Thursday, May 21, 2015

Inside U2's 'Innocence' Spectacle: A Backstage Q&A With Bono and Edge

Memories and megascreens: the band breaks down their arena takeover from the ceiling to the set lists

Edge and Bono of U2
The Edge and Bono reveal what went into planning the 'Innocence + Experience' tour. Chelsea Lauren/Getty

It's about 25 hours before U2 kick off their Innocence + Experience tour at Vancouver's Rogers Arena and Bono is sitting on a plush couch in a backstage lounge near the Edge. He's fiddling with a laptop and looking at a CDR recorded at a recent tour rehearsal. Right outside the door, walkie talkie-wielding tour personnel frantically run about as they prepare for the big night, but Bono seems completely relaxed. Adam Clayton walks in, hands him a cup of tea and then vanishes. We're instructed to sit between Bono and the Edge, knowing their schedule is insanely tight and they only have 20 minutes to chat.

We have 21 questions prepared, but since Bono isn't a man known for his brevity, we only manage to ask about eight. But the band manages to cover a lot of ground – even if we don't get to discuss the status of Songs of Experience or see if they're finally willing to cave and perform super rarities "Acrobat" and "Drowning Man" at some point on the tour.

When you first started sketching out ideas this tour, what were your goals? What did you want to accomplish?

The Edge: I guess we decided pretty early on that we wanted to start indoors and see how that felt. Then it was really just a question of, "If we're gonna be indoors and do something in contrast to that last outdoor tour, what is that going to be like?" The venue was the first consideration. What can we do that's unique for that indoor venue?

Bono, how about you?

Bono: As a kind of challenge to us, to ourselves, we had this idea that we should play the first few songs only under one lightbulb. That was a discipline since the beginning. We're not being literal about it now, but it's symbolic. We've taken it as a symbol through the show. The lightbulb is a symbol of everybody's intimate lives. The lives of their bedroom. The lives of their kitchen. The lives away from the spotlight. Ten Cedarwood Road and the box room in Cedarwood Wood had a lightbulb with no cover on it because I thought that was cool at the time. That place is that the incubator of ideas, the incubator of early songs, the incubator of early ambitions to follow women home from school and plot to see them on the weekend.

Everybody is formed in those spaces. I've been telling people for years that megalomania wasn't necessarily innate with me. It was whispered into my ear by John Lennon, Bob Dylan, later Joe Strummer. The idea that your ideas may have some value for others, at its core, is an arrogant one. That's where it started for me, was under that lightbulb.

I guess the challenge when creating a tour like this is to do something different. It must have been hard to think of something new and fresh.

The Edge: New, fresh and affordable was the thing we wanted to try and do. At some early meetings we really were pushing the envelope of what was possible. We had all kinds of inflatable rooms floating around the arena, some crazy ideas. It's funny how it always seems to work for us that we allow ourselves to think without any constraints, and slowly in the process of trying to get more practical, more tight with everything, you end up with some of the same ideas. For instance, the bedroom is still there. It's not a floating bedroom. It's now part of the divider screen that we use.

The first thing was to allow the imagination to run wild and then start reigning it back in. Then practical things start to apply like, "How much weight can the roof of a venue take?" We're flying all the PA, we're flying this big screen. We're going to the absolute nth degree of what's possible.

By hanging the speakers evenly throughout the venue, you get a much better sound than anything I've ever heard.

The Edge: We're sort of scratching our head wondering why it's never been done. It's a great way to deal with sound in a venue. Everyone up to this point, us included, has always put all the speakers at one end, by the stage, and blasted all the sound the fell length of the venue. What we're doing with this show is following the contour of the circumference of the building and putting the speakers above the people. So you sit no further than maybe 50 feet from a set of speakers. Everything is delivering sound at the same time, so you don't have any of the time alignment issues of other speakers.

Bono: Are there not some sound algorithms involved?

The Edge: No. There doesn't have to be.

Bono: Are you sure?

The Edge: Yeah!

Bono: Some people think it sounds 20 percent better than any sound system in an arena. If we're playing shit, that's not going to matter. You'll just hear the shit more clearly.

