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U2 draws bumper crowd at Rogers Centre, rocking Toronto under the sky

Winnipeg Free Press, July 12, 2011
By: Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

 

TORONTO - U2 rocked the Rogers Centre under the stars Monday night.

The veteran Irish band proved once again it can work any room, even a cavernous concrete one that can house a 31-storey building with the roof closed.

Fortunately the lid was open Monday night, rare for a Rogers Centre concert but par for the course for U2 who also played under the heavens when they last visited the venue in September 2009 on the first leg of the same "360 Degree Tour."

It made for a big open-air party Monday for the sold-out crowd pegged by promoters as 60,000-plus. And the band delivered big time with a set that lasted two hours 10 minutes.

Their faces may be more lined, but the bodies are lean and the spirits willing. U2 knows how to put on a show, using its influence and the best technology money can buy to perfect advantage.

Not every band can have video of American astronaut Mark Kelly -- married to recovering U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords -- greet Toronto from the international space station, or tee up the song "Beautiful Day."

And not every band can then knock that song out of a huge ballpark.

"It's a beautiful day. Don't let it get away," sang the 51-year-old Bono, who literally skipped around the stage.

Hard to argue with that. Or the band's showmanship and musical chops.

The Edge can jangle a guitar like few others, the band's rhythm section cooks and Bono is rock star incarnate.

The fact they can pull out a song like "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" seven songs in attests to the power of their musical arsenal.

The band also scores points for keeping the rock star posings to a minimum and knowing when to pull back. Bono will haul a kid out of the crowd, but won't push the moment if it doesn't warrant.

The band members came on stage one by one, with Bono, sleek in black, the last to emerge.

"Give me one more chance, and you'll be satisfied," he sang, opening with a selection from 1991's Achtung Baby.

"Come on now Hogtown," he yelled at one point during the opener.

Later he threw in a shoutout to Toronto in an acoustic version of "Stay (Faraway, So Close)."

The band was clearly feeling nostalgic on the night, dipping back two decades into Achtung Baby and Zooropa.

By the third song -- "Mysterious Ways" -- Bono had the audience eating out of his hand, their hands waving in the air as requested.

On a warm night, the Irish band more than made up for a date a year ago that was cancelled due to Bono's back injury.

"Thank you for your patience," Bono said of the delay. "Some of you were two years younger when you bought tickets for tonight's show."

"I'm feeling much better, thank you."

The fans appreciated it. He finished "Elevation" with a Canadian flag hanging our of his back pocket, thanks to a spectator.

It was not all home runs. But there was little to quibble over.

"Miss Sarajevo" remains a things of beauty, even if it makes you miss Luciano Pavarotti's contribution.

And "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" paled in comparison to the rest of the material even if the band went walkabout around the stage.

But it was quickly forgotten when followed by "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

Bono took to the pulpit during "Scarlet" and "Walk On," raising human rights, Burma and paying tribute to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who delivered a video message.

The two-part encore was "One" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow/Where the Streets Have No Name," followed by "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" and "With or Without You."

They brought out the mirror balls for "With or Without You" -- one high and one low, as a flashing Bono crooned into a hanging neon microphone.

"Goodnight Toronto," he said softly as The Edge delivered the famous larger-than-life guitar riff.

The crowd finished off the refrain for him.

Bono wasn't finished, yet. After praising Canadians for their idealism, there was one more song ("Moment of Surrender") -- "under this beautiful moon" with the lights off.

Forecasts of thundershowers initially kept the roof on tight, but the crowd cheered as the roof began to open at 7 p.m. ET.

The so-called Claw -- which stands 50 metres high over the open circular stage and houses lighting, speakers and other electronics -- was positioned at the north end of the stadium, covering what is usually the Blue Jays' outfield.

The antenna atop the Claw poked near the packed away roof, well above the Jays' World Series pennants.

Underneath, an unadorned circular stage connected to an outer ring with three bridges, two movable -- like an inverted peace symbol. Fans jammed inside the circle with more on the outside, with little room left to move on the stadium floor.

Above the stage, a circular video screen beamed the show taking place underneath in a size fitting to the supersized venue.

The screen dropped what looked like a giant mesh shade around the stage during "Zooropa."

Bono, The Edge and bassist Adam Clayton wasted little time exploring their set and getting closer to the crowd while Larry Mullen Jr. pounded a big beat from centre stage.

The "360 Degree Tour" is in its third leg, having originally started June 30, 2009, in Barcelona. The first leg saw stops in Toronto and Vancouver.

The second leg, shortened by Bono's back surgery, was last year.

The third leg has seen 2011 shows in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Montreal and now Toronto with the finale set for Moncton, N.B. on July 30.

A graphic on the video screen prior to U2 said "Babies Born to Crew During Tour: 17." For those wondering, another message put the number of touring personnel at 436.

Monday's performance in Toronto marked the 105th show, with six left in Philadelphia, St. Louis, East Rutherford, N.J., Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Moncton.

The tour has been a record money-maker.

Billboard reported in April that it had already surpassed the US$558 million gross set by the Rolling Stones' "Bigger Bang" tour from 2005-07. U2's tour total is expected to reach $700 million by the time the band calls it a wrap in Moncton.

And last month Forbes magazine crowned U2 as the world's highest-paid musicians, having earned US$195 million the past year.

Tickets for the Toronto show ranged from C$32 to $252.

Monday's opening act was New York's Interpol, which delivered a tight, stylish 45-minute set heavy on dark guitar and drums.

The wait for the main event ended just after 9 p.m. ET, with those in the crowd with a view applauding as two large white SUVs rolled up behind the stage.

David Bowie's "Space Oddity" started over the speakers and it was showtime with the giant screen showing the U2 band members making their way from backstage. 

© Winnipeg Free Press, 2011.

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