U2’s Tour Launch in San Diego

U2 launched their much-awaited 2005 tour Monday night (3/28), treating an adoring opening-night crowd to a set that comfortably straddled their 25-year recording career and still managed to include some surprises.

When U2 released “How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” in November of 2004, tour plans became an immediate topic of discussion, with a year-long routing sequence laid out by the band’s manager and a new, improved pre-sale system touted by the band’s revamped fan club. Then the whims of fate stepped in.

The tour’s original Miami launch was scuttled, owing to either illness affecting a band member’s family or tour routing issues, depending on the source. And the first round of fan club pre-sales were dogged by technological and logistics problems, which touched off a brief and rare period of tension between some longtime fans and the band. In the end, the tour plan was fixed, the ticketing problems were fixed and the band regained the goodwill of their long-loyal followers.

Against that backdrop, Monday’s opening-night show held a distinct sense of relief and celebration for both those holding instruments and those holding tickets in the arena.

Stepping to the microphone to the opening strains of “City of Blinding Lights,” with glitter confetti raining down on the general-admission crowd on the floor, Bono seized on the song’s chorus, “Oh, you look so beautiful tonight,” as a gracious welcome to the packed house. Perhaps more telling, though, was the tone set by the song’s first verse, the words of someone feeling their best days may be behind them:

The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then than I do now

In U2’s case, the message isn’t that it’s greatest-hits time, but that the work ahead is to weave a new fabric of their catalogue and see if there’s still a compelling story to tell from the stage. What they came up with on Monday was a powerful mix of new material and rarities that held a remarkable consistency of energy over the course of the show.

The opening cluster of “City,” “Vertigo” and “The Electric Co” were visceral and raucous. “Electric Co” in particular had what appeared to be the entire general-admission circle in front of the stage pogo-ing.

The band’s mining of “Electric Co,” “An Cat Dubh” and “Into The Heart” from their first album, 1980’s “Boy,” not only played well to their hardcore fan base in the arena, but also established just how far the band’s songwriting skills and musicianship have evolved over the years.

The emotional centerpiece of the show was the pairing of “Miracle Drug” and “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” both impassioned takes on the struggle to tear down barriers. Both also drew out some of Bono’s most riveting vocals. “Sometimes,” in particular, hits goosebumps territory as Bono pushes his voice into Roy Orbison range on the spectacular bridge of the song.

Another noteworthy point in the show was the triad of “Love and Peace or Else,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Bullet the Blue Sky,” which found Bono discovering a white headband to wear and ultimately turning it into a hostage blindfold for “Bullet,” during which he spent part of the song kneeling blindfolded with hands raised in surrender–a jarring visual on the heels of actual hostage footage that has played out on news broadcasts over the past two years and a perfect visual counterpart to the song.

Opening-night glitches weren’t in much evidence, though the sound mix seemed to hit a few rough spots early in the set, and the band appeared to need a moment to lock into their groove during a couple of songs, such as the late-set appearance of “The Fly.”
The stage production retains some of the elements from 2001’s Elevation Tour, including the video screens and circled catwalk that creates a quasi-VIP space for randomly-chosen members of the general-admission audience. New for this tour is an inventive light display that is part massive Jumbo-Tron and part beaded curtain that drops down on three sides of the stage to provide animated lighting but still allow a view of the band.

In all, a terrifically-paced show that drops some familiar numbers from recent tours, invites back some lost gems from the ’80s and ’90s, and gives U2 a solid jumping-off point to head into their second quarter-of-a-century at the top of their game.

City of Blinding Lights
Vertigo (w/ verse of Stories for Boys mixed in)
The Cry / The Electric Co
An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart
Beautiful Day
New Year’s Day
Miracle Drug
Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
Love and Peace Or Else
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running To Stand Still
Zoo Station
The Fly

Where the Streets Have No Name
All Because of You