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

I've been going to U2 shows for 20 years, starting on February 27, 1985 in Houston, TX. In all, I've seen the band perform live 22 times in 20 years.

Nothing prepared me for the May 29, 2005 Vertigo show in Boston which is the best show I have ever seen the band perform. The band easily takes the prize for best live show in rock today.

As the lights went down and the crowd went wild with anticipation, the band members emerged one-by-one from beneath the stage. Each member walked the entire length of the catwalk , each with a searchlight lighting the faces of the audience. It reminded me of the Joshua Tree tour with Bono and the Searchlight.

Only drummer Larry Mullen and Bono remained on the catwalk as they launched into Love and Peace or Else from their new album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Larry pounded on a drum set up at the edge of the ellipse as Bono emoted the lyrics:

Lay down
Lay down your guns
All ya daughters of Zion
All ya Abraham sons
I don't know if I can make it
I'm not easy on my knees
Here's my heart, I'll let you break it
Needs some release, release, release
I need love and peace
Love and peace

It set the tone for an emotionally-charged and electrifying performance.

Bono and Larry both stayed on the catwalk throughout, which I do not remember seeing the band do on the opening song EVER. We were standing about twenty feet from the catwalk, close enough to see the steam rising off the singer.

By the end of the song, Bono had taken up his position on the drum as Edge worked the guitar and the band returned to center stage. I never thought I'd see Bono drum and he's actually good, at least he has the timing, Larry might disagree =)

Reassembled at center stage the band launched into bonecrushing versions of Vertigo and Elevation. The crowd went nuts, drowning out Bono during the call-and-response of Vertigo ("Hello! Hello! Hola!!"), it was quite the experience. There's nothing like being in a sea of singing fans! The fans and Bono sang the opening of Elevation alone for a two minutes with Bono exclaiming "you're beautiful" and mentioning the non-stop rain of the past days stating "I know you wanted to make us feel at home!"

The band reached back into the archives to pull out The Electric Co. and An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart. I noticed some of the crowd was puzzled and not as enthusiastic as the opening numbers, but it delighted the long-time fans. An Cat Dubh sounded perfect and wowed this longtime fan who never had the opportunity to see it performed live before.

During Into the Heart, Bono crawled along the catwalk, sucking his thumb as he sang the lyrics:

Into the heart
Into the heart of a child
I can go back
I can stay awhile

He then pulled two young fans onstage; I'd say they were ten and twelve and walked back to the main stage with them, keeping them onstage for the entire next song City of Blinding Lights with the ecstatic chorus of:

Time won't leave me as I am
But time won't take the boy out of this man
Oh you look so beautiful tonight
In the city of blinding lights

The crowd was lifted even further with Beautiful Day; the crowd cheered heartily at the refrain "You love this town." Near the end of the song, Bono exclaimed "summer's coming, summer's coming Massachusetts" and added clips of "Here Comes the Sun."

Bono introduced Miracle Drug by talking about Lou Reed and his song "Busload of Faith" and how the tour "nearly didn't happen" and that it took a "busload of faith to get on the bus" but that faith in the band and the fans had made it happen. He talked about faith in God and science and faith that God can inspire scientists, an explanation at odds with the current stem cell debate:

Of science and the human heart
There is no limit
There is no failure here sweetheart
Just when you quit...

Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own was introduced as a song "for a working class Dublin man, my father Bob." Bono was clearly very emotional as he stood at the edge of the ellipse with this sunglasses off, offering the song as a prayer and the audience singing all the lyrics with him:

I know that we don't talk
I'm sick of it all
Can, you, hear, me, when, I, sing
You're the reason I sing
You're the reason why the opera is in me
Well hey now, still gotta let ya know
A house doesn't make a home
Don't leave me here alone

Bono added some lyrics at the end, which I believe were his father's last words: "It's three o-clock in the morning, set 'em up Joe, there's a black bush, a black bush..."

The band then launched into its older work for much of the remainder of the show. New Year's Day was followed by particularly strong versions of Sunday Bloody Sunday and Bullet the Blue Sky. Bono donned a headband with the word "COEXIST" scrawled on it with the C as the Muslim crescent, the Star of David as the X and the cross as the T. Bono explained that he had seen "some graffitti on a wall in the midwest." During the lull in SBS he pointed at his headband and sang,

Jesus, Jew, Muhammad, its true
All sons of Abraham, all sons of Abraham,
Father Abraham, look what youve done,
Father Abraham, Speak to your sons,
Tell them no more!

