Concert Review: U2 Plays and Peddles to 55,000 in Seattle at First US Date for The Joshua Tree Tour 2017

It could have been so much more.

But U2 went big, got a bit distracted yet ultimately pulled off a solid show in front of 55,000 on Sunday for the Joshua Tree Tour 2017 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

U2 put the usual boisterous theatrics on hold this time instead opting for a large, rather striking background screen concaved in the middle that offered the accompanying visuals and video for the setlist. No tornado of lights engulfing the band like on the 360 tour or the gigantic screen allowing singer Bono to walk down memory lane as he did last time out. It was honest and unimposing allowing the band to focus on the music while the music focused on the band.

However, the show got lost at times in the bowels of the massive NFL stadium and simply begged for a smaller, homely arena setting that offers an added touch of magic that worked so well on Innocence+Experience. Indeed, U2 still commands a vast audience and considering the current tour’s modest length it certainly makes sense to open the doors as wide as possible verses a long string of multiple dates in every major city in venue’s a third the size but by doing so they forfeited immense potential on a celebratory journey through time.

U2 opened their 23 song two hour set with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. first appeared on the main stage, walked along a cat walk to a secondary stage (shaped like the Joshua Tree symbol) in the middle of the general admission crowd to his drum set, The Edge followed and started into the song’s guitar opening, then Bono and bassist Adam Clayton.

The foursome remained on the smaller stage firing off hit after hit with “New Year’s Day” next and three off 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire –“A Sort of Homecoming,” “Bad” and the iconic “Pride (In the Name of Love).” Then the back screen to the main stage turned bright red, outlining the Joshua Tree and it was time for the album that turned this Irish band into bonafide rock stars. Straight through from that most memorable “Where the Streets Have No Name” opening riff to “Mothers of the Disappeared.”

It was evident from the start a bit of charm and much warmth was missing. The wind blowing in from the Puget Sound interfered with the music quite a bit and the stadium’s large cavity offered little-to-none in terms of acoustics. Clayton’s bass sometimes overpowered, while The Edge’s guitar cut in and out like a car speaker with a bad connection that needs a couple of fists in its side to work correctly.

A stadium setting also produces an echo which is not only distracting but causes the band to sound out of sync at times. Plus, you’ve got the unintended consequence of a massive spread-out audience singing the lyrics ultimately competing with Bono’s voice. U2 carries a stage presence like no other but at times even these music titans looked small (yes, visually too) and had a hard time commanding the stage.

The end of The Joshua Tree marked the end of the main set as U2 exited for a quick encore and returned with “Beautiful Day” hampered by the acoustics but a rousing “Elevate” continuing the trend of playing a few songs from an album before moving on to another album as they did with Achtung Baby playing the deep album cut “Ultra Violet” and finally “One.”

Yes, Bono’s political activism was on full display. You didn’t expect to attend a U2 concert to forget about whatever is happening in your life for a while or America’s rapid fall from Grace, did you? U2 boasts an unusual preoccupation with the United States as the video screen displayed both very patriotic themes – a woman painting in elapsed time an American flag while the band played “Trip Through Your Wires,” Bono crediting the United States and the American tax payer for funding much of the $18 million tab towards AIDS research – and what felt like a bit of lecturing.

He attacked President Donald Trump with a bizarre and rather clumsy video that ended with two fists one bearing a “Love” tattoo, the other featuring “Hate” to introduce “Exit” and the video for “Miss Sarajevo” (A Passengers side project song with the late Luciano Pavarotti) featured a supposed Syrian refugee commenting on how she wants to come to America, where it’s civil, along with images of the war torn Middle East country. The Joshua Tree 2017 Tour started in Vancouver, BC so perhaps similar theatrical arrangements were made for citizens of Canada and hopefully Bono is working with the elected officials in his native country of Ireland to house refugees there. Otherwise…

He took a centrist approach commenting on the party of Lincoln and the party of Kennedy after “Pride” and an originalist approach when he said “government should fear it’s citizens not the other way around” which considering he pals around with a former president of this country widely feared by many (rightly or wrongly) makes you wonder who he is referring to but the commentary was mostly to push his One campaign that he claims boasts 8 million members worldwide. Take a grain of salt if this figure is reached based on the emails collected by the advocates from those waiting in line to enter the venue.

