At a Grammy Awards ceremony a decade ago, U2 frontman Bono proclaimed that his band was “reapplying for the job of the best band in the world.” In order to accomplish this Herculean task, the Irish quartet would fall back on a dependable approach, specifically aping their own sound for maximum impact. The side effects, apparent on records like All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, were static artistic results and mountains of concert tickets sold.
Click here for a full gallery from Tuesday night’s show at Soldier Field!
Fast forward to 2009. The band releases No Line On The Horizon — arguably their most ambitious and creative effort since 1997’s Pop — and embark on the 360° Tour, which would ultimately overtake The Rolling Stones as the most profitable road trip in history. The North American leg of the tour was postponed in mid-2010 when Bono needed emergency back surgery. The rescheduled dates brought them back to Chicago’s canyon-like Soldier Field for a sold-out show on a storybook summer night in the city by the lake.
But unlike their last visit, the four lads from Dublin didn’t seem to be in a gambling mood. Upon its release, No Line was met with closed ears and equally stingy wallets from the band‘s faithful. The record was a critical success but a commercial bust. Never mind. The band played huge chunks of it during that first outing and past-as-prologue usually dictates that the boys would reach even deeper into their catalog as the tour progressed.
Quite the opposite was true on Tuesday night. A paltry three songs from No Line made the setlist. As it were, they were some of the evening’s brightest moments. “Get On Your Boots” felt as enormous as its surroundings, with Adam Clayton’s bass and Larry Mullen Jr.’s thunderous drums drenching the cavernous interior with rumbling low end under The Edge’s scuzzy, repetitive guitar riff. “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” was completely reworked into a Euro-disco dance hall rave-up, an homage to its host city’s historic house-music scene. “Moment Of Surrender” was a long, sumptuous groove over which Bono moaned, purred, and shouted to the stars (at least the ones that could be seen from under the band’s enormous, four-pronged stage) for redemption.
Unfortunately, the rest of the evening was blueprint sturdy, a cavalcade of radio hits (“With Or Without You,” “Pride (In The Name Of Love),” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”) and concert staples (“Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “One”) that were guaranteed to sate those behind glass in the luxury suites who paid some $250 for the privilege.
Having said that, the band did tear through these standards with a renewed sense of purpose. Maybe Bono’s brush with mortality was a reminder that even messianic megalomaniacs can eventually fall to Earth. His bandmates roared behind him on “Where The Streets Have No Name,” allowing their figurehead to bound, preen, and emote toward the back rows like few performers in rock can. It’s a repetitive, grand gesture that somehow never feels insincere.
Although at a premium, there were moments of spontaneity. An early single (“Out Of Control”) or a deep cut (“Scarlet”) that doesn’t get dusted off very often were quick reminders that the band seems to peak when they leave the road map on the spaceship floor.
On the 25th anniversary of his death, the band trotted out “One Tree Hill,” a eulogy of sorts written for their friend Greg Carroll. (At the time of its release, they also dedicated The Joshua Tree to his memory). The song lurched out of the gate, The Edge struggling to remember the chord structure. But slowly it built, Bono putting a prayer to music as the rhythm section galloped behind, gaining strength as the song swelled toward completion, complete collapse always lurking, but never arriving. The fact that they barely made it to the finish made it all the more compelling. Too bad the evening didn’t have more of those moments.
– Curt Baran
About the Author: