Wednesday, July 6, 2011

U2--Soldier Field, Chicago

I was there.

So was Matt, a co-worker of mine at the day job.  We both witnessed the triumphant return of U2 to Chicago.  I say “triumphant” because the band has had to overcome a fair amount of adversity over the past year and a half.  This particular date was postponed from last summer as an entire tour leg had to be scrubbed due to Bono’s severe back injury.  But through the wonders of modern surgery and physical therapy, the now transhuman Bono looked to be healthy last night at Soldier Field.

The stage set is more than a bit ostentatious.  When you’re approaching an NFL stadium and you can the see the top of the band’s stage jutting out above the upper lip, you begin to think that the word “big” doesn’t fully cover the situation.  In preparation for this tour, the band again turned to longtime collaborator Willie Williams as architect and artistic designer for the stage set.  His design called for a relatively uncluttered, 360-degree stage but with a four-legged structure nicknamed “The Claw” standing over it.  

 From the 2009 show.  Better view of The Claw.

My view last night.
I contemplate The Claw.  Behind me, someone who likes to get really talkative during slow, introspective songs.

Williams is said to have taken his inspiration from The Theme Building at LAX.  I can see that but it appears that from that framework, Williams took the design more in the direction of those crab monsters in Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster or perhaps something even more Lovecraftian than that.  Matt saw it more as a “dune buggy from hell.”  In looking at the stage from the vantage point of our seats, the suspended amps do take on a sort of tire tread appearance. 

Also intriguing was watching the lighting crew be lifted up and snapped into place, mounted on the insides of the legs.  It was like watching a Transformer assemble.

I must say our seats weren’t bad.  The rim of the stadium’s upper deck blocked off the top half of The Claw but the stage was entirely visible and that’s what’s imperative.  Likewise viewable was the 360 viewscreen as it scrolled random facts to entertain the crowd between set changes.  I snapped two shots of this, choosing of course to get what time it was onboard the International Space Station, how Google searches were performed last year, and how many blog posts there were yesterday.  I’m proud to say that I was one of them.

During the actual show, fans were treated to a zero-g message from Mark E. Kelly onboard the International Space Station as he introduced “Beautiful Day.”  Kelly is the husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who nearly lost her life to an assassin’s bullet last January.  The band played a snippet of Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Bono’s singing of the line “tell my wife I love her very much, she knows” taking on poignant new meaning. 
That wasn’t the only connection to space.  Video animation showed a flying saucer with stylized meatmen inside, kibitzing about the show before getting buzzed by their own UFO…The Claw.  This segued into the lowering of a pinecone formation of multiple LED screens that encapsulated the stage, displaying the side of a spaceship that was very much inspired by Close Encounters.  Given the size of the stage, it almost felt like the real deal.

Such dazzling special effects were impressive, but the artistic highlights came down to three moments for me.  One was the scrolling of footage from the Middle Eastern spring uprisings during “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” and another “Where the Streets Have No Name” which never gets old no matter how many times I hear it live.  The other came at the very close of the show.  Bono said that this week marked the 25th anniversary of the loss of their friend, Greg Carroll for whom the song “One Tree Hill” was written for on The Joshua Tree (read: one of the best records in human history.)  This is a magnificent song that the band has played on only the most rare of occasions. 
Last night was one of those occasions.  And I was incredibly fortunate to be there for it.

Here’s the song list as I remember it:

(Band takes the stage, Adam Clayton in bright white pants and shoes and a short-sleeved top looks like he's about go work the Promenade Deck with Gopher.)

Even Better Than the Real Thing
The Fly
Mysterious Ways
Until the End of the World
Trying To Throw Your Arms Around the World
Out of Control
Get On Your Boots
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Beautiful Day
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Miss Sarajevo
City of Blinding Lights
I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Walk On

Where the Streets Have No Name
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me  (Paying tribute to the film this song is from, Bono does a fair Batman imitation, swinging on a line.)
With Or Without You
Moment of Surrender
One Tree Hill

If I have a criticism, it would be the sound quality.  The first few songs were muffled and muddied and any banter from Bono was garbled.  I can’t tell if that was a tech issue or just the poor acoustics of Soldier Field, a venue meant to hold a football game and not a rock concert.  Wind off of the Lake distorts sound, plus we were seated in a sort of tucked away area beneath the lip of the upper deck.  That would play hell with sound quality.  Man, phuck physics.

 Bono and the boys.

In all seriousness, this band truly walks the walk when it comes to making the world a better place.  Please consider visiting the following programs and donating your money, your time, or your voice:

The ONE Campaign
Amnesty International

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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