding the courage and new direction to continue on anyway.
Usually I shy away from picking favorites; there are just too many quality moments and songs. Especially with the integration of a U2 show in the atmosphere and the mood of the song, as well as the thread of ideas and themes from song to song, it’s usually just too difficult to single out one element as best.
…the most piercing performance was Ultra Violet”
But this show was different. For me the most piercing performance was Ultra Violet (Light My Way) (Achtung Baby). One of their many undervalued songs, Ultra Violet communicates a desperate heart’s pleading for its love to lead it, to fill it, to complete it. It’s about the dirt and the mess, the distorted emotional turmoil in relationships. It’s about a desperate need; one that wrenches the heart from its setting. One for which there’s no cure, where your only hope to survive resides in your lover’s unwilling grace. It is Angst squared. And live, it was haunting and surreal. But how do you capture such a thing in writing? How do you “re-view” it? In order to be fair to U2’s performance in my description, I shall attempt to evoke from you something like the haunting and surreal feelings I experienced while watching it. (good luck)
In the dark and purple mist Bono re-enters the stage in a jacket covered with dozens of laser like lights shining out spikes of red light (only Bono right?). As he moves forward he grabs hold of a ring of light suspended just above head high, kind of like a steering wheel or an old radio mic with an inner circle surrounded by a larger one, the ring is lit in a florescent yellow and red. The song begins quietly with Bono speaking the opening words as he slowly spins. As the song progresses the spins become more violent and he drops his head between lines, tiredly holding himself up by the ring.
He pulls himself back up to sing out another line, and as his head drops again I slip into thinking that this moment feels like some dark, lonely lounge in a large city, where a singer who is past his end continues the ritual of performing every night, with or without an audience, simply because he must. Most of his stuff is trite and uninteresting. But then this haunting song comes on when you feel something different from him. You stop and look, and you realize that this song, this moment, is why he is here tonight, and every night. He must be here to sing, to bleed out (thanks LP) his pain, his love, his turmoil. He has no choice, because his lover exists now only in this place, only in this performance. He yearns for its presence, he desperately needs it: so he sells his soul every night to get it here.
His lover, his love, is not the kind you can control, but it does control you. And it’s not gentle either. It twists your mind, it breaks your heart, and rips your soul. But all the while you thrill to it, you gasp at the pleasure it brings, you’re sick with love for it. So you try to cling to it, to hold yourself up by it, you can’t let go. Its hold on you is so strong it seems like it comes from another dimension, like it reaches down from above and to lead you on, to play you like a marionette.
When this love is on it carries you, like grace, it’s almost like floating. Bono runs a little and lifts off the ground, swinging and spinning wildly as he continues singing. Light spills out from him, mirror balls fill the stadium with spikes of beauty. It’s exhilarating, breathtaking. His voice reaches for the sky: louder, higher and fuller, letting out more emotion than seems possible. It feels out of control, wild with intensity and angst. It’s the flower of love, and with this love you could conquer life, worlds, even yourself. Hell, you could even sleep on stones if you had to, and smile comfortably.
But when it’s gone, even riches and luxury won’t stop the pain. Nothing can help the lostness, the loneliness, the weight of emptiness in you. You can’t speak and you can’t sleep, you can’t live. He’s down on the stage now. He pulls himself back up one more time, to bleed out another line, to light up his love, to let out a little of his pain, the opera in his mind. For just a moment as he sings he’s alive again, then he drops his head, empty and exhausted. The song’s pulse quickens as it moves between these poles of emptiness and fullness, between raging your heart out into the mic and hanging your head in helplessness. It’s the theatre of the lover’s soul. It’s tragic, but it’s also beautiful, this requiem for his lover.
And when this song is over, you are done too. You might as well go home and lick your wounds, you’ve had your ass kicked, and without the song you have nothing left to feel either, like him. For this song you clap. You go up and thank the performer, because you felt it with him, you really lived with him, in this magical performance. But you will also be haunted by the performance of this song, this ritual, all of your life. You think it has captured for you something of the soul of love. And that feels both beautiful and dangerous. Of course all this is in the surreal life of a rock and roll show. In real life U2 is moving on to their next number, With or Without You, which is going to evoke still more emotions from me as it pierces my heart and lifts my soul, so yeah I gotta go, I’m running out of cathartic change!
Ed is a veteran of nine U2 shows and raved so much about this one I asked him to share his thoughts about the show. If you already kicking yourself for not being there then I am sure you really are now! -dbM
Contact him at (email@example.com ; Facebook:Ed DeLong)