Ever Get the Feeling U2 Spend Too Much on their Light Show?
Say what you will about the larger than life, preachy, every-man rock cottage industry that has been U2 for the past 13 years or so....they seldom fail to give you your money's worth onstage.
Last night was my second time seeing U2 at Madison Square Garden; the first (and only) was in June of 2001 on the first leg of the 'Elevation' Tour (what an innocent time that seems like now). I may have enjoyed that gig a bit more; which probably has more to do with the thrill of seeing U2 for the first time than any noticeable drop off in quality between the two shows. The two constants at every U2 show are (1) unbelievable lights and (2) a multitude of corny human rights/equality preaching courtesy of Bono. Both are expected, and in the context of a sold-out, BIG rock show, neither is unwelcome. Bono's earned the right to devote 4 minutes of stage time to a disembodied voice reading clauses from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights verbatim and another 3 to emphasizing the 'cross, crescent, Star of David' bandana that he wore for most of the show. No problem. But playing "Vertigo" all the way through twice? Rajeev from OneLouder told me this was a throw back to their earlier days when a lack of material found them playing "11 O'clock Tick Tock" twice in a set, but that was out of necessity, no? Eh, still a fun tune to hear in a live setting, and I guess not unlike the time I saw Ween play "The HIV Song" twice in one of their sets.
For those who've been paying attention to sets on U2's recent tour and were hoping for some surprises being it's The Garden and all....few were in store. The encore did feature what appeared to be an impromptu take on "Gene Genie," b/c Bowie was "in the house," but save the seldom played "Original of the Species," the set was in keeping with most of the shows on the tour. Opening with "City of Blinding Lights" was an excellent idea, giving the band plenty of opportunies to show off the huge 'LED lights/beaded curtain' thing that was the main lighting rig, while of course using tons of hot white lighting during the "OH YOU LOOK SO BEAUTIFUL TOOOONIGHT!" part. "Love and Peace (or else)" from the recent How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was a definite show highlight, using lots of red light and strobes, and seguing cleanly into a version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" that made far more sense in context than when I saw it in June 2001. The run of Acthung Baby songs in the first encore was a masterstroke; capturing the information overload aspects of the Zoo TV tour while giving The Edge an excuse to do the awesome extended wah-wah jam tacked onto the end of "Mysterious Ways"--band's been playing it that exact same way since 1992, and it's still my favorite part of a U2 show. Even though everyone knew it was coming, the 'old-school' portion of the show with "Electric Co." and "An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart" was very solid, and it was nice to see "Running to Stand Still" returned to the set--even if it now appears that Bono wants it to be about human rights as opposed to heroin addiction.
And for all the bombast, things still were less than perfect, which was somehow refreshing. One of the LED light rigs actually got jammed during the first encore, holding in place for the last half hour of the show and making things more difficult for those behind the stage. The Edge's guitar cut out for at least 5 seconds during "All Because of You", and Bono's voice was noticeably ragged for the first half of the evening; forcing The Edge to step up and sing a few of his parts here and there ("Miracle Drug" and "Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own" in particular).
Cheesy as hell? Of course. Extremely fun? Absolutely. They're U2. Other bands aren't.
(speaking of which, Kings of Leon opened the show, and were very good, but suffered from being extremely loud. So loud that the finer subtleties of their songs, which makes the majority of Aha Shake Heartbreak a quality record, were impossible to make out, and the show just fell into a guitar heavy morass. Still, their rhythm section is tight as hell, and I'd be curious to see them at one of their own gigs.)
A few photos....our original seats were actually waaaaaay back in the 300's section with a giant overhang obscuring just about everything. But we did not stay there for too long...kudos to the ushers for not kicking us out of the walkway.