U2 - Opening Night of US Tour

9/12/09 - Chicago, IL-Soldier Field

Four songs into U2's opening night of their US tour at Soldier Field in Chicago, the band's more prevailing side shined through as the "Magnificent" lifted off like a rocket ship into space. If a ship had appeared, I wouldn't have been surprised as the latest stage by U2 is the most mammoth, audacious, and insane playground ever designed for a rock show. With a moving bridge, an intense desire to bond with the crowd and a chorus that seemed to be sent from the heavens, the band took flight. "Magnificent" was the fourth song to be performed in a row from No Line on the Horizon. The previous three, the rippling "Breathe" led by a thunderous drum attack by Larry Mullen Jr, the distinctive "No Line on the Horizon" and the jagged "Get On Your Boots" were audacious yet failed to elicit much of a reaction from the crowd of 65,000. But with "Magnificent" the band spectacularly connected with each of the 65,000. "Magnificent" is the type of song that lifts souls, embellishes them and turns your insides outward in a rare display of emotions. The overwhelming majority of people were there to see the hits, of which there were plenty but what U2 brought with them was more than a night of nostalgia, but the Willy Wonka factory of rock productions.

Lasting for two-hours and ten minutes, the twenty-three song set were full of stadium ready anthems and bold juxtapositions. The rhythm section of bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. held the line keeping the concert on track throughout the entire evening. These two forces of nature may not have the charisma of Bono or the flash of The Edge, but they are the foundation upon which U2 is built. Both poured their hearts out on the opener "Breathe", which for as great of a song as it is, doesn't quite achieve what it should as the evening's starter. In fact, it loses some of its impact due to the mid-tempo nature of the song. This is where "Magnificent" should be, as it would allow the band to achieve starlight status immediately with a song that elevates everyone and everything that comes in touch with it. Even though the new material was a tough sell to the crowd, I would be lying to you if U2 didn't fight for their lives in presenting this material to the masses. "Boots" was initially well received but the screams faded fast. However, the stage and screens elevated "Unknown Caller" to sing-along-status proving that U2 uses their glitzy production to their advantage. The biggest re-working of any song in the band's catalog came from "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" reworked in a disco dance beat version which found all four members scowling the entire stage. I was lost at first, but this is a song where the translucent energy of the crowd and the drive of the band worked.

So what about the stage, often referred to by fans as "The Claw". It's alien-like in every manner imaginable and makes even the audaciousness of Zoo TV and the voraciousness of Popmart seem petite by comparison. The stage takes up over half of the football stadium's floor and the stage encompasses almost two-thirds of the stadium. An immense circular screen vividly encapsulates the performance so even those in the cheap seats don't feel alienated. To their credit, all four members of U2 work the stage to ensure that every angle gets to see the band in every which way possible. Adam Clayton seemed especially fluid as he crawled across the stage on what seemed like every song. Larry Mullen Jr. had a rotating drum kit and The Edge and Bono did their best to utilize all aspects of the 360-degree stage. With a stage this vast, the truth is that there is no optimal seating. Side stage seats only give the viewer partial sightlines, the people on the floor have to deal with an overcrowded pit and the zaniness of being in the thick of the action. In some ways, the balcony seats provide the best overall view and experience for everyone. The lights which often shot up through the Chicago skies were awe-inspiring. To the band's credit, as vast and megalomaniacal as this tour is, the ticket prices are in line with the immensity of the production. The only aspect the band failed on was poor sound which affected the lower third of the stadium (mostly those in line and behind Mullen's drum kit). There was a massive amount of reverb in the stadium causing muddiness and making all of Bono's speeches undecipherable. For a production that costs $100-million, this is a blemish that should not exist. Before any prop is created, the sound should be executed with perfection and no in-house speakers should be on allowing this to occur.

As far as the classics went, they were impossible to beat even if the band played it safe. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is lacking the oomph from previous tours and could be retired but spirited renditions of "Pride", the acoustic "Stuck in a Moment" and "Walk On" were all spot on. The finest treats were the rarities "The Unforgettable Fire" which before this tour had not been played in over two decades. "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" hasn't been performed since the Zoo TV tour and was a welcome addition to the set. I wish the band would mine their catalogs for more chestnuts like these. "Drowning Man" was rehearsed for the tour but has yet to make a performance. Standing out were much of the material from the band's two previous records; "Beautiful Day", "Elevation", "Vertigo" and "City of Blinding Lights" were all created for shows like this. The enormity of the crowd reactions equaled the performances of the songs creating an atmosphere that is almost impossible to put into words. During the lean end of the show the band was in all their glory. "Where the Streets Have No Name" ascended in ways that no language on the planet could ever describe, you simply had to be there to experience it. "One" and "Bad" enveloped the crowd in a soulful blanket of bliss reminding us that few on the planet can unite with a crowd this substantial. On these monster hits the band appeared to play out of their skins eliciting a manic explosion of musicianship and crowd contributions. As grand and epic as the staging for this tour is, it just goes to show, that U2 can't go it alone. Their fans provide the final and most essential ingredient to these shows; soul.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.

Set List:
09/12/2009 Soldier Field - Chicago, Illinois, USA
Breathe, No Line On The Horizon, Get On Your Boots, Magnificent, Beautiful Day / Blackbird (snippet), Elevation, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For / Stand By Me (snippet), Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of, Unknown Caller, The Unforgettable Fire, City Of Blinding Lights, Vertigo, I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight, Sunday Bloody Sunday / Oliver's Army (snippet), Pride (In The Name Of Love), MLK, Walk On / You'll Never Walk Alone (snippet), Where The Streets Have No Name, One, Bad / Fool To Cry (snippet) / 40 (snippet)
encores: Ultra Violet (Light My Way), With Or Without You, Moment of Surrender

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