October 6, 2009
U2 brought its absolutely gargantuan U2360 Tour to Atlanta's Georgia Dome with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer on a piano. The great thing about U2, though, is that they've learned to wield their sledgehammer deftly enough that they can overwhelm the senses or gently tap melody, emotion, heart and soul from the expanse of their surroundings.
The massive staging “came to life” after the countdown from David Bowie's “Space Oddity” (which was being piped through the P.A.). Smoke poured all around, making the whole claw-like set up appear as a spaceship about to lift-off.
And the crowd did lift-off.
Drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. appeared first. He began to play a tribal beat that slowly morphed into an edgier version of the new song “Breathe” that dwarfed the studio take. The Edge and Adam Clayton were already onstage before Bono burst from the smoke with all the swagger and confidence that a rock and roll superstar should exude. Yes, this was huge. This was U2.
During “Get On Your Boots”, Adam Clayton and The Edge took from the main stage over bridges to wind up in the center of the main walkway. They were for all intents and purposes in the crowd. Their smiles were exuberant, like they were about to burst with happiness. During this time, Bono stalked the area around the drum kit.
A massive roar in recognition of “Mysterious Ways” didn't even draw Bono out. Finally, at the beginning of a glorious “Beautiful Day”, the front man began to tentatively make his way into the audience where he would spend a big portion of the rest of the night. The first of many segues found “Beautiful Day” transform into The Beatles' “Blackbird”. The crowd was on its feet. And what a crowd it was. I haven't seen a crowd this big since...well, maybe ever. It was intense.
During “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For”, Bono claimed that the reason for “the spaceship” was to "find what they're looking for", which is "intimacy" with the crowd. It was a good line, but I've got to say, for most of the show, the scope of the set, stage, video screens and effects overshadowed the members of the band, the songs and in some cases, even the crowd.
This is my third consecutive U2 tour, and of all of them, this was the least intimate. Honestly, I believe U2360 is too big (and that's saying something as I love a big rock show). Having an “event” of this size makes for a lot of press, but U2 doesn't need it and if anything, it may have dampened the impact of a lot of the music and the band members' personalities.
Even watching a fan climb up onto the bridge with Bono near the end of “Until The End Of The World” felt less dangerous and real than it should've. After all, we were mostly watching on screens. We could've almost been watching at home on DVD. That being said, all four members of the band did their best to bridge the distances of the Georgia Dome.
The closest to intimacy tonight was an acoustic version of “Stuck In A Moment That You Can't Get Out Of” where The Edge, Bono and 60,000 or so fans bonded with a simplified version of a song written for a friend who never got out of that moment.
The diehard U2 fans got a jolt through them when “The Unforgettable Fire” surprised many in the room, but I was surprised that the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb track “City Of Blinding Lights” affected me more. Perhaps it was because “President Obama's sister” was in the crowd to receive this special dedication. Whatever it is that gave U2 the extra energy for this song, I'm thankful for it. This song and the following “Vertigo” were the peak of the spectacle for me.
After that, the momentum began to slow. “I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight” gave the chance for Larry Mullen, Jr. to get out from behind his drum kit but even with the Sly And The Family Stone quote, the song never quite took off.
The inevitable turn to the political was as emotionally powerful as expected. Images of protests in Iran danced across the screen for “Sunday Bloody Sunday” while “Walk On” featured what appeared to be hundreds of fans escorted on to the walkway wearing masks of the face of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Aung San Suu Kyi, who, in 1990, won the election to become Prime Minister of Myanmar only to be detained by a miltary junta. She's been under house arrest on and off ever since.
The first encore was heralded by a surprisingly light-hearted video screen appearance by Bishop Desmond Tutu that led into “One.” There's really no way a performance can go wrong with a song of this importance and emotional intensity. Everyone sang along with a hymn-like reverence as images of buffalo (from the song's video) ran circles around the 360-degree video screen.
If the church-like atmosphere wasn't clear enough to everyone in the building, Bono then performed a solo version of “Amazing Grace” with just his guitar. At the end of it, The Edge began the famous, itchy David Gilmour inspired opening to “Where The Streets Have No Name”. The solemnity turned celebratory once more. The roar of the crowd singing back was deafening. For most bands, this would've been a fitting ending, but of course, there was still a quarter of an hour left for U2.
“Ultraviolet” was an interesting set list choice for an encore, but the laser-jacket that Bono wore was more noticed than the song itself. There was also a periscope-like microphone dangling from the lighting rig that the singer would slap around or use to lift himself off the stage and swing in the air. The performance itself was fairly low-key and this continued through “With Or Without You”. U2's biggest charting song was another impassioned sing-along but again, it was a bit of a let down for the show to be getting quieter and quieter.
The idea of a quieter ending to a show of this size is admirable and in other U2 concerts, it's worked. Unfortunately, the sheer enormity of this set pulled against that concept tonight. It was as if the band members got smaller and smaller as the show wound down. Maybe that was by design, but I think everyone wanted one more massive, communal experience.
Perhaps the last words that Bono sang (from the new song “Moment Of Surrender”) said it best:
"At the moment of surrender
Of vision over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me"
We noticed the biggest touring show in history. We heard songs that we all loved and we enjoyed them by singing our hearts out. And of course, we noticed U2.
I'm afraid, however, that in the immensity of the spectacle, we didn't notice the individuals onstage or off. We were “the passers-by.” Maybe there's no way that we could've been noticed as individuals. Maybe it's impossible to notice the individuals that make up U2 in this context. And maybe, just maybe, that was the intent.
If that was the statement being made, it was subtle and, in its own way, truly subversive. We all surrendered to “vision over visibility” tonight and while we enjoyed it, if intimacy is indeed what we sought, then we still haven't found what we're looking for.
All photos and review by Chris McKay / concertshots.com
U2 Set List For Atlanta, Georgia on October 6, 2009
(Watch the entire show that was reviewed by clicking on the song titles below for YouTube videos of each performance.)
2. Get On Your Boots
3. Mysterious Ways
4. Beautiful Day / Blackbird
5. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For / Stand By Me
6. Stuck In A Moment That You Can't Get Out Of
7. No Line On The Horizon
10. Until The End Of The World
11. The Unforgettable Fire
12. City Of Blinding Lights
14. I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
15. Sunday Bloody Sunday
16. MLK / Walk On
18. Amazing Grace / Where The Streets Have No Name
20. With Or Without You
21. Moment Of Surrender