U2 – Live in Seattle last night: A great show, slightly "dismantled" halfway through

I’ve seen U2 perform live four times now, and I’ve seen the film “Rattle and Hum” almost ten times on the big screen, along with countless DVD viewings, so I know what they’re capable of.

Thus, I had high hopes about what would take place in KeyArena last night for the “Vertigo” tour. And when the band took the stage with a searing, blistering, blow-out-the-back-wall version of “Love and Peace Or Else,” I was once again swept up on waves of energy and light. It was a euphoric experience as they charged right on into “Vertigo” and a long section of songs from “Boy” (including “Cry”!!) They were on fire. The new stage was an exhilarating circus of light and confetti and hanging curtains of digital “beads” that provided transparent animated banners.

It’s curtains for Bono and the boys. But only literally. Posted by Hello

Highlights included a deeply moving rendition of “Miracle Drug,” in which Bono declared, “It’s amazing what God can accomplish through science and scientists,” and dedicated the song to a “very sick” woman who was there watching the show.

Before that, those opening numbers were a ferocious marathon, charging through “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (as bold and strong as ever) and “Bullet the Blue Sky.” “Running to Stand Still” was extraordinary, and so was the new classic “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” (during which Bono removed the sunglasses and sang with riveting emotion and operatic strength. “City of Blinding Lights” and “Beautiful Day” were an exhilarating combination, complete with a shower of glittering confetti. Bono did the usual routine of selecting a woman from the crowd, but instead of dancing with her, he took her on a leisurely stroll around the stage’s massive elliptical platform and let her sit next to Larry Mullen Jr. Later, he invited another one up, and gave her a piggy-back ride.

Stage of blinding lights. Posted by Hello

But something began “dismantling” the show’s coherence and flow when the band got to “Pride.”

First of all, things were beginning to sound too familiar – -many songs in the second half of the show (“New Year’s Day”) were played without inventive twists or much visual imagination. The high-tech wizardry began to suffer from technical difficulties. (Several of those digital bead curtains malfunctioned, with strings of lights refusing to cooperate the way they should.) At one point, Bono was so distracted and frustrated with a guitar that wouldn’t work properly that, in the awkward process of changing guitars, he botched the lyrics to “One,” repeated the same verse twice, got lost, and barely pulled the song together in the end. One of the major theatrical flourishes — a presentation of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights — malfunctioned, so that the voices reading the articles came on late and then cut out early. It was an distracting stumble.


Four guys and the truth. Posted by Hello

From that point on, while the crowd was still riotously happy, there was something missing, some kind of spiritual flow and coherence that usually makes a U2 show a rising adrenalin rush that arrives at a sort of musical epiphany. It turned instead into a hit parade, with some very bumpy transitions and songs being played in arrangements almost identical to the previous tours. With so many exciting new songs in their repertoire from the past few albums, the band opted instead to dwell on timeworn hits like “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Mysterious Ways,” and “The Fly.” The first encore, “Zoo Station,” has never been one of their better songs, but it took up a great deal of time that could have been used for something fresh and engaging like “Crumbs from Your Table” or “When I Look at the World” or “A Man and a Woman” (still my favorite track on the new album).

By the time the band was scheduled to depart before their return for the second round of encores, the show was off the rails and they were just working their way through the songs. Bono, unintentionally echoed the Sam Phillips encore routine of questioning the reason behind the stage-departure-and-return tradition. Deciding he didn’t want to do that charade a second time, he had to talk Larry out of leaving the stage. It was the right decision–he probably e realized that they needed to maintain what momentum they had if they were going to play more songs and keep the crowd’s enthusiasm up. So they launched into “All Because of You,” “Yaweh,” and a bigger, more anthemic version of “40″ than we’ve heard before. It was a satisfying conclusion, but not anywhere near the celebratory glory of the Elevation tour.

“You ask me to enter, then you make me crawl…” Posted by Hello

I walked away glad to have been there, but also increasingly thankful for my unforgettable front-row experience at the Elevation tour in 2001. Even a sub-par U2 show is better than any other show going right now, as far as I’m concerned, but I’ve gotta say, for the first time I was wondering if there were cracks showing in the band’s superhuman performance abilities, if age was finally catching up to them. (Bono ran around a lot less this time.) It’s bound to happen.

One question to anyone else who was there: The acoustics at KeyArena are terrible, so it was often hard to understand what Bono was saying between songs. But I’m almost certain that, early in the show, he made some comment about the band heading back into the studio in a couple of weeks. Did anybody else hear that? Or did I just misunderstand him in the echoes and the roar of the crowd? [UPDATE: This question is answered in the comments attached to this thread.]

Set List:
Love And Peace Or Else
Vertigo
Elevation
Cry/Electric Co.
An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart
City Of Blinding Lights
Beautiful Day
Miracle Drug
Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
New Year’s Day
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet The Blue Sky
Running To Stand Still
Pride
Where The Streets Have No Name
One

Zoo Station
The Fly
Mysterious Ways
All Because Of You
Yahweh
“40″

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  • Dato

    I should heed my own advice, by the way — I meant to write “spelling” and “transliteration” in the above comment!:)

  • Dato

    This film really does sound great! I only wish the reviewer had not mangled the name of the director so badly. It’s JIA ZHANGKE, not “Zia Jhangke.” This is every bit as jarring as if he had written a review of the latest film by “Stit Willman,” “Sohn Jayles,” or “Bim Turton.” Such a spellling conforms to no existing tranliteration system for Chinese. Sorry to harp on what is perhaps a minor point, but the reviewer could have easily checked his spelling before putting his review online. I admit that am tired of the carelessness of Western reviewers who don’t bother to check these sorts of details (such as reviews I’ve read that refer to Zhang Ziyi as if her first name were her last name, e.g. “Ziyi’s performance in the film was…”). Come on, people. This is one of the world’s great languages, spoken by over a billion people, with a long and distinguished history — it pains me to see such blatant disregard for accuracy in what is otherwise an excellent review.

