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by Patrick22

I'm reviewing the 2nd San Jose show on May 8, but I also attended the first show and thoughts may merge. These were my 23rd and 24th u2 shows going back to zooTV. I'm a long suffering and dedicated fan who flew from Seattle to see these shows as there's no guarnatee they'll bring the tour closer to me.

That said, I'm left feeling some ambiguity about these shows. There was a lot to love, but I'm not sure it's a complete show yet. I look forward to the future of this tour. As for the present, I enjoyed the opening augmented reality piece, and appreciated the choice to leave that at the beginning and not make it a huge part of the show. LIAWHL begins with Bono inside the screen, and it slowly opens to reveal an exposed, sunglasses-less older man without his armour of rock-start regalia. No band, no shoe lifts, just Paul Hewson revealing his heart. It fades into the pulsing beat of The Blackout revealing the band on stage. Blackout and Lights of Home are fine. It's always good to hear new songs live. Beautiful Day got the crowd going. I Will Follow and Gloria got me into it... I love those songs live. Gloria especially as a rare treat.

Red Flag Day was a great surprise, and went off very well. It kind of took the place of All Because of You from the first night, which was another great surpise and one I loved very much. Even trade. Then The Ocean sort of got played, but only as a background pallete cleanser for the Innocence set of Iris-Cedarwood-Sunday Bloody Sunday-Raised by Wolves-Until the End of the World. Here's where the show as a rock show runs up against the show as a thematic narrative event. So far, in my opinion, those two elements-- rock show and narrative-- don't blend as well as they usually do at a U2 gig.

I knew this set was coming, and I get why the narrative needs these set ups. Plus, they work exquisitely well with the giant hollow screen. But they play out exactly like they did on the Innocence tour 3 years ago. Innocence is lost in dramatic fashion as UTEOTW explodes, Judas kisses Jesus, and torn shatters of apocolyptic literature rains down on the crowd as waves overtake Edge (inside the screen) and Bono (lit up menacingly on the huge screen). Glorious!

As an aside, at the first show I was on the floor and during Wolves Bono hucked a copy of CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters into the crowd and hit the fan in front of me in the face. Subtle metaphor... I offered the guy all the cash I had on hand for the book but he declined. :(

There's a break at this point while a clever graphic novel-like animation plays on the big screen detailing the band's explosion to super stardom and loss of innocence. There are very humorous detials, but also honesty and integrity about the difficulties of living life. I enjoyed it.

The band returns on the B-stage to begin a great 2nd set with crowd favorites and great live jams Elevation and Vertigo. Thematically, Vertigo sets the temptation stage for Desire as this simple but effective ring of lights descends above the band. I feel like this was some of their best B-stage work in their careers. They're close together, jaming hard, with simple technical accoutrement. If they have to lose their innocence during this set, it's wonderfully done.

Desire ends and here comes everyone's favorite creepy uncle, Mr. Macphisto. In the first show he took credit for Putin, and while not mentinoing Trump by name (not at any point in either show) the allusions were clear. During the 2nd show, he kept it shorter with similar themes. I don't hate Mac, as some fellow diehard fans do, and I appreciate the update (the years have not been kind to him) as well as the brevity with which he's deployed. Any longer would have been difficult. But it is hard to know what the performance means to like 90% of the crowd who don't have a context for who the hell this is. It must be a moment where they lose interest.

But, alas, I think Mac's best gift to the concerts are the context he creates for the best surprise of the night: Acrobat. I knew I always wanted to see this song live, and I knew I would probably enjoy it, but I didn't expect it to be so amazing. It was awesome! All four band members had something remarkable to do during this song and pulled it off swimmingly. Seeing it all at once you understand why it took this long to play live. It must be hard to get everything going in the same direction while maintaining the tension at the heart of everything. And low and behold, it's the perfect song for our age of lost innocence. The Bastards are in office and dragging down our country. How will we respond? The best of U2: bringing the past songs forward to illuminate the present and propell us toward a better future. <3