The Edge: It's really because the speakers are so close to you that there's no time alignment required. It basically gives everybody the sound at the same time. 

U2 performing with LED screens in Vancouver, Canada, on May 4th, 2015. Kevin Mazur/Getty

Can you talk a bit about dividing the arena in two with the LED screens and the philosophy behind that?

Bono: That's an experiment that we're really only going to see tomorrow for the first time. But look, we're a very divisive band I'm told, although one of the great music critics, Robert Hilburn, said, "The great thing about a Rolling Stones show is that you get to feel great about who you are. The great thing about a U2 show is you get to feel good about who is standing next to you." 

We do have a unifying thing within our audience, but outside of Madison Square Garden it can be tough being a U2 fan because we've been around a long time. We elicit very strong feelings from people. People either love us or loathe us. On the last album, No Line on the Horizon, a song called "Cedars of Lebanon," there's a line that says, "Pick your enemies carefully because they'll define you. Make them interesting." That's because they're going to be with you all your life. The core idea behind the Innocence + Experience tour is this movement from "them and us" to "there is no them, only us."

When we were younger our enemies were clearly drawn, very visible to us. They were very real, they weren't imagined. And we organized against them, whether that's with Amnesty International or anti-apartheid groups. As you get older, you start to discover that the greatest enemy you will encounter in your life is often yourself. You are the biggest obstacle in your own way. Suddenly then the landscape changes. I don't know who wrote the line, "I have met my enemy and it's partly right," but it's a great line. It's a book title. When there's no clearly defined "us" and "them," the world changes shape. It's harder to negotiate. It's really your own hypocrisy in the crosshairs. We started that journey with Achtung Baby and Zoo TV. It continues today, but what's happened recently is that I've personally been revisiting the black-and-white monochrome days, because I miss that person.

I'll give you a lyric from [the upcoming U2 album] Songs of Experience. "I was living a lie. I was calling it a compromise. I was making bad deals in front of everyone's eyes. Deals now everyone denies. I was giving evidence in the court of the hearts desire, falsifying documents, virtue thrown in the fire. Sometimes I wish that I was stupid and you were not so smart. Overcome the head will always overcome the heart." The chorus goes, "Lead me in the way I should go. I'm running out of chances to blow. That's what you told me and you should know. Lead me in the way I should be. Unravel the mystery of the heart and its defense. The morning after innocence." The song is called "The Morning After Innocence."

Then it goes, "Is that your fountain pen? Navy with a nib of gold. Could you write your name again and do anything you were told in 10 Cedarwood Road. I'm your older self, the song of experience. I've come to ask for help from your song of innocence. Lead me in the way I should go. I'm running out of chances to blow. That's what you told me and you should know."

So, the older self is coming and asking the younger one for hope. It's interesting. It's a reverse. That happens in this show. What happens in this show is the younger self harangues, harasses, the older self. That's what we were just practicing out there trying to figure out in "Bullet the Blue Sky." The guy who used to be on the barricades in black and white comes up to the guy who is on the other side of the barricades and says, "What are you doing here?" He says, "It takes everybody. It takes the blues, the greens, the me's, the you." He goes into this rant. That's the dialectic at the heart of the tour from a lyrical perspective.

Then from a visual perspective, you have analog vs. visual. Some of the artwork is handmade, drawn printed, vs. distressed, treated. Musically, you have the simplicity of the three piece, the rock band, and then you get to a more electronic thing in Experience. Sorry. You probably regret asking that question.

Can you tell me the process of putting together the set list and how you order the songs?

The Edge: That's a very complicated question, particularly for what we're doing here. There's a lot of consideration. He wanted to have a lightbulb over the stage for the first few numbers, which presented itself as U2 stripped back in the innocence moment of the band, referring to those early years where we formed and influenced by the music of the late 1970 and early 1980s, post-punk and punk music. That was our starting out point, where we were going to open the show. Then it was like, "OK, where do we go from there?" It's been a process of trying to move forward beyond that first phase of the show and bring it to a conclusion that felt like we could sign up to it and believe in it. We have a lot of songs from the different eras. It's funny how you take an old song, but it in a different part of the set, and it suddenly has a new meaning.

