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by Mike

What a disappointment...

After reading reviews, I decided to give my two cents. It seems that reviews posted here are coming from either first-timers, or die-hard fanatics, who follow the band seeing 5-10 concerts on every tour. It is so no surprise that reviews coming from these people are largely positive (and shallow). For the former - U2 blows their fresh minds away (like much everything else being done for the first time), and the latter are just blinded by the fanatism and addiction to U2, and going to their concerts is a ("miracle") drug for them.

I don't belong to either of these groups. This show (5/18) and the previous one (5/17) were my 2nd and 3rd U2 shows (the first one was during the Elevation tour), but I am a HUGE FAN of them for 10+ years (pretty much since when I started listening to the music), I love them, I listen to their music very often, but I am not a blinded fanatic and can admit that they sometimes put out garbage.

I was so disappointed after the first NJ show (5/17, where I was seated right opposite the stage in the upper level), that when I saw last-minute Ticketmaster tickets next morning, I decided to give it a second chance and snatched a rear-stage lower-level seat (which is very different from my previous day position), but the impression was largely the same.

OK, to the business.
PLAYING AND MUSIC QUALITY. The only good part in the show. Bono's voice is strong. Nothing changed here for the last 15 years. The band is tight and seems coherent.

SOUND QUALITY. Sound was bad in both locations, and too loud (I am a very experienced concert-goer, and beleive me, I know what a good arena sound is), although it was not auful.

SETLIST. Disappointed. Very static and predictable. I should have not read this site and all the reviews posted here, but even then I think I would have found the setlist far from being optimal. Why do they play the same list all over again every night and change only a couple of songs? Aren't they bored to death by doing that? I understand it's difficult to make a new setlist every night. But make something like Chicago 4 show (this tour) - change the order, alternate at least 5-6 songs every concert! You have a huge arsenal of good songs. The fans will forgive you if you don't play them perfectly.

The setlist did not flow well, it stumbled over the slower songs. Oldies are questionable. "Electric Co" was OK, but "An Cat Dubh" ruined the pace. And what did Bono mean by lying for 3 minutes on the catwalk? The same thing for the 5/18 show - "Gloria" was OK, "The Ocean" ruined the tempo. "Vertigo" does not sound great in a live setting, as it should've sounded and as it was portrayed by earlier reviews. The same thing with "All Because Of You" - and this song was also misplaced - it shoud go somewhere in the beginning of the setlist. "Bullet The Blue Sky" lacked video-support of the Elevation tour (that famous NRA thing). The whole "Achtung Baby" stretch was unimpressing. First, "Zoo Station" and "Fly" aren't the best choices - "Until The End..." and "Even Better..." would be more interesting. The same with "Mysterious Ways" - it was just slow and flat - why not "With Or Without You" or "I Still Haven't Found..." instead? Second, why try to recreate a piece of "Zoo-TV" - this attempt failed - we've seen that. Haven't they stated in the Elevation tour, that the experiments of the 90-th was a mistake? It seemed that they ran out of ideas and just tried to recreate the long gone feelings of the past, by stitching the pieces of the previous shows together (the "Elevation" tour donated the "heart", mutated into "ellipse", the "Zoo-TV" tour donated the encore "Achtung Baby" stretch of songs). The only place that made the whole arena feeling extatic and delirious was, of course, "Where The Streets Have No Name."

I want to comment separately on Bono's political preaching. This time it sounded awkward. The speaches were untimely, long, and boring. In the "Elevation" tour it was crafted masterfully into the music, with the NRA-themed "Bullet The Blue Sky" standing out prominently. Let the music do the talking - it makes much greater effect on people's minds! And what about this dedication of "Running To Stand Still" to American troops? Isn't it a song about drug addiction?

STAGE DESIGN. Somewhat disappointed. Worse than they had it on Elevation. Not having a back for the stage is a major letdown. It limits your visual expression tools to having something like light curtains, that still obstruct the view (people, who say that they don't, must have been blind or drunk) for the people from the rear-stage seats, while being not as expressive, as big computer screens. What did they want to achieve by adding rear-stage seats? Sell more tickets and make more money? By letting in another 2000-3000 people (who seat closer to the band) they sacrificed any possible elaborate and good stage design, ultimately making experience for the rest 15000-18000 people much less interesting. I think it is a bad tradeoff.

Visuals of the light curtains were very primitive and not inspiring/interesting/supportive of the music. And what a lame idea to put a walking man during "Sometime you can't..."! Anyone who had been in downtown Manhattan knows that there are big computer displays at the entrance to a public buidling at the Chambers street, right behind the City Hall Park, that have been showing exactly the same computer animation for over a year now. Very bad homework from the stage designers.

Lighting was very static and unimaginative. OK, even with the same equipment and stage design you could do something more interesting and innovative. Just change it more frequently, use flood lights more often, there are tons of other ideas. I don't want another over-the-top "pop-mart", but not this dull design as it was.

PEOPLE. The crowd was not very much into the show. Some 10-20% of the sections in my both locations was sitting throughout the show. And people STARTED TO LEAVE (!!!) after the main set. The exodus was not stopped even when the first encore began!!! I think this is a reflection of the concert quality.

The only thing that redeemed U2 was the encore "Vertigo" in the 5/17 concert, and the whole story with "The Bank Robbers" in the 5/18 one. Not that I think that "Vertigo" played second time was better - it was the same - OK, good, not great - it it this spontaniety and freshness, thrown in the concert, that inspired me. The kids of "The Bank Robbers" and their improvisation with Larry on drums stole the show - the best part of the night, except of the closing "Bad - 40", which was awesome.

So to conclude - musically, the band is great. I think "How To Dismantle..." is one of their best recordings, very close to "Achtung Baby" and is definitely much better than the previous half-crap "All That You Can't...". But this tour is much worse than the "Elevation." Some excitment, no revelation, no "spiritual experience." With the current state of things I think you can get the latter two only going to a U2 concert for the first time and only ending up being in the front rows inside the ellipse. Only then your mind will be blown away as was mine 4 years ago. But then your expectations will be set so high that, unless you become a blindly-addicted U2 fanatic, they will be never matched later on. You can never enter the same river twice...

Having said that, I should admit that they are still the best rock act, but this "best" meaning not "the best of all possible", but "the best of who is currently out there", which is a different thing. In 2000-2001 they regained the status of "the best rock band" in the first meaning, this time around they still hold the title, but unfortunately, in the second meaning.

I wanted to go to their MSG concerts this fall. I think I'll skip.

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