The boys are finally back in town! It’s been four long years since U2 last graced Vancouver with their presence, and anticipation for last night’s iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE show at Rogers Arena was fever-pitched. And to the surprise of no one, the iconic band killed it, delivering more than two hours of new material and classic hits.
Earlier this week, Vancity Buzz reported that fans who purchased General Admission floor tickets for Thursday night’s launch began camping outside the venue a full three days before showtime. It wasn’t enough to be in the same room as Bono – these people skipped work and meals and the American Idol finale in hopes of getting close enough to kiss his ring.
And who can blame them? The guys have churned out generational anthems for four decades and their live shows are the stuff of legend. 2009’s U2 360 Tour became the highest grossing tour in history, playing to more than 7 million fans in its three year run. Tickets for this trek have sold briskly, with most of the band’s 70 dates selling out in minutes.
U2 has released just one album since they last hit the road, 2014’s Songs of Innocence (better known as “The Free Album”). As you’ll remember, when Apple gave Innocence away to its 500 million customers for no charge, the seemingly kind gesture backfired immediately when fans and critics slammed the band for making the album a compulsory download. Apple devised a tool allowing its users to delete the digital download from their libraries, but the damage had already been done. Even though the album had some pretty solid tracks and was nominated for a Grammy, the project is mostly remembered as a kind of one night stand that wouldn’t go away.
But those naysayers haven’t deterred U2 from promoting the hell out of the album, and more than half of its songs were performed last night. The band took the stage to huge cheers, opening with blistering new track “The Miracle (Joey Ramone)” while 20,000 fans used their phones to turn the arena into a city of blinding lights.
Bono quickly introduced his pals and referred to drummer Larry Mullen Jr. as “the man who put us on this path…the man who’s going to keep us on the straight and narrow.” Bono then declared that Mullen Jr. was “out of control,” which prompted a loud roar from the crowd who correctly assumed that the band’s first single, “Out of Control,” was up next.
The focus, for the first part of the show anyway, was clearly on the music as the band played its first four songs with few bells and whistles. At one point, the foursome were mostly lit by a giant lightbulb that Bono began swinging across the stage like a tetherball.
That intimacy soon gave way to good ol’ fashioned spectacle, when a giant, two-way LED screen was lowered to cover a catwalk running from end of the arena to the other. The band performed “Iris,” “Cedarwood Road,” and “Even Better Than The Real Thing” from inside the contraption while images of the boys, past and present, appeared on the screen.
The new material went over well with the Vancouver crowd, but they were clearly saving their best singing voices for the hits. An acoustic version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” had the entire arena chiming in on backup vocals while “Vertigo” and “Pride (In The Name of Love)” had us moving in mysterious ways. Could have been the second-hand weed smoke.
As for last year’s bike crash that fractured Bono’s shoulder blade and elbow, it apparently has little effect on the singer’s ability to wail, pose or spit water on an adoring crowd. He addressed the injury onstage, giving props to the doctor who performed his surgery before screaming “I feel strong! I feel alive!” A few months ago, Bono released a statement through U2’s website saying he’s still unsure if he will ever play guitar again; he didn’t last night but rocked a harmonica during “Desire” and played piano on “The Sweetest Thing.”
“The Sweetest Thing” was perhaps the sweetest part of the night, and gave one U2 fan bragging rights for life. “I want to play about if I can…who has a phone here?” Bono asked the crowd before choosing one lucky blue-haired fan to join him onstage. “The idea here is – you’re going be the camera person,” Bono explained before swapping out her phone with his company-issued iPhone. “Try this one. I’ll cut you a good deal,” he joked.
The guys began performing “The Sweetest Thing” while the fan roamed the stage with Bono’s iPhone, recording each bandmember’s signature move (a beenie-clad The Edge chased her around catwalk for a few bars). Meanwhile, the whole thing played out on the giant LED screen onstage via the phone’s grainy footage (sorry, Apple). As for the age-old debate as to whether or not you should whip out your phone at a concert, I still say “no” unless Bono’s nearby looking for an assistant.
U2 finished the show with a stirring rendition of their first number one single, “With or Without You,” before returning for an encore of “Beautiful Day” and “Where The Streets Have No Name.” Bono thanked our “incredible city” for their support and said “without you, we’d be back in a garage in the North Side of Dublin. A very nice garage…but this is better!”
He then took a moment to pay tribute to the father of Larry Mullen Jr. who passed away last week. “A special thank you to Larry for his strength. We thank Larry Sr. also. It turns out our fathers are always with us – we can’t escape each other.” And then, as if on cue, The Edge began strumming the opening chords of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” while Bono joined the crowd for one last sing-along.
It was a perfect, poignant moment right up until the last few notes of the song when The Edge, definitely not on cue, lost his footing and fell off the stage completely. Two hours later, the guitarist posted a photo of his bruised arm on Instagram with a caption that read “didn’t see the edge, I’m ok!”. Perhaps Bono can have his surgeon friend survey the damage before tonight’s encore performance.
For fans lucky enough to score tickets to tonight’s sold-out show, rumour has it the setlist between nights one and two will be similar, despite many initial reports to the contrary. We’ll be reporting on any changes to the setlist, with fingers crossed that “One” and “Bad” make the cut.