U2 Creates Intimate Stadium Experience On Their New Tour

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 25, 2015 6:15PM

2015_06_u2_united_center_04.JPG
Photo by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

It's a weird thing when the most photogenic man in the world, a human who seems to be striking an iconic pose 100% of the time without even trying, is also trying his hardest to connect with a couple thousand people on an intimate level. Yet that's exactly what U2's lead singer Bono did last night in the first of five shows the band is playing at the United Center.

We had heard the band was touring with a revolutionary sound rig, one built to deliver an optimal audio experience throughout the room, but we didn't realize that by doing so the band would completely untether themselves from the traditional stadium set up involving a wall of speaker aimed in one direction. Because of this, the stage appeared to be more like a band's practice space than the launching pad for an arena show. The ultimate effect? U2 was free to roam about the whole United Center and engage with fans in a way that felt genuinely personal and real.

The center-placed speakers surrounded a large cage which also functioned, alternately, as lighting rig, jumbotron screen and hallway for various band members to climb in and roam around. At various points throughout the night a projected Bono would interact with guitarist The Edge, alternately holding the guitarist in the palm of his hand or showering him in water spit from pursed lips in real time. This showcased both the enormous thought and choreography much of the show depended on, while also allowing in some of the feel of spontaneous mischievousness. In a nod to the band's Zoo TV days, there was a certain amount of winking self-awareness going on.

2015_06_u2_united_center_03.JPG
Photo by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

But the show was not smug. If anything it saw a band that still believes in the power of art, and of a single voice, to make a difference. The show was roughly split into two parts, with the first half functioning as a sort of travelogue through the group's personal history, and the post-intermission segment acting as the hit driven powerhouse. The earlier portion of the evening also did an excellent job of putting newer songs from the band's latest album Songs of Innocence into the proper context. That album's production might have been a tad overly slick, but live the music showed the band turning inward and using deep self reflection to power a cathartic music release surfing over internal histories. After the opening song "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" Bono paused to introduce the band, saying, "We're a band from the North Side of Dublin. Formerly The Hype, now called U2." This set the stage for a slew of songs following the band's personal journey to where they are today.

Bono plays the part of the messiah, and that would grow tiresome if it weren't so obvious that the man deeply believes in the pose he's striking, and does so in the hopes that others will follow through example. That is to say that he's projecting his own iconic stances onto an audience who he believes has just as much power to take the same stance. But of course this isn't wholly true, because, c'mon, Bono. But it is his fervent belief in that notion that makes him exactly what he is: a rock star with a deep belief system and a conscience that allows him to also evoke deep empathy.

2015_06_u2_united_center_02.JPG
Photo by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

It's only when capitalist constructs get in the way that the show even faltered for a moment. A poorly placed Meerkat "sponsored moment," that saw the band awkwardly trying to get down with the new technology the kids dig today without realizing the platform they were promoting is already painfully outdated was more than a bit of a hiccup. At least they did their best to counter the crass commercial moment with an actually life-changing fan interaction as they pulled a young woman name Joy on the stage to film their antics. it was a little cheesy, but effective.

But U2 are pros, and as soon as the required sponsored content was out of the way they returned to delivering a stadium spectacle aimed at trying to engage every fan on a personal level. And U2 is not a band showing their age, outside Adam Clayton's wild silvery shock of hair. In fact we're beginning to wonder if drummer Larry Mullen Jr. might be hiding a rapidly decaying oil painting in his own attic. Along with The Edge, the instrumental trio did a good job of taking the spotlight when needed, but after so many years you can see all three are comfortable providing the soundtrack to Bono's secular pulpit with a massive heart.

The band's current tour sees them edging back into an area that is driven by both passion and adventure. Not every moment of the show's pacing was perfect, but the stage set-up, the technology and the set list all seemed intent on reconnecting the band with their fans on a personal level. The evening could have been a marathon of greatest hits but U2 instead chose to treat it as a chance to tell their own story, through their own music—not all of it overly familiar. And it's the band's constant search to push their own boundaries that makes them feel fresh, decades into a storied career. At their heart, U2 is still that little band, practicing in a garage, and not depending on a wall of speakers to support them. Instead, they've just got some guitar strings, a few drum sticks and a voice intent on making a change.

U2 plays four more nights in Chicago, and the tour continues on from there.

Setlist, June 24, United Center, Chicago, IL

The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)
The Electric Co.
Vertigo
I Will Follow
Iris (Hold Me Close)
Cedarwood Road
Song for Someone
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Raised by Wolves
Until the End of the World

—Intermission—

Invisible
Even Better Than the Real Thing
Mysterious Ways
Elevation
Ordinary Love
Every Breaking Wave
Bullet the Blue Sky
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Beautiful Day
With or Without You

—Encore—
City of Blinding Lights
Where the Streets Have No Name
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For