Overall, despite some of the sound issues, mostly minor but often and on-going, “Where the Streets Have No Name” was very cool but the turbulence of the sound system served to enhance “Bullet the Blue Sky” with that exceptional chaotic guitar solo. “Running to Stand Still” bested the album version (with Bono on the harmonica) and “One Tree Hill” also excelled except for the popping in the speaker during the last half of the song. Unfortunately, the beloved “With Or Without You” fared with little luster and Bono well off-key. And yes, The Joshua Tree is a legendary 80s album but it’s a good bet the final two songs were heard for the first time by many last night and devotees probably heard them again, for the first time.

Bono went off on an outlandish “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” rant (seriously, what the hell?) in the middle of “Exit” and even Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder helping out on “Mothers of the Disappeared” couldn’t save this boring wreck.

“Elevate” which has some natural distortion was awesome and U2 featured a new song “The Little Things That Give You Away” which evidently needed some kinks to work out from the first performance on Friday. It was OK, a bit meandering at first but picked up midway through. U2 closed the evening with a tight performance of “I Will Follow” the only cut off the band’s first album, Boy from 1980.

Expect a new politically charged album sometime this year likely titled Songs of Experience as a follow-up to the now three-year old  Songs of Innocence.

U2 Seattle Setlist for The Joshua Tree Tour 2017

  1. Sunday Bloody Sunday
  2. New Year’s Day
  3. A Sort of Homecoming
  4. Bad
  5. Pride (In the Name of Love)
  6. Where the Streets Have No name
  7. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
  8. With or Without You
  9. Bullet the Blue Sky
  10. Running to Stand Still
  11. Red Hill Mining Town
  12. In God’s Country
  13. Trip Through Your Wires
  14. One Tree Hill
  15. Exit
  16. Mothers of the Disappeared
  17. Beautiful Day
  18. Elevate
  19. Ultra Violet
  20. One
  21. Miss Sarajevo
  22. The Little Things That Give You Away
  23. I Will Follow

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: U2 Gets Personal in Vancouver, BC

U2 Full Stage

Updated: Night 2 details below

U2 never seems to do anything small, whether it’s the stadium size 360 tour the last go-around or the implant of their latest album in the iTunes account of everyone in the world that has one.

Though they’ve scaled down the size of venue for their current tour in support of their 13th album Songs of Innocence it’s still everything as big as you’d come to expect from the band.

U2 opened their Innocence+Experience tour on Thursday in Vancouver, BC to a sold-out Rogers Arena, the first of two dates that kicks off a year-long trek around the world. By contrast, the Irish foursome ended their last tour in Canada, across the street at BC Place Stadium, a place four times the size of the current digs.

Though nearly every conceivable bit of space is used in the stage configuration (full arena seating and general admission floor), the more intimate setting certainly fits the band well. The main stage is featured at one end of the floor, with a long catwalk extending towards the other side connecting to a smaller round stage which makes an “I” (the main stage) connected to “e” the smaller stage, the logo for the tour. A basketball court length projection screen stretched above and nearly the length of the catwalk and the fun was just starting.

U2 Big Screen

Despite taking the stage 45 minutes after the scheduled start time (come on guys, leave the prima donna act to Madonna) U2 – lead singer Paul Hewson aka Bono, guitarist Dave Evans, aka The Edge, drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton on bass – put together a solid 24 song set featuring seven off the new album along with a dynamic stage show that was personal and demonstrative.

