by Tim Cupery
Last night Mark Elliott and I drove over from Chapel Hill, NC, to see U2 in Charlotte. I wasn't planning to go, but Mark had an extra ticket way back but straightaway from the stage, and I ended up taking it. And U2 were really all that, and perhaps moreso now than ever. Even back in the upper deck, far from the floor and the stage, it was the best, most amazing, most winsome and meaningful etc. concert I've ever been to, which is saying a really lot given who I've seen over the years (Radiohead, Midnight Oil, King's X, Bruce Cockburn, Over the Rhine, Eddie from Ohio, Ben Folds, among others). How many times have you crossed yourself with tears in your eyes at a rock concert? Me neither, until now. The biggest thing that differentiates U2 from most rock bands is that they believe in what they're singing, and it's generally worth believing in, from African aid and debt-relief issues, to the integrating "In a Little While" into "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," just to emphasize that the latter isn't a song of doubt but rather about hope of the resurrection and fully renewed world. The singing-about-stuff-that-matters means that they have a basis to draw people in, year after year, and not become a parody of themselves. Much of the concert was a thinly veiled worship service, including their playing "Gloria" which hasn't been a live staple since the 1980's. The final encore, which finished up with "Yaweh" and "40," was beautiful. With the crowd singing "How long... to sing this song," they left one-by-one - first Bono, then Adam (who played guitar for the song), then The Edge, leaving the crowd singing on with Larry drumming away until he ended things with a tumultuous flourish.
They played a good mix of new and old songs, and the new stuff held up well in comparison. Even if HTDAAB didn't have the incredibly layered and nuanced production of "Achtung Baby" or POP (and I don't think that it does), the new songs themselves are very strong, although people weren't always as familiar with them so crowd participation was sometimes lower. But it's good to see that U2 aren't fossils, coming around to play "You Can't Always Get What You Want" yet again. Not that I would mind if they were, and of course they played a lot of old favorites as well. But again, those old songs mean as much now as they did then (with the exception, in my mind, of "Mysterious Ways," which has never particularly drawn me, though it is a cool song). Apart from being meaningful and relevant, the old songs aren't musically fossilized either. New lyrics are spliced in every so often, drum rhythms and basslines vary, and The Edge added some smoking rock guitar solos, especially on "Bullet the Blue Sky." Guitar solos! No one does them anymore. But some of those played were stunning.
For the time being, here's a picture of the band onstage, with Bono and Larry at the front of the ellipse, during "Love and Peace or Else," on which Bono kept beating on the tom-tom at the end of the song and the rhythm merged unbroken into "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which he is said is "America's song now" (given that stuff with the I.R.A. is officially finished).
1. City of Blinding Lights
5. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For/In a Little While
6. Beautiful Day/Many Rivers to Cross
7. Original of the Species
8. Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
9. Love and Peace or Else
10. Sunday Bloody Sunday/Rock the Casbah
11. Bullet the Blue Sky
12. Miss Sarajevo
14. Where the Streets Have No Name
16. Until the End of the World (with Zoo TV-ish lead-in)
17. Mysterious Ways
18. With or Without You
19. Stuck In a Moment