Tuesday, December 21, 2010

U2 Concert Review - Night 1

The moment I saw the top of the claw and the spire from the train station just outside Patersons Stadium, I got goosebumps. It looked humongous even from the exterior. As we make our way to the nearest gate, we can hear a guitar sound-check going on, loud and clear. I'd like to think it it's the Edge playing, although it could very well be his tech, Dallas. An hour later as the gates open, I'm finally face to face with the claw in all its majesty and grandeur. It looks much bigger than I thought. Initially I had doubts about buying the 300AUD seats, but I'm so glad I did cause we are only like 70m from the stage. A perfect unspoiled view.
Fast forward to 6:30pm. Beastie Boys' No Sleep Till Brooklyn blares loudly from the PA as the 15min timer starts counting down to the opening act. Jay-Z walks out to his hit song Run This Town. He's backed by a ten-piece live band (including a horn section); not bad for a rapper. I'm mostly familiar with the stuff from Blueprint and Blueprint 3. 99 Problems is one of my favorites, so is Empire State Of Mind, which obviously gets the biggest cheer. Some interesting notes; the band plays the intro of Jackson Five's I Want You Back as he raps the chorus of Izzo. Towards the end, Jay-Z does some ad-libbing over a Radiohead sample. He jokingly introduces the next act as a little band who is sure to become famous soon. From my vantage point, it looks like the crowd is already fired up as he humbly leaves the stage. A job well done.
As the U2 crew sets up the amps and instruments, a clock shows up on the screen, but running unusually fast. About 8:30pm as the hands strike twelve midnight, the soft acoustic guitar strains of David Bowie's Space Oddity can be heard. Then, "Ground Control to Major Tom". The moment has finally arrived. The crowd behind the stage makes the most noise first. Then the four Irish lads appear on the screen as they strut to take their positions and the whole stadium goes off.
The houselights remain on as the Edge plays the opening riff to Stingray Guitar. Bono wastes no time walking to the outer circle, doing some funky cat walk. It's a fantastic way to start off the show, when you can see everyone in the audience going crazy. As the song ends, the stadium goes dark as the band launches into Beautiful Day. I remember falling in love with the song ten years ago, and now I can't believe I'm hearing it live for the first time. Then the band goes all the way back thirty years with I Will Follow, well received by all those in my area. I'm not particularly a fan of Get On Your Boots, but this live version rocks like hell. It starts off with the cool 'Let me in the Sound' refrain. Edge's guitar is so loud and piercing it's hard not to enjoy the song. We are treated to some nice accompanying visuals. And let's not forget the claw; there are shit loads of lights under every leg, and also on the spire. It's the main reason why this show works they way it does.
"Where are we going?" Bono gives a shout-out to Fremantle and Perth at the start of Magnificent, already in the book as one of the best U2 stadium songs. This is followed by the usual but always great crowd pleasing hits, Mysterious Ways and Elevation. Next up is Until The End Of The World, which features some awesome interplay between Bono and Edge. At the end of the song, they stand on the middle of the bridges, as their hands reach out to each other, as the bridges close in. Imagine standing right below those moving bridges. Bono also sings a short snippet of Leonard Cohen's Anthem here. Then the band takes a breather as Bono introduces the members. At every show, he makes an effort to do this in different interesting ways. This time he compares the band to different cricket players, and appropriately so since the Ashes (England vs. Australia) is in town the same weekend. Unfortunately, the references go right over my head.
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For is especially emotional for me. For the first verse, Bono leaves it to us to sing. It's one concert moment I'll never forget. The following two songs are the ones that rotate constantly every show. As Bono introduces the next one as a new unreleased song, I immediately think Mercy(!!!). But we get North Star instead, a tender stripped-down ballad with Edge on electric guitar. Then up comes Pride and the crowd goes wild again. During In A Little While, Bono picks a lucky young lady from the inner circle and serenades her. The same spaceship theme is left unchanged, as the video screen shows the commander of the International Space Station reciting some lyrics from the song. Next is Miss Sarajevo, definitely one of the highlights of the night. Bono nails Pavarotti's part perfectly.
Then comes one of my favorite parts of the night. There's a nice talking segue-way leading into City Of Blinding Lights, where the giant LED screen slowly descends and spreads out into tiny screens. This is where the claw really takes off. City has the prettiest lights of all, and rightfully so. It still blows my mind just thinking about that experience. Vertigo is also damn cool, with the screen spinning round 360 degrees to give that dizzy vertigo effect. Crazy Tonight is the usual remix version. Larry Mullen plays the bongos this time and has the chance to walk out to the audience. Sunday Bloody Sunday now adopts a new meaning, about the Middle East crisis. This is where the claw turns green.
Scarlet is more appropriate than MLK this time, because Aung San Suu Kyi has been finally released from house arrest, as Bono sings "Rejoice". A particularly powerful Walk On (played now for the thousands of political prisoners in Burma) ends the main set. The ONE volunteers bringing out lanterns, surround the outer circle halfway through the song. As the band leaves the stage, the video screen plays Bishop Desmond Tutu's message of peace; the same one we've seen on the Rose Bowl DVD. One contains intercut footage of the band during the Achtung Baby era in Berlin, driving around in the tiny car. Next comes the best moment of the show, Streets. I like the Joshua Tree footage of the then still young band, discovering America for the first time -- that really hit home for me.
After a camp spaceship cartoon video, Bono comes out wearing what looks like the most expensive suit ever, complete with lasers. He sings the fan favorite Ultraviolet with the cool-looking wheel mike hanging from above. At this point, it's already close to 10:30pm, the expected curfew cutoff time. It seems like the band is just going through the motions and trying to finish up the songs as quickly as possible. I really thought they were gonna end after With Or Without You, but they manage to make it through Moment Of Surrender. It's a bold way to end the show, considering it's not a hit at all. The way Bono sings this is just awe-inspiring.
I leave the stadium still wanting more, like I'm somehow getting the feeling that something isn't complete. Don't get me wrong, it's an amazing show on every level, but it seems to me like the band isn't in top form tonight; it's just an average working day for them. Unfortunately, the sound from where we are seating at the side isn't that good; it's over distorted. I only realized later that there are half a stack of speakers less than the front and rear. As for the setlist; it may look like a greatest hits show. But in this case, the songs are there for a reason. There's a unique light show that goes with each of them, and all these songs work in that respect. The sequencing of the songs are almost flawless. So the question is does the 360 show live up to its hype? Absolutely it does. For U2, it's not just about the music, but also the spectacle that comes with it. They want to engage all our senses and they've succeeded in doing so. It really takes the live concert to a whole new level. And believe it or not, in a stadium of 50,000 plus, there is a sense of intimacy achieved. It's one of those hard-to-explain things, you just gotta be there to know.