  • opus

    Woohoo… I caught this film at last year’s Toronto Film Festival and really, really liked it. It’s one of those films that most folks would probably find boring – it’s long, meandering, and unfocused. There’s not a clear plot per se but the world that it creates and shows (npi) is so intriguing and compelling, and the characters so real and, well, human, that I just got drawn in by it. The scenes of the lead actress trying to communicate with the Russian woman despite not understanding a word of the other’s language is just heartbreaking.

  • TransatlanticGirl

    >BIG highlight of the Monday show: Eddie Vedder came on to sing with Kings of Leon for their last song

    Oh, was that who that was? I didn’t hear the intro; it was drowned out by screaming fans. He certainly was the most interesting part of the opening act- banging tambourines together so hard he went through a half dozen of them- now that’s music. I also didn’t care much for KoL- they seemed to be of the “let’s play really hard and fast and hope it sounds like a song” school of rock, something I’ve never been gotten into. You’ve got to admire a guy who can wear jeans that tight, though.

  • jeff

    >And instead of Yaweh/40, we got an encore of Vertigo.

    What was strange was that it seemed like a last minute change. We had really close seats (about 50 feet to Edge’s right) and it looked like Bono changed the set list spontaneously, kinda like “Get me outta here…”. Odd to have a true encore, with a repeated song. Bono commented as much.

    BIG highlight of the Monday show: Eddie Vedder came on to sing with Kings of Leon for their last song, complete with dual tamborines (you had to see it). Not overly impressed with KoL – cool drummer and bassist, that’s about it.

    My first time seeing U2, though…I was blown away – what an experience. The opening with City of Blinding Lights, complete with literally blinding lights, was amazing.

  • Cath

    Thanks for sharing all this. Now I’m glad I’m attending an October NY show (really, is there any better place to see U2 than NY–besides Dublin, of course?) rather than the May NY show. Plenty of time for the sound/lights guys to fix mistakes.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >>It was kind of odd that they chose to dedicate “Running to Stand Still” to the soldiers in Iraq.

    No kidding! That crossed my mind as well. I half expected him to change the line about seven towers from “I see seven towers, but I only see one way out” to “We’ve lost our two towers, and we’re told there’s just one way out…” or something like that. A strange dedication, and yet on some level it rings true. We’re still running, and where will it all end up?

  • TransatlanticGirl

    Hi, again, Jeffrey. Just figured I’d mention that I went to the concert last night and, wow, what an awesome experience. I walked away feeling positively euphoric. The kinks really did get worked out. Instead of things getting lame around “Pride (In the Name of Love)” it segued beautifully into and “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “One” followed without a hitch; it was actually one of the high points of the night. Overall I think you might have gotten the better deal with song choices- there was no An Cat Dubh (one of my favorite underrated U2 songs), and except for a brief instrumental interlude, nothing from Boy at all. And instead of Yaweh/40, we got an encore of Vertigo. But everything went off wonderfully, and the crowd was fantastic, and um, I’m gushing. To sum up, wow.

    (But I did think it was kind of odd that they chose to dedicate “Running to Stand Still” to the soldiers in Iraq. Talk about your backhanded compliments. Not that I’m complaining, really; it was a beautiful performance and obviously heartfelt.)

  • Anders

    I’m a big fan of the Kings of Leon. I’d love to see them and U2, even once.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Ahhhhh. So THAT’S what he said. Thanks for clearing that up. I was astounded to think they might try to record new stuff already. (That’s how they made Zooropa… spontaneous creativity while on tour.)

    Yes, don’t let me discourage anyone from seeing it. Our show was a solid B+/A- performance… well worth seeing. It was just a tad anticlimactic after the A+ of 2001.

  • TransatlanticGirl

    I’m going to their concert tonight in just a few hours. Your comments sort of make me nervous, but hopefully they’ll have worked out their kinks from last night… right? Right?

    Either way though, this is going to be my first U2 concert (I didn’t really discover them until their Elevation tour was coming to a close… yeah, I know, how oblivious can you be not to know about U2?) and I plan to enjoy it no matter what happens. Thanks for the report.

  • Anonymous

    The Seattle show last night was also my 4th U2 concert, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The song selection worked for me (although I’m sure in a 2 night stand they will play some other great material tonight). “40″ wasn’t quite as magical as I had hoped, but that had more to do with the crowd not keeping the chant alive than the performance.

    The sound was actually great where I was sitting out in front of the stage – Bono’s comment about recording was actually “Sonics in the playoffs, Pearl Jam back in the studio, it’s been a good week for Seattle.”

    Kings of Leon as the opener didn’t do much for me and they played for quite a long time.

    All in all a great night – go if you get the chance by all means


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