The band walked to the stage to the Ramones’ “Beat on the Brat” so it was hardly a guess as to what they’d open with as The Edge fired off that grungy opening to “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone).” Once it got going though, Clayton’s bass guitar overpowered the song which unfortunately wouldn’t be the last time of the evening. From the latest album back to the first, U2 unlocked the vault for “Out of Control” off Boy now 35 years old but sounding as fresh as anything on radio today with those great hooks and a stellar solo by The Edge.

“Vertigo” really brought the crowd to life which continued once that unforgettable introduction to “I Will Follow” the opening tract of Boy rang throughout the arena. Three straight off Songs of Innocence came next as lead singer Bono made his mom proud with his love song to her “Iris (Hold Me Close)” and he just nailed the vocals to the “Hold me close” chorus. Adding some emotional depth to the performance was an old black and white video, likely of Bono in his youth, projecting on the screen with a simultaneous video of Bono singing as if he’s looking back, reflecting on his life.

U2 inside screen

The giant screen featured a walkway down the middle so, as video projected, members of the band could in a sense, get inside the televised image. Bono used this for “Cedarwood Road” taking a trip to his old neighborhood in Ireland as he sang and animated houses streamed by him. The nostalgia continued with “Song for Someone” a nice nod to Bono’s wife Alice Stewart and then U2 got back to harder edge fare with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as the band stretched out along the catwalk with The Edge on acoustic, and Mullin donning a marching band style snare drum. They slowed the pace of the song a bit and this version worked well.

What worked even better was “Raised by Wolves” the fifth song of the night off the new album that absolutely shined and outdid the studio version. “Until the End of the World” followed and “Invisible” which brought all band members inside the giant screen simply fell flat. Overall, the music drowned out Bono’s vocals and again Clayton’s bass overpowered the speakers often sounding distorted.

U2 set up camp for “Even Better Than the Real Thing” on the opposing smaller round stage where they stayed for “Mysterious Ways” and “Desire.” Bono played the harmonica part to “Desire” and then piano for “Sweetest Thing” which brought back The Edge on acoustic. Bono did not play guitar all night, something he said he might never be able to do again thanks to the bike accident in Central Park last November that resulted in damage to his eye-socket, shoulder, elbow and left hand.

U2 The Edge

The Edge delivered crisp riffs and those well known U2 melodies all night

 

Clayton and Mullin left the stage as The Edge took piano duties giving the floor to Bono and the two simply killed “Every Breaking Wave” adding even more emotional depth to an already emotively strong song. It was everything “Magnificent” should have been on the 360 tour that never was.

 

U2 Bono

Bono croons the audience at Rogers Arena

The slow stuff came to an abrupt end as the hard rocking “Bullet the Blue Sky” came to life outdoing its studio twin from The Joshua Tree and embraced the hard thumping of Clayton’s bass. The rock continued with audience favorite “Pride (In the Name of Love)” before “The Troubles” the final tract on Songs of Innocence and the last one from the album for the evening. U2 closed with radio staple and the favorite of every broken-hearted boy or girl wallowing over a relationship “With or Without You.”

 

“City of Blinding Lights” started the encore and finally another song where Clayton’s bass complemented the rest of the instruments rather than overwhelm everyone on stage. “Beautiful Day” came next and their iconic album The Joshua Tree got even more love with “Where the Streets Have No Name” and finally “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

Considering the sound system used for the tour is supposedly state of the art, the band needs to iron out some kinks with the volume level on the bass and address other elements of distortion including adjusting Bono’s vocals that sometimes came off as muffled under the heavy bass and guitar chords. It was certainly far from ruining the first show as U2 played tight and delivered an energetic and well-though out performance.

Bono, of course, is the ultimate showman, with an almost enchanting stage presence. He displayed no ill effects from his bike accident other than not playing guitar and he knows how to perform and engage the audience. He said fans can expect a different experience from Night 1 to Night 2 so it should be interesting to watch that play out as well in Vancouver as well as the rest of the tour.

