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

So how was the show? Did you have a good time?
Im sorry, but isnt that kind of like, Yeah, Ive heard of your husband. What do you think, is he a nice guy?
I dont know how to answer that. Of course I had a good time! But ask me if I even knew where I was, or if the traffic and pavement were still outside the arena, or if there were other people in the very same building just putting in an ordinary nights work in uniform for an ordinary nights wages! No, I was on a different plane: I walked into a storm of noise, 18 000 voices and pairs of hands, a tempest in a universe unto itself, light and shadow and glitter, and a rhythmic thunder of drums and bass that vibrated off my sternum; and shimmering words from on high, showering us like a fire hydrant in July:

OH! You look so beauti-fuull toniiiight!
So did it look like it might be a nice evening? It looked like Vertigo.

Let me say this much, to get it off my chest. When I saw U2 exactly 4 years ago, it had been 9 years since my last show, with a lot of life (theirs and mine!) in the interim. I was caught unawares, unprepared for their determination to win us, for Bonos radiant transparency, for the sheer beauty of the new music live, and for a reinvigorated faith that was palpable, and electrifying. God was in the house, and Joy was Gods name that night.
Last night in Vancouver was not like that. Last night was somehow, serious business. Bono didnt chat much. I didnt get the show I looked forward to, the giddily joyful experience that changed me in 2001. This seemed to be no time for socializing: instead, this performance felt urgent. The songs spoke, not Bono, and they were merciless. He served them and make no mistake, he submitted utterly, with passion and mastery. His voice is magnetic, and as agile as its ever been. But this show wasnt about showmanship, there was no MacPhisto, nor even chatty introductions of the band. The singer wasnt front and centre, the songs were. It was Bono, his microphone, his material, and Edge, Larry, and Adam a force of nature around him. We werent seeing a kinder, gentler U2 with something to prove after the techno excesses. We were witness to the hard-rock muscle and blood.

This was, after all, no veteran band reapplying for the job. They werent even, despite Bonos pre-tour schtick, a scrappy combo touring their first album. What we saw and heard was a rock band in the fullness of a maturity and seasoning you cant get before 40, unapologetic about what they know and what theyve seen. If someone like Dylan or Sting or Bruce grow into introspection or world-rhythms, blues or folk, as they age and ponder the world, U2 is the only significant rock band to take on that ripening process and not forfeit the genre at the same time.
U2 rolled into town no longer interested in applying for anything or courting anyones favour. They came, rather, to thunder their sorrow, vision, and hope for the world: they came to prophesy.

From the first I heard Atomic Bomb, City of Blinding Lights was a song that belonged nowhere but in an arena. I couldnt wait to hear it at the *right* size! The meaning of that song only makes sense when the you who look so beautiful tonight!! are people like us, sucked into the vortex of borrowed glam and affluence that is a night at the clubs I love that song because it doesnt judge. It lets us be where we are even if thats escapism; it celebrates freedom from the pain, even if that freedom is merely respite. Vertigo, as if in answer, is all about how shallow the respite. And I love that song, because it is not reckless with abandon, but rather with hunger, a real hunger for connection. And Elevation, right on its heels, is about getting there to connection. It was bliss.
Then time warp, Electric Co.
God, the sheer careening momentum of those first four songs! No wonder I was disoriented, no wonder it felt like an altered state. Especially after the abrupt shift to those very early songs By the time they got through Beautiful Day and into New Years Day, I was shaking my head: Theyre a freight train. Theyre a f***in freight train. It was relentless, and I couldnt catch my breath.
Bono finally paused to tell us about Christopher Nolan and Miracle Drug, and he emphasized how science can serve love and how love can inspire the sciences. He makes that point in his lyrics, but being there, with him and hearing his dedication of the song to doctors and nurses (especially in this town of politically besieged health-care workers!) kind of reminds you, if youre going to pray for healing, to think about how those prayers might get answered.
Love and Peace or Else was, surprisingly, less than I expected. After the grungy, industrial noise on the album, I expected something explosive, more like Bullet the Blue Sky of years past. But it seemed to be more about the song than the guitar and bass effects, so it was only different, not less potent, leading off a tirade of political rage that included Bullet. Bono made a dedication to those serving in the military, which IMHO, at least seemed rather awkward and unconnected here in Canada. At the same time, his mimed allusion to the Abu Ghraib prisoners was right on, and absolutely *chilling.* Then they finished that outburst with Running to Stand Still, a hymn to lost souls that Bono still sings like he just wrote it, and needs to get it out of him an opera in miniature, that song, and he never fails it.

I was struck by the theatre of this tour minimalist, not ZooTV, of course, nor the Old Glory umbrella of Popmart, nor even the open improv with fans (although that may vary over the tour) but it is no less powerful for it. And it must be said, unequivocally, the staging is flat-out BRILLIANT. the curtains of light, the text and images like veils over each other and over the band, the pulses like cells of the body, I swear! of light chasing each other round the spiral in the bomb shelter and the camera work on One!
It was the moment that encompassed what Elevation had been about, that we get to carry each other that the power that appears to be coming from the stage is in reality coming from and through all of us. I wanted to weep, it was so defiantly concise. It was the brilliance of ZooTV condensed into one performance poem, a multimedia haiku.
It was also the song during which we got the Prime Ministers phone number, and Bonos exhortation to us to muster the political will to make poverty history and when all those cell phones lit up, some even waving in the air like Bics of yesteryear, I thought, this is such a MacPhisto moment! Hed love this except of course, he would have been scared off by the Light we were dialing into. Vertigo had already rejected his darkness.
But yet, the encore gave us a string of AB songs, including The Fly, which Id thought an awkward fit in Elevations heart-and-soul vibe. Well, this time, it fit with the edginess, the anger underneath some of the other songs, with Vertigos disorientation and then Mysterious Ways a re-orientation, and a perfect segue into a dream of a closing sequence: All Because of You, Yahweh, and 40. God Almighty. Yahweh was acoustic, gentle, a lullabye (too bad Bono didnt pick a dance partner who understood that), and 40 seemed to dissolve them and us out of the altered state and back into the realities and needs of the world.

This is, after all, the task of the prophets: to listen for the voice of God (or at least to discern Gods movements) and to call the peoples attention to the realities and needs of the world. Repent! theyll cry, not because they think humanity is hopeless, but just the opposite: they know we are made out of Gods love and that God weeps for our blindness. They call us away from the citys blinding lights, toward the Vision of compassion and love, toward righteousness and justice.
Take this heart, theyll cry, and make it break.

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