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"U2 were in that position where we were really big and no matter what we did, it was wrong." — Larry, on PopMart



by gabea

A U2 stadium show is a new experience for me: I had just missed seeing them here in Edmonton for PopMart. My first ever concert was during their Elevation tour - albeit in April 2001, before that fall's tragic events truly made the tour one of the all-time greats. Nevertheless, it was a great show that set the benchmark for every band I would ever go to see live. Few have come close.

This show had everything you could ask for: tremendous atmosphere (the looming storm clouds that mercifully deposited only a tinkle of rain); the giant claw; 65,000 people roaring in unison. Their attempt to make the stadium an intimate affair came close thanks to the claw keeping the tons of equipment out of everyone's line of sight, though Commonwealth is not a truly in-the-round venue (something Bono acknowledged with a cheeky "325 degree Tour" comment). Once the sky started getting dark though, it was all about the Claw. The light show was massive, full of strobes and glitter balls and the fabulous expandable honeycomb LED screen. It was a shame that it didn't get truly dark until near 10pm.

We were seated opposite the stage, about halfway up the stands: the distance made it hard to truly get into the concert without feeling a little self-conscious. When you are the only person in the section jumping to your feet in breathless joy at hearing the first chords of "Stay", you get dispirited by the lack of communal feeling. We paid over $100 for these distant seats, but let's get into the show!

The song selection was on par, and expected if you were following u2tours.com and previous setlists. "Space Oddity" has been the intro song since day 1 and people lost it when the screen showed the band strolling towards the stage. A truncated "Even Better than the Real Thing" kicked things off in mid-gear: it lacked a certain flair for me. "I Will Follow" was more on par, and the audience responded well to "Get On Your Boots", a song I've never liked on record but made for a passable rouser live. The set list started off disjointed, the band jumping from era to era and mood to mood with a thrilling recklessness, but the middle run from "Miss Sarajevo" to about halfway through the club remix of "I'll Go Crazy" was a stunning display of what makes U2 so great. Obscure side project (Sarajevo) to slick mid-tempo electro-pan-Euroisms (Zooropa) to gold standard arena anthem (City of Blinding Lights) to even better arena anthem (Vertigo) to a fist-pumping club revamp of a great pop song (I'll Go Crazy) was beyond reproach. And this was AFTER they had scorched through "Mysterious Ways", "Elevation", "Beautiful Day", "Until the End of the World", AND "Pride".

The disintegration of "I'll Go Crazy" into "Please" and a full-on version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" showed the humanitarian side of U2, and felt flat; they ended their main set with a plodding "Walk On" and some words about Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The humanitarian anthem "One" was given a very conflict-specific rendition, and therefore lost its power to move me to tears as it had in 2001. "Where the Streets Have No Name" is likely their most famous live song and they have the flair down pat: chilling intro with strobes, then an overpowering flood of lights as soon as Larry crashes in. It will never get old. "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me" is a cheeky anti-fame song, had a fabulous sting, and thus stuck out like a sore thumb during the mostly somber encore: I would have preferred to see "Ultraviolet" like in earlier legs. "With Or Without You" is one of the obligatory live songs, and I have just about had enough of it. "Moment of Surrender" was dedicated to the people of Slave Lake, and was a great way to end it.

Overall, this was a satisfying concert. Seeing U2 live is a must for even the most casual fan, though their sluggishness on this night was duly noted: there didn't seem to be as much movement despite their huge surroundings, though they were personable and charming as usual, Bono's hitchhiking and "ice hockey" stories going over quite well. But if you contrast this performance against the long-available Rose Bowl show, this was a workman's gig: they came, they played, they left. U2 is U2, but a little extra would have gone over well. As for the songs, it might be time to retire some of the old warhorses (the always egregious “Sunday Bloody Sunday” for one), and bring out some more obscure gems. For a band who can sell out 7 legs of a gigantic stadium tour, in their 34th year of existence, and play songs primarily from the last ten years of their career, they can afford to reach further into their oeuvre and surprise their loyal fans. If you have the opportunity, go see them! It is still well worth it.

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