Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
Entering the U2 Experience at the FU Center last night (yeah yeah, I know, but c’mon – it will ALWAYS be the FU Center), I did little in the way of recon. I have not heard these so called Songs Of Experience nor those of Innocence. I don’t know if the Line On The Horizon even had a lead-off single, and heaven knows, my ex can tell you with all honesty that I have no idea How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.
In other words, I haven’t listened to the entirety of an actual U2 album since Bill Clinton was on his way out the door.
Actually, I’m lying. I did land some recon, that being the fact that I was not Pa Phawker’s first, second or even third choice to cover this sold-out spectacle. Obviously, he was unable to convince the usual intern gang of concert reviewing Millennials (gross assumption, not fact) that seeing THIS band at THIS moment was worth altering plans on a perfectly sublime Wednesday eve. So here I was – a 40-something tasked with investigating whether a bunch of near 60-somethings were worth the live dime, even if they haven’t released anything I’d consider pertinent in nearly 20 years.
Thank god for the world’s largest TV screen. The visuals at first seemed intentionally overwhelming, seeming distractions to the new material’s lack of purpose. Yes, Bono is still a consummate showman, The Edge a perfect engineer of “that sound”, and Larry Mullins Jr. still one of – if not “the” – great drummers of modern rock history, but the medley of new tracks that shall remain nameless were rather inert. Their lack of firebelly carried over into a string of rote renditions of catalog favorites – tracks like “Gloria” and “I Will Follow” seemingly pitchshifted a hair for an easier haul against Bono’s aging pipes.
The Generation once defined by an X are no different than the Boomers that birthed them. Nostalgia’s warm bosom is always the safest place on the planet to just lose yourself. They ate up every emotional swing for the fences, something this band has and still – begrudgingly – excels at. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a tinge of upswell during either a touching ode to Bono’s mum or a subdued take on “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” but much of the evening’s successes had more to do with the visual presentation than the aural one.
At this point, I’m not going to an arena show for the sound but the spectacle, and on that level, the band remains ahead of industry curves. The immense video screen that cuts their stage footprint lengthwise is a spectacular tour inclusion, engineered with moving catwalks, lifts and performance zones that actually played well into the evening’s down tempo execution. Slowly, over it’s nearly two-and-a-half hour span, the set revealed itself to be shockingly intimate, continually finding ways to seperate the band members around the arena in ways that made proximity to rock gods attainable to all.
In that sense, the populist removal of the bite and snarl of tracks like “The End of the World” revealed itself slowly as seeming intent. Perhaps this wasn’t a band changing arrangements to acclimate aged skill sets, but rather modified to elicit feelings of intimacy in times where constant bombast has become the vernacular of the day.
But that simply isn’t the iconic image and feel of the band from its lengthy heyday. They can still wear hearts on the sleeve with ease, but what was missing from the evening was a sense of peril. They let the visuals do most of the obvious heavy lifting – most lazily on the transition between “Staring at the Sun” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, where color imagery of America’s current terror class – armed with burning tiki torches and MAGA hats – gave way to evocative B&W shots of rainbow coalitions carrying on the legacy of MLK. Got that?
Weaving through the parking lot on the way out, a woman passed with her son, who looked all of 10. “Now how was that for your first rock concert?” she asked. In the moment, I projected myself, wanting to telepathically send the perfect response to his tongue: “More firebelly.” — JAMES DOOLITTLE