Before U2 hit the stage for night two of their five-night run at the Forum on Wednesday, there were murmurs in the crowd that this wouldn’t be like any of the shows on the mostly well-received tour. Early that morning, the band’s longtime tour manager Dennis Sheehan died, leaving fans wondering how the group would pay tribute to their fallen friend. After four feverish songs, the crowd had their answer. Bono started off the night solemnly but engagingly, sharing a story about how he and his bandmates dressed up as Led Zeppelin (whom Sheehan tour managed previously) at their late friend's last birthday. True or false, it set the tone for a workman-like performance that really didn't hit its stride until towards the end of the first batch of songs that were from their latest collection, Songs of Innocence.
For many fans, the Innocence + Experience tour is the closest they’ll get to seeing U2 in a club setting (apart from those lucky fans going to tonight’s gig at the Roxy). The Forum can sometimes be a hollow, unforgiving venue, but it was the right size to showcase the mesmerizing LED screens and raised catwalk serving as a third stage. In a stadium setting, fans probably wouldn't have felt connected to a performance that touched on the raw wounds of the band’s personal past — most notably the Irish troubles of the 1970s and '80s.
As the night wore on, U2 reminded the crowd that unlike other rock veterans with massive stage productions, they’re able to call a song audible seamlessly. Adding the anthemic “Bad” to the end of the main set was a highlight. Bono can’t quite belt out those high notes like he did in Rattle and Hum, but he was pretty damn close.
This tour could be the beginning of the end for U2, but not in the way people expect. At this point in their career, they can still write pretty good rock songs, but their days as a hit-making band are probably over. As a live band, however, they’ve manage to roll back the years instead of veering onto Rolling Stones Lane as the world’s greatest nostalgia act. Bono may not move like Jagger, and the Edge isn’t as swashbuckling as Richards. But as a unit, powered by the underrated rhythm section of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., the band feels as complete as it did at the beginning of the century.
It was great to hear the bare-bones intensity of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and the evening’s surprise set closer “40,” which was dedicated to the memory of Sheehan (as was the rest the night and tour). Granted, the theatrical stage effects probably don't leave much wiggle room in the set list, but even so, it would have been an added bonus (for me, anyway) to a few hear deep rarities from Zooropa.
Nothing could quite recapture the rawness of seeing them on the Elevation tour. But for a band that’s desperate to remain important, U2 is doing its best to ensure that it never becomes just another nostalgia act.
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