U2 Redefines the Arena Rock Show at the Bell Centre
U2 made their second of four stops at the Bell Center on Saturday. After the grandiose 360 Tour, it seemed like an impossible task for them to top the sheer spectacle they’d offered, especially with a return to smaller venues, but with their “iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE” tour, the Irish quartet managed an even more impressive feat: create the next level of arena rock show.
Much has been said about the innovative sound system used in this tour, where the speaker arrays are all suspended from the ceiling, providing an unobstructed view of the stage wherever you are. Sound distribution was also very impressive, with a good quality wherever you were (at least on the floor). A satellite stage was setup at the other end of the floor, with a long walkway joining the two. But the striking feature was the long double-sided projection screen over the walkway. At first images were mixed in with a live feed of Bono, but a few songs into the show, he walked up to it and got in between the two screens (and his band mates would join him at various times) for a spectacular effect.
These screens were mostly used in the first half of the show where the material from their latest album was used to tell stories from Bono’s youth. When the tour was announced, it was said that shows would work in pairs, with one night’s theme being Innocence, the other Experience, but that concept was wisely dropped, out of fear of disappointing fans who’d attend just one night. Instead, the show is loosely structured as Innocence (new material) growing into Experience (the classics).
Most of the new material fared better in the live setting than on the album, but still paled next to the older material. The opener, ‘The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)’, was one of the successes, with Bono entering from the satellite stage. The band played a few songs on the main stage with little artifice, a nod to their beginnings, and demonstrated that they don’t need giant video screens to be a kick ass rock ‘n roll band. They followed with “Out of Control”, the band’s first ever single, and a song that has surprisingly aged very well. Then with “Vertigo”, from 2004’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”, the band exploded (pun intended) and whipped the crowd into a frenzy.
After ‘I Will Follow’, Bono entered the giant screen for a section of the show reflecting back on their youth in Ireland, as illustrated by songs from their latest album. A stripped down version of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ was surprisingly effective, taking on a more reflective tone than the original protest song.
After a short intermission consisting of a playback of Johnny Cash’s ‘The Wanderer’, the band came back with ‘Invisible’ and moved to the satellite stage during ‘Even Better Than the Real Thing’. ‘Mysterious Ways’ offered the opportunity for Bono to get a girl on stage (a U2 classic) who was asked to film the band during a rousing version of ‘Angel of Harlem’. We were then treated to the first ever live performance of ‘Lucifer’s Hands’ from the deluxe edition of ‘Songs of Innocence’.
Bono’s every word and every move was met with screams of approval from the female contingent, and as usual he plugged his charitable work but in a way that never felt condescending (it’s not always the case). The show ended with a five-song stretch of classic material: if ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ felt a little forced, ‘Pride’, ‘Beautiful Day’ and ‘Bad’ were spectacular. ‘With or Without You’ closed the set in a gigantic sing-along, proof that no rock band ever went wrong writing lyrics that go “Oh-oh-oh-oh”.
After a brief pause, they came back (as if there were any doubts) for an encore that consisted of ‘City of Blinding Lights’, ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ and ‘One’. During ‘Streets’, with Bono’s moves and the Edge strumming his Stratocaster, you could easily travel back in time 25 years ago, before they were burdened by this need to be larger than life. It made me think that U2 in a small theater, with no fancy visuals would be an awesome thing to witness.
I’d say that U2 offered pretty close to a perfect show. Like ’em or not (and if you’ve read this far, you probably do), they’re one of the biggest bands of the last 30 years for a reason. It was a magical night.
The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)
Out of Control
I Will Follow
Iris (Hold Me Close)
Song for Someone
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Raised by Wolves
Until the End of the World
Intermission (The Wanderer)
Even Better Than the Real Thing
Angel of Harlem
Every Breaking Wave
Bullet the Blue Sky
Pride (In the Name of Love)
With or Without You
City of Blinding Lights
Where the Streets Have No Name
U2 will be back at the Bell Centre on June 16th and 17th, and tickets are still available at evenko.ca
Jean-Frédéric Vachon also runs the site Diary of a Music Addict.