- 29 Mar 05
Dateline San Diego, March 28th: with seven songs from their world-beating Vertigo album in the set, on the opening night of their world tour, it quickly became clear that – the occasional glitch notwithstanding – U2 have re-imagined their live set with remarkable success. Tara McCarthy asks: how do they do it?
U2 Live At San Diego Sports Arena, California
It’s pretty much a given that no one waves cigarette lighters overhead at concerts anymore—and certainly not in California, where smoking is so just not done. These days the glow comes from cell phone cameras, lights swarming across the arena like digital fireflies. And what a wonderful tableau it creates.
The even greater miracle is that many of the throbbing, shrieking, mobile-toting hordes in the front rows now snapping shots of U2 were waving Zippos overhead to at least some of the same songs, oh, a whole fifteen or even twenty years ago. Sure, the band have proven their mettle tour, after tour, after tour in the meantime – but you still have to marvel every new occasion they work that magic afresh.
On this, the first night of their Vertigo tour, they confirmed to a receptive San Diego crowd that they have reinvented their live show, one more time, and with amazing results.
As the opening song, ‘City of Blinding Lights’ from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, began, the crowd watched transfixed, as curtains of light framed the stage—like haywire Lite-Brites in midair—and confetti fell from on high. Bono—eyes up, palms out, grin wide—seemed as surprised as the guy in LL18 Row 8 Seat 10 to see wisps of metallic paper filling the air. And so, the sense of wonder that would carry through the night was established right from the off.
You wondered if Bono knew about the confetti—of course he did! You wondered what they’d play next, and last, and for an encore—so many songs to choose from! You wondered, quite simply, how do they do it? How do they put it all together again, just so, and add lines about freedom and newborn baby’s heads and manage to elicit the same kind of spine-tingling chill in you, that you used to get back when you were running to stand still? The answer is that you don’t know, but they do.
Digging into their back catalogue with precision tools, the band uncovered two especially precious gems, ‘Cry/Electric Co.’ and the more familiar ‘40’, reinstated joyfully as the closing track. Bono introduced the former by saying that they were going to go back to where they started. The rendition that followed was so loving, so full, so true, that it reminded you not just of where they began their journey, but equally of how far they’ve come. There, too, U2 have avoided cliché. They’ve refused to be dragged back into the past, to become one of those bands whose fans wince at the prospect of dreaded “new songs”.
All of the phases of U2 were represented in the set, more or less – alright, there was no ‘Angel Of Harlem’ from Rattle and Hum – but at the heart of the set a trilogy of new songs, ‘Miracle Drug’, ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own’, and ‘Love and Peace of Else’ nestled, and they stood up, proud and strong, alongside the classics that framed them, ‘New Year’s Day’ and ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’.
The visuals, as always, were flawless (okay, I’m in denial that the Popmart tour ever happened). Front and centre, above stage, four screens—each with a single-camera shot of one band member—sat side by side, like frames of the same strip of celluloid. The effect of these four parallel movies—and the simultaneous isolation and integration of each of the pieces of this miraculous whole they achieved—was nothing short of stunning.
That said, the show was not without glitches. Opening nights seldom are, a fact which Bono alluded to at one point. “We can screw up a little bit right?” he pleaded. “I mean, we’re amongst friends.” Thee singer almost dropped his mike once and – more worryingly – his voice began to sound just a little bit ragged after ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, halfway through the set. Plus, in terms of stagecraft, to this observer his way of trodding around like his feet are really, really heavy might have been a touch overdone. Tread softly, for you tread on our dreams!
But these are minor caveats, given the overall substance of the U2 show and the power of the band in full flight, with Edge ringing the changes and Larry and Adam stoking the furnace superbly. When a band can roll out twenty-two—count ‘em, twenty-two—songs, without a dud among them (well, maybe ‘The Fly’ is on the slight side), while also making compelling pleas for the proliferation of basic human rights worldwide and increased awareness of the plight of Africa, you have to say that they’ve done a full day’s work. Happily for U2 fans around the globe, this San Diego show was just the first of many.
As part of an encore that boggled with its brilliance, ‘All Because of You’ and the anthemic ‘Yahwey’ – both from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb – were rousing high points. Sung under big blue lamps, the sort of which might dangle over an oversized pool table, these songs in particular seemed to draw the crowd together, to make them one.
Even in an arena packed with twenty thousand bodies, during those final songs it felt like an exclusive gig in a fantastic bar that just happened to be extraordinarily large. It felt like a moment, even after all this time, of discovery – and of intimacy.
You get to carry each other. No one else in rock’n’roll achieves that feeling quite like U2. They’re coming your way soon…
The Complete Set List
City of Blinding Lights
An Cat Dubh
Into the Heart
New Year’s Day
Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own
Love and Peace of Else
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running to Stand Still
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Where the Streets Have No Name
All because of You
To access a full photo gallery from the San Diego performance, check out Yahoo! News Photos.