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U2 live!

| September 16, 2009 | 0 Comments

Soldier Field, Chicago
Saturday, September 12, 2009

u2

For the longest time, the mega arena rock show was a tired cliche. The symbol of bloated excess reserved for a rock hierarchy that had not only lost touch with the fans, but seemed to see touring as a cash grab. However, with 1991’s Zoo TV tour, U2 redefined what a stadium show could be. That multimedia extravaganza rewrote the book and made all giganto outdoor tours after (including their own Pop Mart tour) look like tired wannabes.

For an expanded photo gallery from Saturday’s opener, visit www.illinoisentertainerphoto.com!

Having scaled back their road show the past couple of tours, U2 return to the great big outdoors with the 360 Tour to support No Line On The Horizon, their most risk-taking release since Achtung Baby. This time out, instead of massive banks of individual video screens or giant lemons, we get the mammoth setup known as “The Claw.” The best way to describe it is: It’s a big fuckin’ thing. Aside from hanging the wrap-around video monitor and shooting lights into the sky, it really doesn’t serve much purpose other than to be a big fuckin’ thing. As a result, the band were dwarfed, reduced to a seemingly secondary consideration. And, for a surprising portion of the show, U2 played like it.

Perhaps it was the fact that this was the opener of the U.S. leg of the tour, or maybe something else was going on, but in the many times I’ve seen them live I’ve never seen them as they were during the first half of the evening – tentative. After a rousing run-through of No Line‘s “Breath,” the group seemed to step back, as if they were putting a toe in the water to see if it was safe to jump in. On the standard “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Bono was content to let the audience do the heavy lifting and sing half of it for him, and throughout the evening gave the obligatory shout-outs to all the Chicago landmarks. He mentioned Soldier Field, Grant Park, the CTA, and other tourist spots so often one half expected the audience to be led out of the stadium to a fleet of double-decker buses. Even “The Unforgettable Fire” – once an absolute show stopper and revived here, arrived tired and uninspired.

Yet something happened at the exact halfway point. With the one-two punch of “Vertigo” and the wisely reworked “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” played over the club beat of “Discotheque,” the switch was thrown and it seemed as if they remembered what they were capable of.

Earlier in the show, Bono had poked fun at his lack of humility, saying there was no room for humility with a crowd such as this and calling the band “The wind in the Windy City.” And as such, his world views were on full display by dedicating “MLK/Walk On” to imprisoned Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi and a video introduction for the encore by Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Still, the uneven pace and heavy-handed arena cliches would all be forgiven with a burning delivery of “Where The Streets Have No Name,” a song that’s always seemed tailormade for this type of venue. Scanning the crowd, it was impossible to find someone who wasn’t singing along with the band (instead of for them) and didn’t have an ear-to-ear smile. The vibe alone seemed to be enough to push Bono over the top for “Bad,” proving to all that he still had the chops to hit the high notes and inspire everyone within earshot.

While the 360 Tour isn’t as innovative or ambitious as Zoo TV, there’s hope that once U2 starts hitting on all cylinders, the phrase “stadium show” doesn’t automatically have to be regarded as a four-letter word.

— Timothy Hiatt

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Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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