Last night in Vancouver, U2 brought the 2009 leg of the 360 Tour to a close with a pretty impressive, if at times entirely too predictable, gig. The massive stage was a spectacle itself and standing underneath it in the pit was actually pretty cool. Of course, the ridiculous stage is a product of U2 having the unenviable task of making stadium gigs work. And while it is incredibly fashionable to completely dismiss the band these days, no other band has the ability/money/balls to make stadiums gigs work on the level U2 do. The stage, screens, and lights did their job last night. But…
I’ll deal with the negative first: the setlist. 14 of the nights 24 songs came from the last three records. And let’s be honest, U2 have not made a truly great album since 1993 and haven’t made a really interesting album since 1997, so a set that featured so much material from the last three albums was bound to be a little bit underwhelming (although Vertigo, in all its silliness, still deserves a spot in the set). In A Little While and Stuck In A Moment (which was, thankfully, performed acoustically) really have no place in U2′s set when they have so much undeniably amazing material sitting on the bench. Even Walk On, which I have seen performed with some passion in the past, seemed to fall totally flat last night. Time for it to retire.
Having said that, some of the material from this year’s decidedly uneven No Line On The Horizon actually went down pretty well. My favourite was the title track which featured Bono on (audible!) guitar. Unlike a lot of U2 arrangements, the song was really raw as the band didn’t really try to replicate the more ambitious and full studio recording. I wish they treated more of their material with the same bravery on stage.
The other major gripe I have was the final song choice of the night, Moment of Surrender. It’s not good on the album, it’s not good live, and as a final song of the night it was a baffling choice (and yes, I’m aware they’ve closed every gig of the year with it). While U2 are notorious for ending gigs with rather odd songs (Kite, anyone?) the only thing I can figure is that it’s a song they want to play live but Bono seems to shred his vocal chords as he sings it, so maybe he is unable to sing properly after…therefore it has to be last (a la The Beatles and Twist And Shout). It’s also a bad sign when even Bono has to read the lyrics from a monitor for the final song of the night. It was a terrible end to a gig that deserved a much grander finale.
However, the band did play some pretty amazing songs last night. Mysterious Ways and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For were aired early on and featured 60,000 people singing along to every word. While I tend not to attend massive gigs very often, there’s something pretty special about such a huge group of people singing along to every word of a song that gigs in clubs and theatres will never be able to match.
As always, Achtung Baby songs are most welcome with me and Until The End Of The World once again proved to be a live highlight. Bono and Edge stage “bullfights” during this song live and on the 360 Tour this has led to them performing the finale of the song on opposite bridges which then slowly move together as the song climaxes. We were very near the bridges as they met which made Amanda very pleased.
Another highlight was, inevitably, Where The Streets Have No Name, which ended the first encore. This song was simply born to be played in stadiums and I’ll never tire of hearing it live. Despite this favourite, the two clear highlights were performances of two songs which until this year had not been performed in years. First up, The Unforgettable Fire; it’s hard to imagine why this song hasn’t always been at least a semi-regular in U2′s set as it’s upbeat and intelligent (something Elevation is not). Sure, half the crowd didn’t even seem to know the song but it was a pretty amazing moment for those of us that did know it. I wish U2 would challenge their audience a bit more with more song choices like this.
Then in the second encore, the band performed Ultra Violet (Light My Way) from Achtung Baby. Where has this song been since 1993, U2? It was an unbelievable performance of a song that deserved to be single way back when and I think it’s great the band have been giving it its due this year. It was perhaps a tad gimmicky with the whole microphone on a steering wheel thing, but even that couldn’t detract from the performance. With Or Without immediately followed Ultra Violet and, once again, showed itself to be a perfect, evening ending slow dance. If only the gig had actually ended there.
Still, I enjoyed myself more at last night’s gig than any of the Vertigo shows I saw. I’m easily won over by a couple songs and, honestly, being as close to the band as we were last night was very, very cool. I could even see the lifts on Bono’s shoes. All they need is to let me pick their setlists.
Get On Your Boots
Beautiful Day / Blackbird (snippet)
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For / Stand By Me (snippet)
Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of (acoustic)
No Line On The Horizon
In A Little While
Until The End Of The World
The Unforgettable Fire
City Of Blinding Lights
I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight (remix) / Two Tribes (snippet)
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On / You’ll Never Walk Alone (snippet)
One / Amazing Grace (snippet)
Where The Streets Have No Name
Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
With Or Without You
Moment of Surrender
Vancouver U2 fans might also be interested to hear that the band are apparently going to be back in the city next month finishing off this Songs of Ascent album they keep talking about. Bryan Adams’ studio maybe?
Fun Fact: It cost me the same price to see U2 in Vancouver as it did to see Wilco in Sydney. Just sayin’.