The fans somehow got their hands on some rehearsal set lists and you're doing "I Will Follow" and "Out of Control" early. I take it that's you beginning of the show with the beginning of the band.

The Edge: That's the thinking. It works. It's a great place to begin, like at some of our earliest shows at clubs in Dublin. One that we played in was called McGonagle's, so we say this is the McGonagle's moment of the show. Of course, that couldn't be more simple to stage. Then we take advantage of these amazing pieces of hardware we've built for the show. It gets pretty cool and pretty psychedelic and surreal, and then we take it to somewhere else again. There's really four different phases within the show of quite different feelings. Then we're tying it together. Making the emotional arc of it work is the real challenge. 

Bono: When looking at the hardware, what's great about it is that it isn't all that intrusive when unlit. You can see through it. You can be forgiven for thinking, "This is a long way from punk rock." But what was at the heart of punk rock for us was the desire to communicate on an equal basis with your audience, meaning there's no division between you and the people that come to see you. Indeed, we ended up in our audience a lot of the time. We ended up sleeping in people's homes and they in our bedrooms. There was that democracy.

Iggy Pop was always the ultimate performer for me. That guy was not satisfied, at all, with just being on the stage. The breaking down of the fourth wall has been the theme of all of U2's live shows. That goes back to running into that audience in Los Angeles with a white flag and, rather bizarrely, ending up in a fistfight, in our own audience, with the flag of non-violence. I ended up losing my head. It was pathetic. But to developing the B stage, the satellite stage, we were the first to do that once in-ear monitors were invented and it was possible. Then instead of just looking at video reinforcement, which again we were were early on with, we turned it into a new canvas with Zoo TV, and then with Popmart onto the next level. All of those innovations came out of thinking, back in 1979, "There's no them, only us." Make the back seat of the hall the best seat is your duty as a performer.

Does your inability to play guitar does that change anything? Is it hard to play "One" now because you always played on that?

Bono: You know, I always thought I took away from it when I played on it. I know we're laughing that the band doesn't seem to miss my guitar playing very much, but I don't miss it that much onstage. I miss it offstage. I miss it now. I miss it in the dressing room. I miss it when you want to write something and you can't hear what's in your head. We've got Terry World also. Terry [Lawless] is down there playing keyboards or he'll do something to cover, or else, we'll just strip it down. Yesterday we stripped "Mysterious Ways" down to just an acoustic guitar. It's great fun. It works.

I've seen a list of 43 songs that you've rehearsed. How much is the show going to change from the first to a second night in a city?

The Edge: We have to get one show we're happy with and then we'll figure it out.

How different do you think the show will be a few weeks or months from now?

Bono: I was thinking today at soundcheck that we don't have much of an acoustic section. I would love on a second night to consider doing 30 minutes acoustic, why not? So, we can play it. How many songs did you say we've rehearsed?

I saw a list of 43.

Bono: Edge, would you say that's true?

The Edge: I've gone through 60 songs for the tour. I haven't played all of them with the band. I've got 60. I counted. On the note of him playing guitar, I do miss it. I particularly miss it when I have to go into a solo and there's no Bono there to back me up. I'm like, "Oh shit. This is quite a different thing."

Bono: If you listen to a lot of the groups in the 1970s, Edge, they don't have a lot of backing. Even the Who. It puts more emphasis on the bass, but thank you for saying that. It's much appreciated.

A Special "Limerick" from Bono to Mario Batali

Encouraging people to join the AIDS fight by eating and drinking (RED) this June, (RED) co-founder and U2 front man, Bono, recorded a special “limerick” for his friend who's leading the campaign for (RED), chef extraordinaire, Mario Batali.

This June, where and what you eat and drink can fight AIDS with (RED). Let's #86AIDS.

