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by Steve

U2s May 14 Vertigo concert in Philadelphia delivered the transcendent experience that made most of us U2 fans in the first place. Having followed the tour online since March 28, I was a bit worried about May 14, especially after reading reports of the flat first Chicago show and Bonos comments about having a sore throat. But on Saturday Bono was on, the band was on, and for a couple of hours this fan and his wife were carried beyond ourselves into the music, to Africa, to heaven, and to the earthly world that could be.

Some random highlights of the evening:
Sound checkWe arrived at the arena around 3:00 and heard word among the crowd that the band was supposed to arrive around 3:30. By 4:30 word had spread that the band had already arrived unseen and was inside doing sound check. As we had reserved tickets, we were able to enter the inside perimeter of the arena at 5:00 and heard the tail end of sound checkbits of Staring at the Sun on acoustic guitar, the guitar intro for City of Blinding Lights, and what sounded like an extended improvised jam session with bass, drums, occasional guitar riffs probably from Bono rather than the Edge, and a low-register vocal by Bono with a repeated refrain that ended with the words all night long. Sort of a smoky-bar blues numberif you can imagine, it sounded like a cross between Loves Comes to Town and Numb with vocal by Bono instead of the Edge (the latter comes to mind only because of the almost monotone low-register vocal, though on occasion Bono would play around with a melody an octave up). Itll be interesting to see if this develops into something for the next album.
Set listWe shouldnt expect opening night in a multi-concert venue or a one night-only concert to be anything but the set list the band has envisioned as the ideal for accomplishing the objectives of the tour, with variations coming mainly in subsequent nights in the same venue. May 14 in Philadelphia was accordingly that ideal set list, sans New Years Day due to a late start. Its a great set list. It is true to what and who U2 is. Rather than simply being an unfocused oldies show with some new material thrown in, this set list intentionally continues a trajectory initiated in the Elevation tour but brings it into sharper focus. It revisits all that couldnt be left behind from not only the pre-reinvention years but also from the 90s projects. Admittedly the latter phase is represented explicitly only by the Achtung Baby trio in the first encore, a downright fun change of pace from the seriousness of the end of the main set that nevertheless represents well the serious themes of that albumZoo Station with its commentary on the dawning of a postmodern age, The Fly with its commentary on stardom, and Mysterious Ways with its exploration of Divine Wisdom and its manifestation in the experience of human love. But implicitly that decade is there much more pervasively in that the older material, along with the songs from HTDAAB, is performed as only it could be by the band that with equal intentionality had crafted Zoo TV and PopMart. Recovering the old and setting it in a new context is novel in its own right. The new context is signaled by the opener City of Blinding Lightsthe revisiting of innocence and everything that was right about it, but from the perspective that comes only with experience. That was true of ATYCLB, but it is even more true of HTDAAB. Their respective tours necessarily reflect this.
Into the HeartBonos My name is Paul, but I call myself Bono to the two girls brought on stage is repeated from Chicago. In keeping with the theme established by COBL, the distinction between Bono, the U2 frontman, and Paul, the person behind the persona, is becoming less rigid.
Sunday Bloody Sundaydid anyone else notice what preceded Bono saying This song no longer belongs only to Ireland? Someone close to the tip of the ellipse tried to hand Bono a large Irish flag, and security was about to pass it to whim when he refused it and then said, This song no longer belongs only to Ireland. Then he explained the graffiti that inspired the Coexist headband. And by the way, it seemed clear that Jesus, Jew, Mohammed, its true was not in context a theological declaration of the validity of all three religions as paths to God. Rather, what is true is that (1) all three religions are children of Abraham, (2) all three religions must learn to coexist, and (3) violence in the name of all three religions must be No more!
Bullet the Blue Skybefore raising bound wrists above his head and singing These are the hands that built America, Bono made sobbing sounds and pleaded pleaseno. several times. A chills-and-goosebumps moment.
Yahweh was incredible, much better than bootleg files from previous concerts Ive heard online. Another chills-and-goosebumps moment, but for different reasons.
40No adjectives can do justice to the experience of singing this along with the band and 20,000 other people. We were walking downstairs toward the exit afterwards when the whole stairwell full of people burst into How long to sing this song? again, all the way outside.

My one complaint was the sound mixing, which seemed too bottom-heavy. The bass and Larrys kick-drum were mixed so heavily that at times the Edges guitar was swallowed by everything else. That may have more to do with the location of our seatstop row of the upper section, even with the side of the main stage.

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