Bullet the Blue Sky included a new blues twist by Edge, saw Bono put the headband over his eyes as he knelt like a prisoner with his hands crossed above his head with Bono adding lyrics from the Civil War song "Johnny Comes Marching Home:"

When Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah hurrah
When Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah hurrah
Johnny come home to Massachusetts...

Running to Stand Still was dedicated to "the brave men and women of the United States military" to hearty applause. Bono started out with the harmonica and the end of the song included a reading from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Subtly political, it included the reading of Articles 5 and 6, which received much applause:

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 6: Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

The show segued into Bono's work on behalf of Africa with Pride (In the Name of Love). In the prelude to Where the Streets Have No Name, Bono equated the struggle for civil rights in America with the struggle for human rights in Africa:

From of bridges of the Alabama River to the mouth of the River Nile
From the swampy waters of Louisiana to the high hills of Kilimanjaro
From Dr King's America to Nelson Mandela's Africa
The journey of equality moves....on!

The backdrop, which in prior shows had been bright red now includes an outline of Africa with the flags of each African nation moving down the screen. In the introduction to One, Bono talked about his work on behalf of Africa, telling the audience that when he was young his first impression of America was Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and how the Irish thought "America is mad" but that America can do anything if it puts it mind to it. Referring to President Kennedy, Bono said

He led and the world followed and that's what we're asking President Bush, Prime Minister Blair and Jacques Chirac. We're not asking them to put a man on the moon. In fact, we're asking President Bush to bring mankind back to earth, please. We have the resources, the technology, the pharmaceuticals, the knowhow to end extreme poverty in places like Africa. If they lead we will follow, let's see if theyhave the will. This is not about the left or the right. This is not politics, this is our very possible adventure, something that our generation maybe remembered for...This is for our friends at Oxfam...

During the song, Bono asked the audience to take out their cellphones -- "It's the 21st century" -- to light up the arena and "be a light in the darkness." This was my favorite part of the show, seeing thousands of cell phones glowing all around the arena as the band played. A stroke of genius. It was very emotional and a good segue into the first encore.

When the band reemerged, they switched gears with a reprise of songs from Achtung Baby with The Fly and Until the End of the World, both of which sounded very crisp. Then Bono made some motions to the other band members and they started playing Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses which had not been played since the Zoo TV tour. 'This is a song we haven't played for about ten years, maybe more." It sounded phenomenal!

Returning to their new album, the band ripped through All Because of You before Bono and Edge made their way to the edge of the ellipse for an acoustic version of Yahweh:

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

With this, the band seemed to be done. But a party atmosphere was in the offing, as Bono picked up a bottle of champagne and showed the audience a proclamation from the Mayor designating May 24, 2005 as "U2 Day." The crowd went nuts. Bono said "So on the final show of the first leg, where else would we want to be but Boston Massachusetts?"

With a bottle of champagne in hand, the band launched into Party Girl with Bono exclaiming "Adam's looking very worried" as the band got its moorings. Bono then muffed a few lyrics. The audience loved it and heartily sang along "Hey!" in the appropriate places. Bono thanked "the makers of Verve Cliqout, all praises to our heavenly father, all praises to Larry Mullin who sits on the right hand of Adam Clayton, to the Edge, and to Napoleon Bono-parte."

Suddenly, the band launched into Vertigo again, with Bono explaining:

OK this is an Italian lesson. The word is encore meaning encore. In the opera, if you felt like it and you really liked one of the songs they played earlier, you just did it again. Uno, dos, tres, catorce!

The crowd just went nuts at this, singing along even louder than the first time. The band sounded amazing, very tight and having the time of their lives. Bono changed some of the lyrics around to mention Massachusetts. Leaving the stage, Bono exclaimed "see you in the fall!"

The band exited and the lights stayed down for a long time; the audience was very loud and I figured that if they were going to come out again for any show it would be this one. Alas, it was not meant to be as the lights came on and the audience collectively exlaimed "Awwww!:

But we all left with huge smiles on our faces and the confirmation in our hearts that we had once again seen the greatest live band in the world.

Qualifications: I've seen U2 three times on the Joshua Tree tour (Houston, Austin, Tempe), twice on Zoo TV (Oakland indoors and outdoors), 12 times on PopMart (Las Vegas, San Diego, Oakland I & II, Los Angeles, Belfast, Leeds, Dublin I & II, Houston, Vancouver and Seattle), and four times on Elevation (San Jose I & II and Oakland I & II). In all, I have now seen the band 24 times.

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