U2 had played a dozen songs in the opening show of its world tour Thursday in Vancouver B.C.’s Rogers Arena, before Bono uttered the words that could have started the concert.
“It’s good to be alive,” he said, then thanked the doctor who “pieced” him together after a disastrous bicycle accident last November. “I feel strong. I feel alive.”
And though the injuries prevented him from playing guitar, he dashed around the giant stage all night.
Vancouver was the first of 68 dates on a tour that — so far — is skipping Seattle. Though the stage structure was smaller than the one the band used at CenturyLink Field in 2011, it stretched the length of the arena floor, and so did a semitranslucent LED video screen.
The band would appear suddenly in a catwalk, inside the LED, interacting with animation.
“Technology can be fun,” Bono said before “Sweetest Thing,” when a fan’s phone was used for the video projection.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” had the screen displaying faces of victims of Irish violence. “Justice for the forgotten,” a slide said.
If there was a Grammy for special effects, this show would win it. Still, Bono observed at one point, “We don’t need all this stuff.”
They didn’t. The most memorable moment of the 24-song set, other than guitarist the Edge falling off the stage during encores (he was OK), was “Every Breaking Wave.” It featured just Bono, the Edge’s piano and no other trickery. The song demonstrated that voice and melody remain central to U2’s gift.
The band played four songs from its latest album, “Songs of Innocence,” including “Iris,” a song Bono wrote about his mother.
That album caused a huge backlash last year when it was automatically downloaded to iTunes accounts.
The group played four songs from “The Joshua Tree,” as well. And though anthems like “With or Without You” couldn’t escape their hugeness, the catwalk allowed the band to be so close to the audience it felt like an intimate show.
It was one of the most visually stunning rock spectacles ever, but also a show that took you inside Bono’s childhood bedroom, through animation, on “Cedarwood Road.”
Bono escaped that room because of ambition and Thursday’s grand production suggested that U2 can never escape Bono’s overreaching drive.
“You haven’t changed a bit,” he said of the audience at one point.
He could have been talking about himself.
Charles R. Cross: firstname.lastname@example.org