Find participating restaurants, bars and food trucks near you:

Noel Gallagher on U2's show: It's a psychedelic experience

noel gallagher y bono

Noel Gallagher, currently touring the US with his High Flying Birds, was at the second show in San Jose last night.

Afterwards he spoke to Here's what he thought of the show.

'I thought it was as great a leap forward as it was when I saw ZOOTV the first time, which itself was a great leap forward from Rattle and Hum. If it's at all possible to get a great leap forward from that, then tonight was it.

It was theatre.

It starts off as a punk rock gig but then it gets intimate, there's a lot of truth in it about where they come from and the people that they are.

At points it's quite touching when you see footage of people like Bono's mum and his kids, stuff like that, walking up the street they grew up on.

Visually the band were explaining it to me for a good six months but I still had no idea about this screen they were talking about, it didn't make much sense to me at all - most things don't with Bono at four o clock in the morning. But tonight, I don't like to use the phrase, but this is a game changer, not only for them but for shows in general. It is something competely different.

You don't expect to have that screen in that position and doing that thing... and the beauty of it all is that it still does not take away from what a great band they are.

It was always going to be a contentious thing what they did with the album release but I think it paid off tonight because the stories of the songs have been told visually and it works, I really do think it works in a visual sense.

For people who haven't seen it, they play inside of a video screen and it's something else, it's like watching a television but you kind of forget sometimes that they are actually there on stage and they are playing live. It's a psychedelic experience.

I've been a fan since hearing 'New Year's Day' in 1983 and I've seen them loads of time. With the greatest respect in the world when I saw the 360° Tour I thought that was the end of something, and not in a bad way. I thought, this is so staggering and huge and tall, so amazing, I thought this was the end of something and I wondered what the beginning of the next thing will be - and here it is.

It was staggering - and only the fourth show. I can't wait to see it again.'

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

U2 tour review: Seeing is disbelieving

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A U2 show comes with heightened expectations and an almost euphoric anticipation for a cultural touchstone. It's an impossibly high bar to meet.
For more than two hours last night, the seminal Irish rock band did just that.
A blistering start and finish book-ended a tech-tinged show that is bombastic, brilliantly absurd arena rock.
U2 kicked off its U.S. leg of the Innocence & Experience tour under vexing circumstances: a physically damaged lead singer and a record, Songs of Innocence, that sparked a backlash after it was distributed for free to 500 million people via iTunes in September. (U2 is working on a new album, Songs of Experience.)
From those setbacks, the venerable band saw the opportunity to turn uncertainty into a platform to redefine its place in rock 'n' roll's pantheon.
That it did, Monday night at SAP Center here. An invigorated band tore through anthems and new stuff under a reconstituted sight-and-sound show. Enormous speakers from the ceiling spread out sound more evenly in the arena. Dazzling screens split the room in half. At times, it was a case of seeing is disbelieving.
A Magneto-sized digital image of Bono reaches out to corral Edge performing inside a cage suspended from the ceiling. The lead singer walks the streets of his childhoodDublin, in the rain, suspended above the crowd. An oblong box overhead depicted the band performing inside giant projections and animated sets, ornamented with dazzling lights, spinning glitter balls and LED videos.
A spry Bono showed no ill effects from a bicycle accident in Central Park in November that resulted in damage to his eye socket, shoulder, elbow and left hand. His voice is still commanding and emotive.
"Welcome to the first night of our U.S. adventure," Bono said after a four-song blitz to open things: The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone), Out of Control, Vertigo and I Will Follow.
The concert was divided into two parts: the first covered U2's youth yet drew heavily on its latest album, Songs of Innocence. A blizzard of confetti and technological stagecraft ended the 50-minute set. "We aren't afraid of technology — we rather like it," said Bono.
The concert's second half was larded with the classic anthems: An inspired Pride (In the Name of Love), a soaring Angel of Harlem. Mysterious Ways was especially infectious. U2 paid tribute to the late, great B.B. King with When Love Comes to Town, its successful collaboration with the blues legend.
Four stages covering much of the arena floor afforded fans to be near Bono, guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. at any given time.
The fifth "member" of U2 was the oblong-shaped LED screen that greatly assisted the first half of the show, offering stunning visuals to enliven newer material that the capacity crowd was unfamiliar with or — in some cases — indifferent.
But there were slices of heart and humanity. A lovely new ballad, Every Breaking Wave, showed off Bono's incomparable voice. The rousing Where the Street Has No Name punctuated the encore.
When U2 last visited the San Francisco Bay Area, in 2011, it was at cavernous Oakland Stadium during the 360° Tour. Monday's U.S. opener was far smaller, more intimate and yet just as jaw-dropping in its staging and inventiveness.
The live staples of a U2 show were still there, in their soul-lifting glory, along with eye-popping pyrotechnics and some Bono preaching.
After 40 years together, U2 reached that impossibly high bar. Again.

