Thursday, July 7, 2011

U2 at Soldier Field

I know that there are some haters out there, so with my apologies to you, let me say that U2 is the best damn band on the planet.

Ellen and I were 110 percent satisfied with their appearance at Soldier Field in Chicago on Tuesday night, which was the reason behind and the last event in a wonderful Fourth of July trip to Chicago.

We pre-gamed the show with a healthy pour of Jameson at Kitty O'Sheas, a bar in the Hilton, up Michigan Avenue from Soldier Field. The place was full of U2 fans, and there was U2 coming off the jukebox. So it was great fun to hear folks reminiscing about The Unforgettable Fire tour and talking about having seen 18 previous U2 shows or to see them jumping up and down a little bit when "Bad" came on. Ellen and I were having a lot of fun reciting our favorite lines from Rattle and Hum, such as B.B. King protesting that he would not be able to play the chords on "When Loves Comes to Town."

We arrived at Soldier Field shortly after Interpol had started their opening set. I had not known who the opening band would be until shortly before the show, and I was super-excited to hear them. But the stadium swallowed them right up. The place was about half-full, and the crowd that was there wasn't terribly excited, and the band seemed to mostly be going through the motions. Certainly, this is the way that most opening acts at a U2 concert go down, but it was disappointing nonetheless.

(By the way, here is my bold -- if ultimately disrespectful -- suggestion for some future U2 opening band. In order to gain maximum notoriety and possibly start a riot, why not take the stage and play a complete set of U2 songs without first getting U2's approval? How unbelievably insolent would that be? Would they bring the sound down? Would the fans storm the stage? It would be a happening at the very minimum.)

In between the acts, we discussed the provocative statistics streaming across the LED screen at some length. Those faded away, and David Bowie's "Space Oddity" ("Ground Control to Major Tom") announced the band's entrance. That recording segued seemlessly into "Even Better Than the Real Thing," and we were off for a little Achtung Baby action to start off the show. "The Fly" was up next. And then "Mysterious Ways" with just a touch of "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World" tagged on. Oh my! Could the Achtung Baby festival continue? It could! "Until the End of the World" was next.

Then they jumped back to Boy for "Out of Control." And then all the way forward to No Line on the Horizon for "Get On Your Boots (Sexy Boots)."

Bono took a moment to elicit some boos from the crowd by talking about Larry Mullen Jr. going to see the White Sox play. And then he also announced that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel had declared Independence Week as an extended celebration of American independence.

With "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," Bono stepped away from the microphone for almost a full verse to let the crowd sing it -- some 70,000 strong. And then he talked about the band recording the songs for Achtung Baby and Zooropa before playing "Stay (Faraway, So Close)."

Bono announced that they would be sending the next song out to Gabby Giffords. It was "Beautiful Day," and Giffords' husband Mark Kelly appeared from the International Space Station during the song. Bono took us out of "Beautiful Day" and back into "Space Oddity" before the band moved on to "Elevation."

Introducing "Pride," Bono waxed a little poetic about the notion of America as an idea and not just a country, and then at the end of the song, the crowd kept the vocal part going for another few rounds.

The reference back to The Passegers' CD with "Miss Sarajevo" seemed to leave a substantial portion of the crowd scratching their heads, but the band came out of that with the more familiar "Zooropa" and then the more recent "City of Blinding Light" and "Vertigo."

Coming back to No Line on the Horizon for the second time of the night, they played a really altered version of "I'll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight" that concluded with a segue into a little bit of "Discotheque" (the only reference to Pop in the show). "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was given a set of graphics referencing the Arab Spring protests in the Middle East, and then "Scarlet" (from October) was dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. As it faded into "Walk On," people holding Amnesty International candles came out and filled up the whole circle around the stage and the pit.

There was then a recorded presentation by Aung San Suu Kyi about freedom and repression in Burma that led the band into "One." Bono used Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" to lead into the iconic opening arpeggios of "Where the Streets Have No Name." Ellen and I both thought that was totally brilliant.

The obscure "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me" was followed by "With or Without You."

Bono then hinted at the band wanting to play "One Tree Hill" in honor of the 25th death anniversary of Greg Carroll for whom the song was written. He said that he needed to consult with "the professor," and I was really excited for a brief moment until I realized that he was talking about The Edge.

In order to get everything in place, the band played "Moment of Surrender" (the third entry from the most recent CD). And then Edge had to find the right key and make sure that his fingers could still do it, but the band closed with "One Tree Hill." And what a special moment -- to see those guys have to figure out a song that they hadn't necessarily expected to play after all of the pomp and circumstance of the show, and then to put it all out there and end the night of music.

And so Ellen and I walked out of Soldier Field feeling sated and satisfied.


Simon said...

On the Zooropa tour at Foxboro, the opening act was Disposable Heroes of Hiphopricy (whom I really liked at the time). I was so psyched to see them. When they went on, the stadium was maybe 20% full if that, and no-one was paying attention, and the sound wasn't up to 10. So one of the band-members took out a chainsaw and started attacking the set. That sure got people's attention -- about 100 stagehands swarmed the stage and their set was over in a flash.

Simon said...

Otherwise, it sounds from your description that the set is about 90% the same as the show I saw two years ago at FedEx Field. Oh well -- at least we'll be a lot closer this time.

Bono's stage patter really makes me cringe some times.

Nick Toloudis said...

Performing a set of U2 songs before U2 takes the stage would be even more audacious than attacking U2's set with a chainsaw.

Ellen Stanley said...

Kudos to Matt for doing such a bang-up job describing what I was calling my favorite stadium show of all time...until I saw the Minneapolis show, that is. More on that soon!