U2 nights of eXPERIENCE
June 8th 2018
Ever since 1991’s Zoo TV tour U2 has been at the forefront of recreating what a rock spectacle can achieve by pushing the boundaries of technology, staging and integrating it all with their music.
The 2015 iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour took the reinvention of arena rock concerts to a whole new level. They incorporated a catwalk and screen along with a mini stage at the
opposite end which both divided and brought everything together. With the current eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour it just might be the first time in rock history that a major band has done two separate tours with the same stage concept. With so much concentration on their latest release, some new surprises and technological advances, at times it really is two separate tours instead of just a continuation of the previous one. This is a review of the two night stand that was the only Canadian stop on this tour. Truly nothing can stop this from being the best (two) days ever.
The first new attraction is the U2 eXPERIENCE app for augmented reality. Fans were advised to download this app on their phones weeks before the concert. What exactly does this app do? You are supposed to point it directly at the concert screen to sort of be a part of the experience (pardon the pun). If you do this before the concert a 3D waterfall will appear. As the show begins with Love Is All We Have Left you get a 3D computer image of Bono. I think I was expecting more. Since this is new concert technology it might be improved and utilized more on future tours. By the way, the same 3D Bono image effect is also available if you point your phone at the album’s image on your home screen computer.
The second song Blackout is where the show really started. The screen showed silhouetted images of the band members as if they were pushing up against the screen. It’s not until the third chorus and shout out “When the light’s go out” that the strobe lights flickered and the screen raised up revealing, Adam Clayton, The Edge, Bono and Larry Mullen Jr along the catwalk. On Lights of Home the catwalk raised up on one angle as Bono sang and walked, as if he were on a rising treadmill. At the song’s end it lowered down so Bono could make his first venture onto the circular e stage.
After all these new songs the band went back to their beginnings literally with I Will Follow and Gloria. On the second night they replaced Gloria with All Because Of You. No special effects or augmented reality just a high energy rock n roll band who played like they are in their 20’s with the Edge jumping up and down. Bono even added an impromptu Walking on the Moon during I Will Follow. They took that youthful energy with them into Beautiful Day that had yellow backlights illuminating the stage and audience strongly.
Where most bands rely on playing the hits I really respect U2 for not leaning on that idea, especially on this tour. The band played The Ocean as Bono spoke about growing up in a home where he was not even allowed to speak his mother’s name. This of course lead right into Iris (Hold Me Close) with pictures of Bono’s mother in a yellow dress and constellations on the screen. It’s also great to have projections related to song lyrics so specifically as “The stars are bright but do they know / The universe is beautiful but cold”.
Bono told us of the importance of childhood friends good or bad as he walked up the stairs and into the screen for Cedarwood Road. This is a technological highlight of the show. Bono walks along a cartoon roadway of his past as cars, blowing leaves and rain pass by him. There’s even footage of early Bowie. It’s here where a band like U2 connects with it’s audience taking us back home with them in a way no other band could. Meanwhile The Edge and Adam Clayton walk out on the catwalk below. Adam told me that this is his favourite song to play live.
Larry Mullen Jr, wore a drum and hit a beat, walking along the catwalk for Sunday Bloody Sunday. The musical arrangement is totally different from what the average person is familiar with. It’s more a march than an anthem. As the band members were spread out along the catwalk the screen showed images of the political and sometimes violent situation back in Ireland. It ended with a recorded radio message of the BBC news detailing a car bombing.
A major highlight of the two shows was Until the End of the World.
While Bono sings on the e stage The Edge walked into the screen. Bono drank from a water bottle and spat water out. The camera showed this on the screen and it appeared as if Bono was spitting water on the Edge. Even more effective was when Bono held his hand out, and on the big screen it appeared as if he was holding The Edge in the palm of his hand. As the song ended torn book pages (mostly from The Bible) fell from the rafters showering over the audience.
A remix of Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me played while on the screen was a comic book story of the band members being given powers and figuring out what to do with them. This gives the band time to head out on the e stage where they turned the big arena experience into the intimacy of being a bar room band. Bono was wearing a top hat for the crowd pleasing sing-along to Elevation with lots of jumping from fans. The Edge in a black leather jacket was playing as furiously as if he were in heavy metal band. Bono said “Experience is more fun!” and then said something he has not said on any previous stop on this tour “we desire to be in the room with the greatest rock’n’roll fans on the planet!”which was of course the intro to Desire. Adding to the fun experience was a glittering disco ball above the band.
Bono stared into a small video monitor to transform into his Mr. Macphisto personality which
on the screen showed him with vampire teeth and devil horns. He mockingly laughed while
saying “The American dream has turned into a nightmare. Assault rifles and nuclear weapons in the tiny hands of children. The Americans have the same problem with guns as the Irish do with alcohol. Meaning, what problem!?” He added in some Canadian politics by saying “The G string seven were supposed to be sitting around talking about the 130 million girls who don’t go to school because they’re girls and now they’re going to be talking about steel and maple syrup.”
Larry Mullen Jr’s drum beating took us into another highlight, Acrobat. On the second night Acrobat was preceded by a spoken word introduction of the Rolling Stones Sympathy For the Devil. It was quite fitting to have the devilish image of Macphisto on the screen while he quoted “Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m a man of wealth and taste”.
There was an acoustic set that began with You’re the Best Thing About Me, which would be much better in the full rock version. As Larry and Adam headed to the main stage Bono and The Edge stayed on the e stage for an acoustic telling of Staring at the Sun. On the first night a fan gave Bono a small lemon as a reminder of the Pop tour. On the second night Bono forgot the words of the third verse.
While the screen showed footage of the racist violent demonstrations in Charlottesville and the KKK, Bono was shouting into a megaphone “This is not who we are! This is not Quebec!
This is not Canada!” The band then tore into Pride (in the Name of Love). Mid song Bono spoke about Canadian values and how south of the border a preacher 50 years ago lost his life for his values. An image of Martin Luther King Jr. was displayed on the screen and everyone was ceremoniously singing “In the name of Love!”. The whole time this was happening Adam and Edge were playing on mini stages in the audience. Meanwhile Larry was on the main stage. It really is something to have four band members playing at four different spots all over the arena, connecting with their fans.
I’v always said since their early days U2 has always been the best band in connecting with their fans, especially during their shows. Just ask anyone who was present three years ago for the iNNOCENCE tour when Bono ended up having over 50 fans on stage. This time around on night two Bono did invite a fourteen year old teenager on stage to get a pair of drum sticks directly from Larry himself.
Aside from One and the brightly lit up City of Blinding Lights the the rest of the setlist was comprised of Songs of eXPERIENCE. However this did not faze the crowd one bit. During Love is Bigger Than Anything Bono had everyone’s hands raised in the air swaying in unison, even those in the nose bleed sections behind the stage were standing up swaying their arms.
On the second night Bono was very heartfelt in “thanking” the road crew, his wife Ali and for realizing he’s just one quarter of what he does he thanked his bandmates. He said he was going to send everyone home with a song that is a prayer. With The Edge was on keyboards and Bono slowly walked down the catwalk one last time singing 13 (There is a Light) with such fitting words as “when all you left is leaving.” A miniature house was on the e stage. Bono opened the roof and a light bulb rose up. He quietly walked around the house, gave it a gentle push and as it swayed back and forth, he walked off into the crowd singing “If there is a light don’t let it go out.”