U2 – iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour
For almost forty years, U2 have been with us, filling stadiums with their rock-n-roll anthems while slyly holding a mirror up to us, the listener.
On the current iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour, the band’s political urgency and messages of hope have taken on a distinctively different tone. Fully aware of the political climate in America, U2 have taken the bravest step of their careers in putting together a show that demands a reaction from us. No longer will it be good enough to sing along with “One” and hope someone else turns music into action.
Last year, U2 filled stadiums (and their coffers) celebrating the anniversary of The Joshua Tree which delivered exactly what fans wanted: a monumental trip down memory lane that helped us forget the uncertainty of a post-Brexit, post-Trump world order. It also allowed the band to fine tune Songs of Experience, the companion album to Songs of Innocence, as current events unfolded. Upon its release, the album felt over-produced and lacked the visceral punch that the lyrics demanded from the music. I’ll be the first to admit that I thought it was a huge miss. Building the current tour around the two albums, U2 are writing a new chapter in their legacy which is a huge risk for a band that could continue filling stadiums with various “anniversary” tours of their biggest albums from the 1980s and 90s. On Saturday night in Las Vegas, U2 rolled the dice and hit the jackpot.
Opening with “Love Is All We Have Left”, Bono appeared alone about halfway down a stage, shaped a lot like Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey, which ran the length of the arena. The band then joined him inside the LED screen which hung from the rafters as the struggle between darkness and light began with two more new songs: “The Blackout” and “Lights of Home” which acknowledge the impending peril of the path we are on as a civilization without giving in.
Shifting to the main stage, the band ripped into “I Will Follow” and “Gloria”, the latter of which hit with the same power as it did in 1983 on the Under A Blood Red Sky EP. While few bands incorporate technology as well as U2 (Roger Waters being the only artist in the same league, really), the band still appear to get a rush of adrenaline from turning off all the effects and tearing into the post-punk material that introduced them to the world. “Beautiful Day” ended that segment of the concert and Bono began to talk about the story arc of the show which traces his journey from child to adult starting with a heartfelt ode to his lost mother “(Iris) Hold Me Close” and then the violent streets of his youth on “Cedarwood Road”.
The story grows more universal with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as the band stretches out across the walkway that bisects the arena while the colors of the Irish flag glow beneath them. The arrangement pulls back the anger of the anthem as we have come to know it and turns it into a bitter lament. Larry Mullen Jr. carries a marching snare like a young soldier while bombed out buildings flash overhead with various slogans of war. “Collusion is not an illusian”, with the intentional misspelling referencing Russia, begins to expand the narrative from Ireland to America and the present day. The set ends with a magnificent “Until the End of the World” played by a band who sense the time of reckoning may be upon us.
Re-appearing on the alternate stage at the far end of the arena, the band gets back to basics with roaring versions of “Elevation” and “Vertigo” before Bono begins to morph into MacPhisto, his alter-ego from the Zoo Tv tour supporting Achtung Baby. The band unexpectedly launches into the rarity “Acrobat”, an absolute highlight for any longtime fan. With “Acrobat”, the lyrics (“don’t believe what you hear, don’t believe what you see”) speak to a world of fake news and gas-lighting politicians which we would have never imagined possible in 1991 when the band was more concerned with dismantling our rampant consumerism. Sensing a need to catch our collective breaths, the band goes acoustic for a few numbers including a gentle take on “Staring At the Sun” from the much-maligned Pop album.
As the band spreads to the four corners of the arena, the video screens flash scenes from the recent white supremacist marches in America and Bono reminds us that this is not the America the world knows and relies on. And then a snare roll rips open the roof as “Pride (In the Name of Love)” soars into the sky and images of our country’s civil rights activism replaces the horrifying images of tiki torches and violence. Almost in desperation, Bono implore us to remember that THIS is America, a place of dreams, a place for everyone. As he sings on “American Soul”, the country is not so much a place as it is a sound, and that sound is often rock-n-roll. Why we need a band from Ireland to constantly remind us of that might be why the band will always be resented in some circles and revered in others.
The band finishes the set, fittingly in Las Vegas, with “City of Blinding Lights” which offers the perfect summation to the journey as Bono sings “time won’t take the boy out of this man”. Innocence (the boy) and experience (the man) are nothing without the other and that is the state of being Bono and the band help us search for with their music. Returning for the always moving “One”, the band opt for the road less traveled as the encore puts the narrative before rock convention. Instead of a few hits to send us home singing, the band ends with the final two songs from Songs of Experience, an album that reaches its true potential in a live setting.
Bono started the night telling us love is all we have left and the night comes to a close with the hope that “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way” followed by the quiet fade-out of “13 (There Is A Light)” with only Bono left on stage under a single light. It’s is a beautiful statement about the power of one light to ward off darkness even in the most dire conditions. The hushed crowd departing the arena were either full of thought about how we can become that light or quietly seething that the band didn’t play a single song from The Joshua Tree. Only time will tell, but U2 have taken eclipsed even themselves with a spectacular, immersive tour that reinforces the belief that rock-n-roll still has the power to inspire change.