RTÉ 2fm reports live from U2's Innocence and Experience 2015 Tour

Saturday, May 16, 2015


Simply serving the same dish twice is not the U2 way. As they took to the Rogers Arena stage for the second night of their ‘iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE’ tour, and their last in Vancouver, it was soon obvious that if the ingredients would be substantially different from 24 hours earlier, the results would be the same: wall-to-wall audience approval.

For those experiencing the unique technological masterclass of the band’s new show for the first time, there was the same look of awe that was on many faces on opening night. For anyone also here the night before, there was the opportunity to experience again a production that is already bedding down into something historic, this time with a significantly remodeled set list. “Last night was truly great,” said Bono. “Tonight will truly be better.”

The strains of two Ramones discs confirmed that the opening ‘The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)’ had retained its slot. The bravery of getting back in the concert saddle with a new song was rewarded by further confirmation that this has the potential to join the long list of inspirational U2 crowd-pleasers. It’s already obvious just how much audiences love to roar the singalong chorus at the tops of their voices, and that’s after two live plays.

‘Vertigo’ moved up into second place in the listing, followed by another new album entry that didn’t make last night’s cut, ‘California (There Is No End To Love).’ The raw and formative ‘I Will Follow’ remained in this opening montage, in which a certain thematic innocence was portrayed with a stark and unadorned set, lit chiefly by a single giant lightbulb that swung down from the gods like a pendulum.

The  personal transition of innocence to experience charted by the new album was again signified here by the emergence of the so-called “divider.” This is the giant screen construction, with a walkway corridor down its middle, onto which dramatic, often eye-popping images emerge, be they animated, moving picture or real life.

In its presence, U2 have an arena-grade secret weapon. It can host the stunning visuals that illustrate the lead singer’s trip back to ‘Cedarwood Road’; or it can carry the hard-hitting facts that explain ‘Raised By Wolves,’ with images of those who died in terrorist bombings in Ireland in 1974. “Justice for the forgotten,” demanded the closing narrative.

In the same vein, the divider lifted to allow the band to walk along the pathway at marching tempo, to the beat of Larry Mullen Jr’s single drum, for the unplugged ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday.’ The Edge’s solo still managed to spit flames, even on an acoustic guitar. Later, on the small b-stage at the other end of the walkway, Edge played tender piano to Bono’s gentle lead on ‘Every Breaking Wave.’

It’s testament to the overflowing riches of the band’s catalogue that major songs can come and go from one night to the next with no sense of diminution or deprivation. The previous night’s closer, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’ didn’t make the cut at all tonight, and ‘Desire’ was gone too.

But what towering replacements, for instance with ‘Angel Of Harlem’ and a tribute that many would have been wishing for. The sad news of B.B. King’s passing that broke just after the first show ended, made a b-stage revival of ‘When Love Comes To Town’ both necessary and rewarding. “The thrill will never be gone,” observed Bono appropriately.

‘Beautiful Day’ had the frontman spontaneously interpolating some ‘Sgt. Pepper’ lyrics (“where did that come from?!”, he asked himself) and as we edged to the end of the main set, ‘With Or Without You’ moved one couple into a slow dance.  Revivals of ‘Miracle Drug’ and ‘Bad’ started an encore that had fans in fine voice for ‘Where The Streets Have No Name.’

