As they close in on the final stretch to logging the largest grossing tour of all time,U2 capped a two-night stay in Southern California on Saturday (6/18) with a show long on big-box revelry but blended with moments of intimacy and grace.
It also proved a far better show than the band’s 2009 Rose Bowl extravaganza in Pasadena, which made for terrific sight and sound on YouTube, but proved less than satisfying in that cavernous stadium’s many echo zones. By contrast, the sound was better at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, as was the setlist.
U2’s greatest strength as a band throughout its 30-odd years has been its voice. Not just Bono’s wail, but the band’s political and social voice — it’s ability to embrace causes and nurture communities, with its brotherhood among musical contemporaries and teachers fueling some of the band’s brightest moments (i.e. their collaborations with the likes of B.B. King and Mary J. Blige).
Along those lines, the band, joining with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, were instrumental in introducing the work of Amnesty International to millions of fans with 1986’s Conspiracy of Hope tour (U2) and 1988’s Human Rights Now! tour (Springsteen), and happy and sad remnants of those travels punctuated Saturday’s show. First was the late-set celebration of Aung San Suu Kyi’s late 2010 release from Burmese prison with “Walk On,” underscored by footage of the peace activist as Amnesty International candle vases were marched out and mounted in a circle around the stage.
This was followed shortly by the show-ending “Moment of Surrender,” performed as a tribute to E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died Saturday, succumbing to complications from a stroke suffered last Sunday (6/12). Bono began the song by asking the crowd to hold up their cell phones and intoned, “I want you to think about the beautiful, symphonic sound that came out of one man’s saxophone.” At the end of the song, he read the closing verses to Springsteen’s “Jungleland” as The Edge strummed his guitar.
But this was a long show, clocking in at about 2 1/2 hours, and covered quite a bit of ground before the emotional finales.
From the outset, the band seemed intent on shaking things up, departing from some of the trappings of their fairly staid setlist on this leg of the tour, which Friday night’s (6/17) crowd got.
“The Fly” made its first appearance since 2006 in the #2 slot of the show, locking in a deep-dive into “Achtung Baby” material at the front-end of the set. Indeed, by the time the band launched into “Where The Streets Have No Name,” from the “Joshua Tree” album, they’d performed nearly half of the “Achtung Baby” album.
With that kind of setup and coming off of a great performance of “One,” “Streets” soared, but that’s really what the song does in any position — it’s a built-in emotional high-point. Which set in some concerns that perhaps the show had peaked early when, by contrast, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” came across feeling a little lackluster a few songs later.
But they rallied with an acoustic “Stuck In A Moment” that connected and “Beautiful Day,” couched as a sweet love letter from U.S. Shuttle Endeavour’s commander Mark Kelly to his wife, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Kelly was recorded gamely reading the song’s lyrics while on the International Space Station during the shuttle’s final mission and adding, “Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows” — a wink at David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” a space travel classic and the song U2 walks to the stage with each night.
“Beautiful Day” is a favorite of Giffords and was chosen by her as a wake-up song for the shuttle crew when she and Kelly were first dating back in 2006. Since her nearly-fatal shooting in Tucson in January, the song reportedly has been in regular rotation in her room during her recovery.
The shuffle of the setlist helped recapture some of the sense of spontaneity that drove any number of classic moments in U2 lore, which has probably been the sorest point in their extended outing. The band seems to function best when their safety net is minimized, because at that point the audience becomes the safety net and the classic U2/crowd bond is realized.
The stadium era of U2 has wreaked some havoc on that dynamic, though. They became, like any stadium act, very reliant on massive production to present themselves to massive crowds, and that level of presentation takes a toll on audience connection, which is the life-blood of the band.
Anaheim #2, while late in the game, showed they’re chipping away at that distance, and perhaps finding a way to make this stadium thing work after all.
Even Better Than The Real Thing
Until the End of the World
Where the Streets Have No Name
I Will Follow
Get On Your Boots
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Stuck In a Moment
City of Blinding Lights
I’ll Go Crazy (remix) / Discotheque / Please
Sunday Bloody Sunday
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender / Jungleland (recited)