When U2 set loose their Songs of Innocence album last September - “released” seems too mild a term for a disc embedded for free onto half a billion devices - it seemed for a while as though the queue to badmouth them stretched around the world. The first night of their ‘iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE’ world tour marked the beginning of what is likely to be a dramatic public moodswing in the other direction. If they keep mounting shows like this one, anyway.
The band’s conscious downscaling to arena-level touring, for the first time in a decade, proved to be a triumph of both innocence and experience. The innocence was putting their faith in a good old-fashioned powerhouse rock show, the experience was in constructing a set list that married dependable anthems with fresh arrivals, and a stage concept that made the whole piece look irresistibly stunning.
If one of the pitfalls of giving your album away is that you sacrifice the traditional popularity metric of the hit parade, then here was the belated, tangible proof that the new record really did hit the spot with fans. U2 started boldly with one of the album’s most well-reviewed pieces, “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” the first of new fewer than seven selections from Innocence.
Bono, showing no obvious signs of his recent cycling woes apart from eschewing any guitar duties, typified the whole band’s patent coiled-spring impatience to get back to the day job. From that newest piece, they roared into one of their very first, “Out Of Control,” from the 1980 debut album Boy, as the frontman spewed water onto the front row with sheer nervous energy.
“Look at you, you haven't changed a bit,” quipped the newly-quoiffed vocalist, referring to the fact that U2 finished the North American leg of their last, 360° Tour in this city in 2009. But if the early evidence was of a scaled back production, with one giant lightbulb seeming to light the entire hall for opening numbers that also included “Vertigo,” contrary evidence was moments away.
Soon, we were gazing upon a central construction that looked like nothing more than a giant, double-sided fence - the road crew call it the “divider” - with a corridor inside it in which the musicians could walk from the main stage through the centre of the room.
Then the graphics started on the surfaces, allowing Bono to appear as the real life figure in vast animations and, later, for the whole band to become giant, high-definition projections, 20 feet high and towering over an audience who had never witnessed anything like it. You could hardly blame Bono for asking: “How do you like all this stuff? Technology can be fun.”
The set undulated with ease from old to new and back again, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” to “Raised By Wolves” to “Bullet The Blue Sky,” leaving no phase of their 35-year development unexplored. After a final barrage of “Beautiful Day,” “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” even the most curmudgeonly backbiter would have admitted that this particular rock institution had found its centre again. “Back in the game” hardly does them justice.Reuse content