Saturday, April 23, 2005

 U2 in Denver 

I have a long history with U2.

My interest with them began in 1983, with the release of their album War. I had heard New Year's Day on the radio, and even taped the whole album off the radio at one point. (Some of you may be old enough to remember that radio stations used to do that kind of thing back in those days.) I kept that tape for over 20 years, before it finally became impossible to listen to.

My concert history with U2 goes back a ways as well. I went to my first U2 show back in 1987, over 18 years ago. Since then I've seen them 3 other times - one other time on the Joshua Tree tour, once for Zoo TV, and once for Popmart. I missed their Elevation tour, mostly because of laziness, but partly because of disillusion after being somewhat underwhelmed by their Popmart appearance. But I had heard afterwards so much positive about their Elevation tour, much of it from my brother, that I resolved not to miss them the next time they came around.

This show in Denver last Wednesday had a lot to live up to. The two shows I saw on the Joshua Tree tour were excellent, and the Zoo TV show was unparalleled, and is perhaps my all-time favorite show from any band I've ever seen. Fortunately, I'm happy to say that this pricey Vertigo show (~$125 per ticket) was worth every penny, and I left wondering how I might be able to finagle a chance to see them again on this tour.

The stage set was simple yet elegant, featuring an elliptical runway surrounding a barebones stage and embracing a standing-only general admission area. Strings of computer-controlled lights forming a screen were dropped down on occasion, providing the right amount of ambience needed for the various songs. Above all this was a wide screen featuring views from fixed cameras on the band members - this turned out to be one of my favorite features, actually. In this day and age of fast edits and sensory overload, it was refreshing to see live shots that weren't all flashy and obnoxious, but simply let you see what each band member looked like at any time, even from the upper level.

Energy flowed virtually all the songs, which was something I was paying close attention to, knowing how the band is getting on in years and in tours. I was especially impressed and pleased with Where The Streets Have No Name, which bristled with life and hope. For me, the emotional peak of the show was Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own, which Bono sang with a clarity and a soaring vocal that I can't recall ever hearing him do before. It's such a beautiful song, I admit that I welled up inside before the song's climax.

It was also a thrill to hear so much old material, like all the stuff from Boy. It was played very energetically, especially Electric Co., and it also melded very easily (and surprisingly) with the newer songs. The songs played were generally grouped by album, but not slavishly so. The band did a great job making segues between songs which highlighted similarities in theme which I hadn't previously noticed.

If I had any quibbles, I guess I would have liked to hear Bono chat just a little more with the crowd, because he is quite charming when he extemporizes. Zoo Station, the first song in the encore, felt a bit perfunctory, about a minute into it - odd, because I didn't get that feeling from any other song. I also wished we could have heard a few other songs which I think would have fit well with the overall feeling of the show, like Walk On, or Crumbs From Your Table. But I understand that the show can't go on forever, and if they had played those, I'd probably complain about their not having played a couple other songs as well!

Still, in spite of these small complaints, on its own merits, this was an excellent show. Cindy and I loved it a lot, and were quite abuzz afterwards during the drive home. The lights, the songs, the band members, the excited crowd, the passion for peace, the creativity that went into the show design, all these things which were conveyed confidently, maturely, and passionately - all that made for one of my favorite shows ever.

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