Tonight’s closer, though, was an elegantly low-key ‘One,’ and as Bono thanked the audience for giving Vancouver to the band for five weeks of pre-production and two remarkable shows, there was a real sense that this city will live long in U2’s memory, and vice versa.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Rolling Stone: U2 Reinvent the Arena Show at Triumphant 'Innocence' Tour Opener

U2 opened their Innocence + Experience Tour with a breathtaking, perspective-altering Vancouver show. Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty
It was about 10 minutes past 8:00 p.m. when the lights dimmed at Vancouver's Rogers Arena and "Beat on the Brat" by the Ramones began blaring out of U2's massive sound system, kicking off the group's long-awaited Innocence + Experience Tour. As the band took the stage to a deafening roar from the sold-out crowd, they launched into "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)" under a single light bulb suspended from the ceiling, meant to evoke Bono's childhood bedroom.

The group that took a 29,000-square-foot stage known as the Spaceship around the globe on their last tour was now moving forward by going all the way back to where it began. They were honoring the music that first inspired them to pick up instruments, as well as the physical space where that happened. To drive the point home further, the song transitioned directly into "Out of Control," U2's debut single from 1980. "We're a band from the north side of Dublin called U2," Bono told the crowd, as if he'd traveled back in time. "This is our first single. Take it, the Edge." Not a single screen was activated, giving the crowd at the front of the general admission floor the sensation of seeing the band at tiny club in Dublin 35 years ago.

After getting the audience into a frantic state with "Vertigo," they went right back to their earliest days with "I Will Follow" before Bono paid tribute to his late mother with "Iris (Hold Me Close)." A giant curtain of LED screens hung above the catwalk in the middle of the arena, connecting the main stage to the B stage – they came alive with still images of Iris Hewson and video of a young Bono. "This is a night about first experiences," Bono said before playing the intensely personal song. "We don't want to stay in the past for too long because I'm told that's not good, but if you don't go to the past at all I'm told you end up staying there, so we're going to visit the past now for a few minutes."

The journey back continued with "Cedarwood Road," another Songs of Innocence tune about Bono's early years. For this one, the singer climbed between two sets of LED screens in the center of the arena and appeared to be actually walking down the street where he grew up. Most every line in the song was animated, down to the "blossoms falling from a tree." It wasn't a very complicated effect, but it was extremely well-executed and more than a little surreal. The animation then zoomed inside Bono's house for "Song for Someone," a sweet ode to his wife Ali. Young Bono was shown siting in his room under Clash and Kraftwerk posters, strumming a guitar while present-day Bono stood underneath and belted out the tune. Like many moments from the show, it was about the past and present colliding. 


When the tune ended, Larry Mullen Jr. strapped a single drum onto his chest, marching band-style, and began pounding out the familiar beat to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" as he walked toward the center of the catwalk. This was a new, slower arrangement of the tune, with Edge on acoustic guitar and Adam Clayton on electric bass. The rage from the original was gone, replaced by quite anguish.  Sticking to the theme, they followed it up with "Raised by Wolves," a new track about the troubles in Northern Ireland. Victims of terrorist bombing flashed on the screen, and Bono ended the song literally down on his knees praying for peace.

It's worth noting that the group's innovative new sound system, which utilizes a series of speakers hung from the ceiling spread evenly throughout the venue, sounded absolutely amazing. Just about every other live act in history simply stacked their sound equipment near the stage and blasted it out across the entire house, almost deafening a chunk of the crowd in the process. This new approach results in far a cleaner, crisper, significantly less abrasive acoustics. It deserves to become the new standard.

The band, meanwhile, followed the two political songs with a killer rendition of "Until the End of the World." Bono sang the tune from the B stage at the far end of the arena. He spent most of the night there and on the catwalk, meaning that fans who waited for hours to get in front spent much of the show craning their necks to see him. Note to future concertgoers: Don't obsesses over your spot on the floor. There isn't a bad spot down there because the action is spread across the entire arena. This is really a show that plays well to the entire house, not just the lucky few in front.

