Half of you will probably say I’m a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to U2 fandom, half will call me an old-timer. I’m a member of the “Third Round” of U2 fans, the ones who came of age and discovered U2 during the Achtung Baby years (as opposed to the First Round Boy through Unforgettable Fire fans, or the Second Round Joshua Tree fans).
The days of great U2 albums might be long gone, but I still shell out money to see the band play whenever they come to town. I saw them just a few hours ago at Giants Stadium (in the hideous freeway junction known as East Rutherford, NJ), and I have to say, while it’s been years since the band has made any relevant, interesting music, they’re still playing relevant music every night.
A perfect example: Sunday Bloody Sunday, a song written more than a quarter century ago. Tonight’s performance was dedicated to “the heroes who are peacefully protesting in Iran,” and the band played a version of the song that was largely unchanged from tours past, while photos of Iranian atrocities were shown on the huge screen above the stage. The whole stadium was bathed in green, and as Bono sang “How long, how long must we sing this song?” I couldn’t help thinking that’s it’ll probably be at least 25 more years. Will a 75-year-old Bono still wonder how long he has to sing that song? And to whom will the song be dedicated then?
As is befitting a rock concert happening right outside NYC during a meeting of the UN General Assembly, Bono piled on with the causes during the show. The One campaign and Project Red to fight AIDS, poverty, and malaria in Africa; the Iran election; racial and religious intolerance; a somewhat bizarre plug for Mayor Bloomberg (which lasted about 5 minutes); and the band played “Walk On” to honor Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Burmese presidential election in 1990 and has been imprisoned ever since. There was a big group of volunteers who took the stage wearing Aung San Suu Kyi masks in her honor.
Rock-and-roll telethons aside, the show was fantastic. They played enough new stuff to justify a tour to support their album, but also mined pretty deep into their old catalog and found some gems. From my favorite album, The Unforgettable Fire, they’ll typically play Pride (in the Name of Love). Tonight, however, they played MLK and the album’s title track, which is my Favorite U2 Song Ever, and one I’ve never heard them play live. They also dug deep into Achtung Baby for Ultraviolet (another favorite), and played a gorgeous stripped-down version of Stay (Faraway, So Close) from Zooropa. It was an interesting setlist–the band is clearly trying to avoid becoming a touring jukebox, while still pleasing all the old fans, young fans, and middle-aged fans. The high point came when U2 ripped into its first encore with “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Everyone comes together over The Joshua Tree.
U2 shows are also fun because you can look back at past tours and see how far display technology has advanced. In the early nineties, Zoo TV littered the stage with TVs. Some were quite big, with a clear picture, but I’m assuming they were rear-projection televisions,Â and they were used with LaserDisk players. (!) For PopMart in 1997, a giant screen was invented and built that was 160 feet wide with 150,000 pixels. I saw that show at the Oakland Coliseum, and the screen stretched from one end of the outfield to the other–it was amazing.
For the Vertigo tour a few years ago, instead of a single huge screen, the LEDs were mounted onto strands of wire to form 7 curtain panels, which acted as seven different displays hanging from the ceiling. Very cool, but I think there were technically only 12,000 pixels altogether.
For this tour, the screen wraps 360 degrees, and they do some absolutely amazing things with it. I’m not sure what the resolution is, but the picture was much sharper than I expected it to be. Wikipedia has a great article on the tour’s set design and requirements. The big claw structure in the middle of the stadium reportedly requires 120 trucks to transport, and there are three of them. When the tour’s over, the band will donate them to be converted into permanent outdoor music venues.
Oh, one last note from the show tonight: “Get on Your Boots” is this tour’s “Vertigo” or “Elevation”: a song that’s lame on the album but awesome live. Also, I didn’t take the above picture.