A Year in the Making: U2 360 Salt Lake City

U2 are the band that it seems everyone, of every age, has a fervently held opinion about, either positive or negative. It’s possible, maybe even fashionable, to be deeply cynical about them now, especially when they show up with 27 semis and build a UFO in a football stadium, preach at you between songs (am I buggin’ you?) and charge a hundred bucks per ticket for the privilege of hearing them do so. That kind of thing can turn people off.

And on top of all that, when you delay the concert for a year while your primadonna lead singer recuperates from a bad back (damaged while shouldering the cares of the world no doubt) you better think twice before hauling your sorry ass into town and asking people to dust off their year-old tickets and show up to your over-late, over-blown traveling circus of a show.

And yet.  U2 are just that band for me.  That band because I first fell in love with them listening to a borrowed copy of Wide Awake In America on my battered car stereo while driving to and from ski resorts as a budding ski bum in the 80s and watching a rented copy of Under A Blood Red Sky curled up in a dark basement. 

Fell in love with them again in 1987 as a college sophomore teaching English in China when a bootlegged copy of The Joshua Tree felt like my only lifeline to civilization.  

Went to Rattle and Hum when I got home and loved every cliched minute. 

Fell in love with them again in law school when Achtung Baby was the only thing I ever listened to in the my red Corolla commuting from Tacoma to Olympia and back in the dark.

I was there for the Zoo TV tour on the sixth row.  The Pop Mart tour in the nosebleed section.  The Elevation tour just after 9/11 when it felt like Bono was our national funeral director and head cheerleader.  I watched U23D in the theater three times.  I mean, I love these guys, man.  But can a love like that continue into middle age, or does it lose something over the years?  Could this show live up to all the delayed expectations, or would it just be a disappointing retread?

I took my 14 year old daughter to the show, because she was excited about it and she has never seen U2.  That concept is hard for me to wrap my head around.  I used to sing her to sleep with this little lullaby when she was a baby:

As soon as we got into the stadium, the fun started. Even the ticket checkers were having a good time:

As it turned out, I was glad she was there with me.

The Fray opened and, coming fresh off their hometown appearance in Denver, they were charged up. Frontman Isaac Slade was engaging, marvelling at the size of his image on the jumbotron and the length of time it took to take a lap on the the enormous circular stage. He mentioned that his songs are primarily failed interventions and said they were working on a whole set of new ones.

It took almost an hour to reset after The Fray, during which time we were entertained by messages crawling accross the jumbotron. They were educational, telling us the time in various locations, as well as a number of obscure but interesting facts. For instance, did you know that no US President has ever been an only child? Or that the world will run out of oil in 15,500 or so days? Now you do.

U2 took the stage to the opening sounds of “Major Tom” and launched directly into “Even Better Than the Real Thing”, which was appropriate, since the two hour setlist leaned heavily toward Achtung Baby material:

Even Better Than The Real Thing
I Will Follow
Get On Your Boots
Magnificent
Mysterious Ways
Elevation
Until The End Of The World
All I Want Is You
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
Beautiful Day
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Miss Sarajevo
Zooropa
City Of Blinding Lights
Vertigo
I’ll Go Crazy / Discotheque
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Scarlet
Walk On

Encore 1
One
Where The Streets Have No Name

Encore 2
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
With Or Without You
Moment Of Surrender

The “Walk On” portion of the show was kicked off by a message from recently freed political prisoner and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  She gave credit to U2 and Amnesty International for her release.  Another portion of the show saw Bono reminding the audience that in some places, “dancing will earn you a life sentence, (and in some places it should).”  Images on the screen evoked the Arab Spring, while the iconic drumline and guitar of (this song is NOT a rebel song, this song is…) “Sunday Bloody Sunday” charged into the night.

But all that is just the expected trappings that go along with a U2 concert.  The thing that sets U2 apart from every other rock band is the theatrics.  All that gimckrackery that they haul around with them in their trucks to every city.  It has the potential for being an annoying distraction, but instead, in this case all that technology was seamlessly wedded to the artistry of the show.  The setlist was almost irrelevant because the show seemed like a unified artistic whole that flowed flawlessly, even when Bono took time out to sing happy birthday to Bob Dylan or read a poem about Utah with three groupies from the audience.

The band members themselves have never looked better, nor has Bono ever been in better Vox.  The enormous stage was a challenge, but Bono circumnavigated it several times, as did the others, which may account for why they are all in such great shape.  Larry, in particular, looked like he could walk through a brick wall unscathed as he waltzed out from behind his drumkit playing his very own conga while jamming to “I’ll Go Crazy.”  Edge was actually pogo-ing while playing guitar at times, which you don’t really expect to see this side of Blink 182.  This band has energy, folks, and they’re not afraid to use it. 

In short, this may be the best U2 show ever.  My first one will always hold a special place in my heart, and it’s hard to beat the feeling that pervaded the arena in 2001 when the roll call of the dead climbed the wall and Bono opened his star-spangled heart, but if it’s possible for a rock show in a football stadium to feel (dare I say it) intimate, this show achieved that.  It’s not often you can say things like this about a rock band, and God knows, it may make some cynics want to put their eyes out to read it, but this show actually made me want to be a better person.  How many rock concerts can you say that about?

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2 Responses

  1. I’m so happy to have been reminded about “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “I Go Crazy!” That whole album has some good tunes. I’ve been bored with U2 for several years but will always look back on our days together with nostalgia and fondness. I guess I’m one of the fans that Bono considers “not quite as goovy as we’d like.”

  2. No way. You’re always uber-groovy.

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