Most have said that the gigantic stage set for the U2 360 tour resembles a large spaceship. I agree. However, after experiencing the show for myself last night, I think it reminds me more of a very large Nike running shoe. The sloping pastel curves, stretchy vinyl-like aerodynamics, and the larger-than-life aesthetic of a corporate brand. U2 has always been known for touring theatrics, but this was just too much. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the show. It was a show. A huge show. But I enjoyed the time alone with my wife even more. It is also a novel experience to be in an outdoor venue with 70 thousand other souls devoted, in varying degrees, to the idea of U2.
But after last night’s show, I am not sure what that idea is anymore. Aside from the massive eye candy, the set list played like a ‘best of’ album–religiously hitting all the emotional high notes, but devoid of the original impulse that inspired some of the greats like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “I Will Follow.” It was all too manufactured for my taste. I got the feeling that the U2 I experienced last night was less about the music and more about the brand that is U2. But what are they selling now? I am still not sure. The narrative of the show was VERY loosely based around the U2 impulse toward revolution and freedom, but it was never clear what any of these causes really meant. The best I could decipher was that Bono was presenting himself as a great supporter of some kind of generic catch-all democracy. So, nothing really came across as offensive, coherent, or especially prophetic. This is a problem if you call yourself a rock band with a social conscience. The most confusing moment of the show was when Bono pompously shouted, “Ground control, ground control…United States of America bring us back to earth!” Wha? Stranger still to hear songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Pride (In the name of love)” performed against the backdrop of beautifully colored pastel lights clothed in a Nike running shoe. The irony that permeated previous tours (such as Auchtung Baby and Pop Mart) just wasn’t present in 360. I am entertained, and sometimes challenged by what Bono has always claimed to represent, but last night even he didn’t seem to buy it. The ‘postmodern’ critiques of previous tours have turned to late-modern mush that flirts with sentimentalism in the ‘live’ context of the 360 tour. Am I expecting too much from a great band? I don’t think so. At the end of the show Bono told the crowd, “thank you for allowing the members of the band to have a great life.” Um…you are welcome, Bono.
Did I mention that I actually did enjoy the show? My wife looked beautiful last night. Just like Bono said. And it was cold, so there was plenty of snuggling going on. As far as the music was concerned, hearing “I Will Follow” during the beginning of their set almost brought me to tears. I am also a sucker for the acoustic version of “All I want is you” and the appropriately fun live version of “Mysterious Ways.” There were definitely musical highlights. My wife also reminded me after the show of how much the musical sound of the band is held together by The Edge. He is the member of U2 that consistently provides harmonic sensibility and interest. And great sounds they are.
Well the kids are calling down the hall from the computer I am writing this on. Time to shut it down for awhile. Am I disappointed in the show? No. I got my money’s worth…that is for sure. Or maybe that was the problem.
“The Wave” before U2 hits the stage
Clip “Pride (In the name of love)”