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U2 Tours (formerly part of AtU2): A Comprehensive Guide To U2’s Live Performance History
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by truecoloursfly

Ive probably emailed and journaled and blogged like, 3000 words about this show already. But I wont put them all here. It took me days to absorb all that U2 gave us in Vancouver. And between everyones reviews and the YouTube broadcast, another straight report isnt really necessary, is it? So heres just a few impressions that havent been covered much by other fans.

Bono --
Hes changing on stage his presence is even more powerful now than before. His mastery as he matures is something to behold. He is older, sure, but more than that, each phase of life that he himself enters seems to contribute something to his performing gifts. In 2005 he was less chatty than in 2001; while in 2009 there is a truer stillness within him as he moves around the stage, as he pulls the voice up and out of him. He shepherds the crowd, even as he hurls his vulnerability into their arms in complete trust. Dare I say his ego (about which hes always been completely candid) is less visible while his strength is moreso.

My dear friend and concert companion (and casual U2 follower) put it beautifully in her morning-after email: "I just love that feeling Bono gives me of being in the presence of greatness. Or more like Greatness, actually. The larger than life-ness that he's got while he's just this little guy walking around that huge contraption, he just ... doesn't look little. Like there's SO MUCH SOMETHING I DON'T EVEN KNOW in that one body, that it's like he's all crowding up in my business even from as far away as he was"

So much something. That's probably always been true of him, it's just that now the "something" is a little harder to name -- Bono's not trying so hard to put the words in our mouths. He's much better now at letting the songs, and the animating spirit of the songs, speak through him.

Some highlights:
The new album, which I love, is represented by 7 songs, all but one from the in-your-face front half of the record. They are brilliant live. The title track is a pile-driving buzz-saw of disorientation (also unfamiliar to its audience, but no matterBono is clearly inspired by it) that U2 uses to take us next into Elevation which proves once again to be without question one of the best stadium rock songs any band EVER created. Its got beat, structure, balance, sing-along simplicity and substance, all in a magical euphoric brew that lifts the band as much as it lifts all of us. The same should be said of Vertigo, designed for maximum catharsis and defenseless enlightenment all I know is that you give me something I can feel/your love is teaching me how to kneel

And then the band pushes all that giddy release into a flailing, vertiginous re-mix of a whimsical little pop song called I Know Ill Go Crazy if I Dont Go Crazy Tonight. On the album, its cute and catchy. Most of the audience dont know it. But that doesnt prevent the bands attack on it from cutting us all into little cubist bits the lyrics are mostly lost in the noise and feedback, but Bonos challenge is loud and insistent: Will you sing for your sanity? he shouts. The song is long and psychedelic, almost too long, almost out of control and uncomfortable when abruptly they gear down into images of Irans protesting citizens and a straight-no-chaser dose of Sunday Bloody Sunday. Without commentary, without prompts. And the song is more potent and more universal than anyone realized. The bands outrage is more than Irish.

This is the tour, by the way, where U2 finally dropped Bullet the Blue Sky as a political set piece. It shows up in every concert DVD since Rattle and Hum, and as great a piece of agitprop as it is, its been done to death! I cheer its absence on this tour when they have so much great political material to mine.

With or Without You/The Encore:
I was perplexed when I read several fan reviews of different shows that mentioned specifically Bono's performance of With or Without You. They reported that he was "bored with it," "tired of it, like he just doesn't care anymore after singing it so much..." Well, accuse the man of a lot of things, but never of forcing himself to sing something every night that he no longer likes! With a catalogue like theirs? With the missionary zeal that they bring to building their concerts? It just didn't make sense.
Now I know what those fan reviewers were referring to, but I saw something different than perhaps some of them did and God bless U2 for it.

There were 2 encores: the first one, not unpredictable: megahits One and Where the Streets Have No Name with a little surprise in between.
The second one was much less predictable, hearkening back to the unnerving appearance of MacPhisto at the end of the Zooropa concerts. At the end of Wednesday nights U2360 show, after the conventional encore of Big Hits, the band and their singer reappear -- or rather, a shadow wrapped in a suit of lights where the singer should be -- to sing Ultraviolet. Not a big hit by any stretch, not a selection included just for the fans. Not going through the conventional motions. That means, pay attention, folks.
Then theres the dark ambiguity of With or Without You.
He looks tired, cynical, perhaps angry his face is obscured, his voice is drained of feeling. With or Without You has been an emotional centrepiece on previous tours. Its a fan favourite, its a hypnotic love song, it is all these things, and the band is playing it as sweetly and seductively as ever but the U2360 rendition of it is a jarring, unsettling deconstruction of whatever we think this song is supposed to be.
As the song closes, the shadow removes his suit of lights, methodically places it on its hanger and hooks it to the radiant microphone, and very deliberately bids it goodbye: here we have 3 songs for the price of 2.
Goodbye, you can keep this suit of lights -- thats Gone (from Pop), written about life as a rich rock star (or rich anybody, I suppose) and dedicated to Michael Hutchence after his shocking death. That gesture leads directly into my favourite song from the new album, Moment of Surrender, which ends the show. Bono's shirtsleeve performance, on this night at least, is as guileless and exposed as that first take they captured on the album. This is not Bono the cheerleader. This is a man in confession, as earnest as I've ever seen him.

This final sequence, this coda to a buoyant, triumphant show, seems to me to be a mini-suite purpose-built for that closing song. Some media reviews expressed confusion or a shrugging disappointment in the lack of a Big Happy Finish not surprising. U2 doesnt want it to be easy: theyre asking us to think. Pushing us to feel.

In hindsight I will realize that virtually all of these songs have been about the battle to know oneself, or to be known. With the sole exception of the sweet In a Little While, dedicated to the families of touring rock stars and roadies, this concert contains no simple love songs. (And With or Without You is anything but simple, especially this year.) Instead, all of these songs express the souls hunger for clarity, for release, for union with the Source or the Destination, or both -- being stuck, seeking some light, getting lost, being found. U2 has long understood the political implications of our spiritual wounds, and the medias emphasis therefore has been on their politics because God knows thats easier than spirituality. But on this tour it seems the band has chosen to focus on the spiritual work required to change the world consistent with the tone of No Line on the Horizon.
The coda at the end of the show, the suit of lights, mimes our hidden story of fatigue, futility, and emptiness. Maybe it also says something more oblique about U2s life as rock stars certainly critique of the Pop Life is not new to their work. I dont know.
But either way, say goodbye to the suit of lights. On your knees, boy.

Moment of Surrender, as the bands farewell kiss on this tour, is unequivocally about being broken and it is unequivocally about being free. This is the paradox of faith, of spiritual surrender. I cannot imagine a more un-rocknroll note on which to end the biggest rock show ever mounted. It is so U2. Its why I love them.

The day after the show, I picked up tickets to see them again in Edmonton next year. Hopefully, then Ill be able to write about the new material from Songs of Ascent! God bless,


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