Next is a great subtle accoustic YTBTAM with all 4 lads. It's a good adjustment song after the breakneck screed of Acrobat, and comes off wonderfully sing-alongy for all to enjoy. Bono and Edge then reprise their beautiful Staring at the Sun duet, and toward the end the "happy to go blind" refrain is directed at scenes of the idiots from Charlottesville. They get a lot of screen time, and it is hard to watch. Many around me were flipping off the screens. It's pure ugliness. Bono finds his bullhorn and reminds the crowd that this is not America. The the band appear at different corners of the arena floor and Pride unfolds quite beautifully. A marching MLK replaces the KKK on the big screen with a "we shall overcome" banner getting good attention. Having seen it live so often, I often have a hard time connecting to Pride, but tonight it was exactly right. The past illuminating the present.

At this point in the show I have a beef with the setlist, and I wonder if the band has made a rare miscalculation about their audience. I was fully prepared to not hear my favorite song of the U2 cannon: streets. The Joshua Tree 2017 tour was phenomenal and those songs were given new life and expression to such a degree that I understood if they wanted to leave them behind for the Experience tour. Yet, but, however, they need to play Streets after Pride. This is simply because of their own choice to delve into the pain of that charlottesville moment. Pride counters that argument well, but it doesn't transcend it enough in my opinion. Pride is positioned as the emotional highpoint of the show, but it's not emotionally high enough to counter the scourge of racism and hate at our doorstep today. We need that Streets moment to leave the show with enough hope to change the world.

Here's where I wonder if U2 fully understands what those racist images mean to Americans. They are ugly, sure, but they also conjure shame and helplessness to a degree that is perhaps lost on someone without the racial baggage of our country so entwined in their psyche. It's a deep emptiness. The moment just begs for that ultimate psalm of ascent and reminder to look up and out in the midst of shame. They need to play Streets after Charlottesville.

Instead, we hear GOOYOW. Not a bad song at all, but not a capitalization of that pregnant emotional moment. Amerian Soul, with all 4 back on the main stage, is great live as expected. I love City of Blinding Lights, but it seemed a little unrealized both nights. I think it's usually supported with remarkable explosive lights, and they were kind of missing in this stage set up (the big screen was off, and the static cross lights were featured).

After the encore break, One was beautifully introduced as a call to overcome political differences. It's an important message, but again I wonder if it falls flat during this poilitical season in America. Something more is needed than hearing out what the other side is saying when they're saying and doing very inhuman things. But the song is beautiful as always and well deployed. The show ends with nice but somewhat anti-climatical versions of LIBTAITW and 13. Bono strolls to the B-stage at the end of 13 and removes a large ligfht bulb from a small replica (shades of stonehenge, anyone?) of the cedarwood road house, and walks off stage as the bulb glides through the darkness back and forth. It is truly beautiful, but it didn't feel like the end of an off-broadway play and not a U2 show.

Other set list beefs include the exclusion of Miracle of Joey Ramone (great live song) and Song for Someone (best known song off Innocence, would have brought the crowd in). I know the three from Innocence included (Iris, Cedarwood, Wolves) served the narrative, but they did not serve the live show the best. And my favorite 5 songs from Experience-- Summer of Love, Red Flag Day, The Showman, The Little Things, and Landlady-- had no place in the narrative. I'm very sad for this. RFD made an appearance one night, but it was a one-off and didn't have a place in the overall story. Especially TLTTGYA. I'm perplexed this wasn't included as it seems made to be played live. It even sounded great when they played it cold during the Joshua Tree tour. Plus, it could have easily fit the story during the encore as a narrative summation and emotional highpoint musically. The encore lacked this moment, and I hope they will give Little Things a turn at bat to see how it does.

As I said, I'm still digesting the show, and reading interviews that hold clues to the narrative presented. I'm willing to work hard to understand the art these men produce because I know there's intelligent design worth exploring. But so far I feel they may have gone too far on the side of needing to tell the audience something rather than meeting the audience where they are to initiate more of a back and forth experience that has always made U2 shows more than a concert. We'll see where they go with this one. I'm excited to see more!

 

 

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