I can’t say U2 is taking it easy. Their “Innocence and Experience” show at MSG last night was about as exciting and innovative as you can get.
Of course, they could have called it “I’m Still Standing” as the entire floor of the Garden is General Admission– i.e. no seats. Three hours. If you go– and you must– wear sneakers and bring a cane!
Two nights ago, Paul and Nancy McCartney stood in one of the two VIP risers on the floor. McCartney, a great live show man, must have really soaked in how Bono et al re-designed the Garden in a way I’ve never seen for a rock show.
Last night the guests included Charlie Rose and Gayle King,actor Peter Sarsgaard, a bevy of models, designer Tory Burch, and AOL-Verizon chief Tim Armstrong.
The show, an interactive video extravaganza, turns the usual rock concert on its head. It’s at once grandly bombastic and simply intimate, with many stages running lengthwise cutting through the center of the venue. The staging reminded me a little of David Byrne’s Public Theater musical, “Here Lies Love.” Maybe that show was an influence. But it definitely relieves the rock band of the static notion of always being at one end of the stadium. Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry are able to move about freely through the giant room. And there’s no obstructed view– it’s rock in the round. Special kudos to the lighting designer.
The show also has nods– and I’m assuming pays royalties to– a variety of other composers including Patti Smith, Paul Simon, the Sex Pistols, Johnny Cash (who is literally the intermission entertainment, his animated image performing against the Berlin Wall), and Stephen Sondheim. Bono sort of knits together all of his favorite things– including the Irish troubles, Nelson Mandela, and the themes of freedom and equality. U2’s “One” charity and “Red” products are also heavily promoted, in a good way.
The set included requisite U2 hits– “With or Without You,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”– as well as a bunch of cuts from the band’s latest album, “Songs of Innocence.”
The real achievement (aside from the financial– no seats and all standing means they can pack in more people) of this show is seeing how all four members of U2 function as one. Edge’s jangly guitar still sends goosebumps. Larry Mullen’s drums pound propulsively. But it was Adam Clayton’s bass that really caught my eye last night– it’s maybe key to U2’s trademark– and for some of us– brilliantly reassuring sound.
Bono remains a great show, gifted with gab and ceaseless energy, a sense of humor and that unmistakable voice. He has the heart of a crooner even when he’s belting over the sonic accompaniment of his three colleagues.