What came next wasn't so much an intermission as a video interlude that ran while the band briefly left the stage – a montage of 1970s punk icons like the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Patti Smith and Devo talking and playing bits of their music. U2 haven't had much of a connection to the punk scene since the early days of the Reagan administration, but it clearly remains close to their hearts.

They resumed the show with all four members playing "Invisible" on the catwalk, Larry on a mini stand-up drum kit. The energy dipped a bit because the song was unfamiliar to many and the group only faced half the crowd, but it picked right up again when they kicked into a fast "Even Better Than the Real Thing," which concluded with the whole band moving to the B stage for the euphoric "You take me higher" coda. The vintage hits kept coming: a funky "Mysterious Ways" and then "Desire," before a piano rose from the floor for a sing-along "The Sweetest Thing."

For this one, Bono invited a punky teenage girl onto the stage to film them with her cell phone, which was connected to the main video screen. She did a pretty good job, and it was maybe the only time in concert history that somebody using a cell camera wasn't irritating. As Larry and Adam walked offstage, the Edge sat then down at the piano to play a gorgeous rendition of "Every Breaking Wave" with Bono. It's possibly the best track from Songs of Innocence, and this new arrangement clearly trumps the one on the album.

The night throttled back into high gear with a one-two shot of "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)." The former song was accompanied by images of the stock market and Wall Street workers, seemingly suggesting that the damage once done by American fighter jets is now being done by men in suits at giant financial institutions. The band wrapped up the main set with "The Troubles" and a stirring "With or Without You," both of which Bono sang on the B stage while the band played on the other side of the arena.

When the encore began, the first voice to emerge from the speakers was that of Stephen Hawking: "One planet, one human race," he said through his famous speech-generating computer. "We are not the same, but we are one." It sure seemed like the setup for "One," but it was "City of Blinding Lights" followed by "Beautiful Day." They were good reminders that U2's run of hits lasted far beyond the 1980s and 1990s. 

If even the most devoted U2 fans had 500 guesses at the next song, they probably wouldn't have gotten it. After a brief speech about the AIDS crisis, they played a portion of Paul Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion." It was paired with a video about the disease. "Every day there are more than 600 children born with AIDS," the screen read. "We can make it zero." This sentiment got the crowd roaring, and the roar grew louder when the Edge played the opening notes of "Where the Streets Have No Name." It's clear why they've played this at practically every show they've done since the song was new nearly 30 years ago: It can whip a crowd into a frenzy like few songs in rock history. As red lights bathed the stage, Bono ran around and displayed no obvious signs that he had been in a devastating bicycle accident six months ago. He's healed up quite nicely, even though he's still unable to play guitar.

"We were gonna end on this," Bono said. "But we'll do one more." It was "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," a concert staple that had previously never been used as a closer. Everyone in the crowd stood up and joined in on every word. (The Edge actually accidentally stepped off the stage during the song and was helped up by security guards. He later posted a photo on U2's Instagram showing a slight arm injury with the caption, "Didn't see the edge, I'm ok!!") The show wrapped up with the band walking off the B stage one by one. Bono raised his hands in triumph and high-fived fans as he walked off, and the house lights turned on nearly two and a half hours after the show had begun.

It's been a tough year for U2. Beyond Bono's accident, the free iTunes release of Songs of Innocence generated a huge backlash and the album failed to produce a real hit. But U2 have done much of their best work when their backs are against the wall. They played this show like a young band with something to prove, and this tour is only going to get better as the year goes on.

Set List:

"The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)"
"Out of Control"
"I Will Follow"
"Iris (Hold Me Close)"
"Cedarwood Road"
"Song for Someone"
"Sunday Bloody Sunday"
"Raised by Wolves"
"Until the End of the World"
"Even Better Than the Real Thing"
"Mysterious Ways"
"Sweetest Thing"
"Every Breaking Wave"
"Bullet The Blue Sky"
"Pride (In the Name of Love)"
"The Troubles"
"With or Without You"
"City of Blinding Lights"
"Beautiful Day"
"Where the Streets Have No Name"
"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
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