Front Row Pics: U2 @ Madison Square Garden ~ The Band Like No Other Brings a Tour Like No Other
These two weeks might just be the greatest two weeks music-wise of my entire life. As in EVER. I like a really wide variety of music and get to a lot of shows but rarely ~ if ever ~ do my favorite bands tour in the same year ~ and never did I get to see them all multiple times in such a short timeline. Well, never until now, that is.
The music stars (I guess in both senses of the word!) definitely aligned for this guy as I am counting down the days to see my #1 band, Rush (anyone who knows me is well aware of my love of that band and that I will continue to make any show of theirs that I can as long as there is breath in my lungs!) and last week I was able to “Score Two Night of Rock Greatness” with my #3 band, the Foo Fighters…which brings us, kind of fittingly, now that I see it in print, to #2, the one and only U2. That’s right, pretty soon I will have seen My Big Three (which, are, no big surprise, the mighty triumvirate for many other music lovers [with good taste], too, across several generations), each more than once and in a fucking amazing whirlwind of one show followed in practically the blink of an eye by the next. Go ahead, it’s OK to hate me just a little.
I am fully aware that U2 fans are uber-passionate and devoted (sometimes to the exclusion of all other bands) will be upset that I list “their band” at #2, not at the very top of my list, but music is art and therefore subjective, plus I will agree without a second’s hesitation that U2 stands alone and has for decades and there’s no sign that’s every going to change. How many bands (or band members) are recognized as influential activists who are committed to pro-actively bettering the world we live in and are leaving to future generations, meeting with world/religious leaders and making no secret of their well-researched agendas, building organizations like One.org to eradicate poverty, all with a refined approach that has probably allowed them to do more good than loud, aggressive legislators or protesters? Let me count…umm, NONE! So fans whom I pissed off at the beginning of this paragraph, chill, because U2 is not “just” a phenomenal group of musicians, they are much, much more.
And it only stands to reason that their current tour is likewise “much, much more” as well ~ they are playing eight…EIGHT…sold out (or damn close) shows at the ultimate venue, Madison Square Garden. I’ve attended two (and am still hoping to get a couple more) of those shows, including the 7/19 show as well as the 7/22 show that featured special guests Jimmy Fallon singing “Desire” before introducing The Roots, who played “Angel of Harlem;” both cameos were amazing.
The “Innocence + Experience” tour is one like no other, but no U2 could possibly be common or lackluster. Although prior to the start of the tour we were all led to believe that what we would see would be two distinctly different shows, that plan proved to be more difficult production- wise than anticipated, so the shows are relatively similar: they feature many of the same songs as well as a rotation ~ which varies nightly ~ from U2’s unbelievable catalogue of work.
Now…how to give you an idea of the set up. Picture two stages connected by a catwalk. One side is a standard rectangular stage and the other a circle. Above the catwalk is what can only be described as a cage that runs the length of the staging, which takes up about 85% of what would be the ice rink. Facing out to the audience, the cage is also a screen and when the band members get inside the cage, it looks as though they are in videos that are being projected but also as though they are interacting with those same videos. U2’s frequent use of video in some form or another on most of their tours has made them experts at cutting edge use of the medium. For example, when they perform “Cedarwood Road,” you’d swear Bono is walking along the road as the projection is moving past or with him. Later in the show, all four members are inside the cage as they play while simultaneously their faces are projected to the audience.
“Songs of Innocence” plays a large part in the show and the highlight for me is “Iris (Hold Me Close),” about Bono’s mother who died when he was 14. He honors the song with a heartfelt introduction and both nights he looked as though he were in a trance as he sang it. Two other highlights from “Innocence,” “Song for Someone” and “Raised by Wolves” ~ as well as an acoustic version of “Every Breaking Wave” ~ are also remarkable, and on Sunday we also heard “Volcano” from the new record; it was swapped, along with “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” for the previously mentioned Fallon/Roots songs.
No U2 show comes without the hits, so we heard “With or Without You,” “Bullet the Blue Sky,” “City Of Blinding Lights,” “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “One” or “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” depending on the night.
Musically, the show is basically a showcase of U2’s hits with some snippets of other songs thrown into them…not in between them, but literally into them: there was Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City” within “I Will Follow,” Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” as part of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and even their own “Moment of Surrender” inside “Bad.” On any given night, the band could dole out a treat like the Jimmy Fallon appearance or, better yet, a performance of a song like “October,” which, before the 7/18 show, hadn’t been played live since 1989.
Despite closing in on 40 years of history, it’s tough for U2 to please everyone (and should that be any band’s goal?), but they deserve credit not just for that longevity and for their extra-curricular efforts on behalf of humanity, but for delivering on this tour arguably their best set ever.
You’ve still got some chances to catch U2; there are four more NYC shows before the band is off to Europe, wrapping it all up in November (in Paris) ~ unless they add those Dublin dates fans are clamoring for because getting to see U2 in Dublin may just equal the magnitude of my two weeks of musical heaven.