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"I don't know what PopMart is. We wanted to turn a casino into a cathedral." — Bono

by Peter

The last time U2 launched a stripped-down show was 2001’s Elevation Tour, which looked like a performance in a back room of a bar compared to its predecessor, the Popmart extravanganza. Was iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE going to generate the same effect after 2009-2011’s mammoth U2360-tour? Elevation was minimalist by their beloved standards and a little disappointing for a fan that likes the band not only for their songs, but also for their never ending political activism and technological pioneering. At least they raised a question mark. But it was quickly answered: no, it wasn’t an indoor 360 degrees show, albeit as 360 as technically possible under a roof.

The tour is meant to bring Songs Of Innocence and the yet to be released Songs Of Experience to the fans, so it was the innocence that was particulary well elaborated for now. The album received mixed reviews. It may not be their greatest album, but at least it tells a story more than all the others do: growing up in the north side of Dublin of the seventies, marked by political violence, social struggles and cultural dissatisfaction. More specifically Bono’s adolescence: an agitated young man traumatized by his mother’s premature death, searching his own destiny until the moment that a certain Larry Mullen jr. posted a letter on the school message board that he was looking for band mates. A rough The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) opens the show and pretty much sums up what that innocence was all about under the sole light of Bono’s room. The Electric Co and I Will Follow, incarnating the energy of those first years, up the tempo joined by the aching guitars of Vertigo. The crowd was as agitated as the singer in his innocent disguise, because even Saint Bono seems to age: his voice sounded a little hoarse and his recent New York accident severely hurted the fluency of his movements. His eagerness, however, didn’t fade.

But just fun is not what we’re looking for at a U2 show. Time to get serious and very dark: Iris (Hold Me Close) started the sequence of Bono’s emotional time machine. The gigantic screen on top of the catwalk was switched on and showed a movie of a happy mum Hewson. I’ve got your life inside of me, he sings as he kneels under the few moving images of his mother that remain after that fateful day in 1974. From then on the personal re-enactment crescendoed: Bono’s street, room, country and world were almost perfectly projected by a screen and one or two songs each. During Cedarwood Road, with that cherry-blossomed tree, the singer walked inside the screen through a virtual version of his former street while his guitarist played his angry riffs on the catwalk underneath. Pretty mindblowing. Song For Someone portrayed Bono’s room while Sunday Bloody Sunday‘s military intro was even more striking than it has ever been. Larry Mullen jr’s slow and lone trip over the catwalk with a single drum forced almost twenty thousand people to stand up shouting I can’t believe the news today. Wow. After more than thirty years and without a white flag the sheer anger of the song keeps touching our mind. The all-new Raised By Wolves gave U2 further material to stretch its sincere lamentation about the troubles at home – justice has never been done – but poor acoustics did mess up the song. An ever-strong Until The End Of The World – maybe the best U2 song ever – destroyed every bit of innocence that was left after half an hour of pure drama. The powerful climax calmed down with pre-recorded The Fly‘s truisms projected on an East Side Gallery/Berlin Wall splitting the concert hall into two worlds. Show? Of course. We’ve all seen it many times before, but never that strong. This visualization proves that Songs Of Innocence is not a throwaway, whatever critics may argue.

It was hard to top the second quarter of the show in the remaining hour. The fans very much enjoyed the greatest hits: the sensual Mysterious Ways, a great remix of Even Better Than The Real Thing and a slightly boring Sweetest Thing were joined by an equally mediocre Invisible, but a Meerkat-broadcasted Elevation again got all the hands in the air. A rare October returned after a 25-year absence and was paired with an acoustic Every Breaking Wave before darkness returned with a traditionally strong Bullet The Blue Sky. Unfuck Greece & #refugeeswelcome & a speech about either a human Europe or no Europe: there’s a lot to be said about the genuineness of activism of artists, but Bono has never been afraid of shaking hands with the likes of George W. Bush to reach his goals. At least he’s one of the few who continues to use his worldwide appeal for a profound attention to selected causes. We would all be disappointed if we’d witness a U2 show without triggering our conscience. A finale with StreetsPrideCity of Blinding Lights,Beautiful Day and One was predictable, but the fans got what they came for.

So, are they still relevant with that kind of show? U2 hadn’t visualized an idea that well since Zoo TV opened with an almost integral performance of their re-inventing Achtung Baby. Those who don’t get or don’t want to understand Songs of Innocence are presented with a very creative explanation. The challenges of translating the innovations of U2360 to an indoor alternative have largely succeeded. The aging, slightly tired and still recovering front man was very much supported by his ever dynamic bandmates. In any case, it’s remarkable that a band that’s on the verge of its fifth decade is still able to once again push its boundaries. That largely allows U2 to finish the show with a long series of never outdated greatest hits. This was my seventh U2 show and maybe the best.

Best elaborated song: Cedarwood Road
Most touching moment: Larry’s freezing intro to Sunday Bloody Sunday
Weakest moment: Sweetest Thing. Didn’t fit in the set.
Loudest crowd: I will follow and Elevation

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