U2 Innocence + Experience Tour Setlist in Vancouver, BC – Night 1

1.The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)
2. Out of Control
3. Vertigo
4. I Will Follow
5. Iris (Hold Me Close)
6. Cedarwood Road
7. Song for Someone
8. Sunday Bloody Sunday
9. Raised by Wolves
10. Until the End of the World
11. Invisible
12. Even Better than the Real Thing
13. Mysterious Ways
14. Desire
15. Sweetest Thing
16. Every Breaking Wave
17. Bullet the Blue Sky
18. Pride (In the Name of Love)
19. The Troubles
20. With Or Without You
21. City of Blinding Lights
22. Beautiful Day
23. Where the Streets Have No Name
24. I Still Have Found What I’m Looking For

 

U2 Innocence + Experience Tour Setlist in Vancouver, BC – Night 2

Sound issues fixed, sounded great. Same show except for variation on the setlist.

1. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)
2. Vertigo
3. California (There Is No End To Love)
4. I Will Follow
5. Iris (Hold Me Close)
6. Cedarwood Road
7. Song for Someone
8. Sunday Bloody Sunday
9. Raised by Wolves
10. Until the End of the World
11. Invisible
12. Even Better Than the Real Thing
13. Mysterious Ways
14. Angel of Harlem
15. When Love Comes to Town
16. Every Breaking Wave
17. Bullet the Blue Sky
18. Pride (In the Name of Love)
19. Beautiful Day
20. With or Without You
21. Miracle Drug
22. Bad
23. Where the Streets Have No Name
24. One

Written By: AndrewT

Album Review: U2 – Songs of Innocence

If U2 wasn’t one of the world’s most beloved bands it certainly is now.

Quite un-expectantly, the Irish rockers released the follow-up to No Line On The Horizon on Tuesday – an 11 song effort entitled Songs of Innocence on the heels of Apple’s latest and greatest technological achievements.

No wonder it took so long. Was that whole Bono has writer’s block rumor, among other reasons, for the long-anticipated album’s delay, simply a ruse to get people to stop talking about U2 and a record that was widely expected for release last year? Apparently, because the headlines of U2’s new album, available for free, nearly stole the headlines away from Apple. U2 performed live during Apple’s much hyped press conference announcing the new iPhone 6 and Apple Watch.

So, what’s even better than a free U2 album? A really good U2 album that is the quartet’s finest in more than a decade.

Songs of Innocence opens with an ode to the late Joey Ramone with “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” a straight-forward hard rock song that starts with a great guitar distortion before Bono pipes in and then the emotive “Every Breaking Wave” is certain to get heavy airplay. Much like the fantastic “Magnificent” from 2009’s No Line On the Horizon it’s got great melody then combined with Bono’s soaring if not heart-aching vocals that forces you to sit and get stuck in a moment.

“California (There Is No End to Love)” is third which opens with a “Ba-ba-ba-ba-Barbara” chant – a nod to the Beach Boys – before diving into a solid rock beat. The chanting, as short as it is, and Larry Mullin Jr.’s drum beat gets in your head and Bono shows at 54 he hasn’t lost any range in his vocals. “Song for Someone” cuts back on the tempo a bit adding a pretty acoustic line before those imposing vocals again grip you and then “Iris (Hold Me Close),” a love song to Bono’s mother, brings back that so familiar U2 guitar sound of the 1980s while Adam Clayton drubs along on his bass for a great accompanying beat.

“Volcano” is ripe with all the ingredients for a great rock song. Thumping bass and a great snare open this one with Bono in command of the vocals in an abundance of ranges. “Raised By Wolves” is one of the most dynamic songs on the album – seriously, check out that chorus “I don’t believe anymore” – and “Cedarwood Road” adds some grunge. “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” brings in the most synths of any of the songs though it’s primarily a repetitive fill. Don’t worry, it works well and guitarist The Edge drops in some great guitar riffs. “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” starts off with a tribal beat, then, like so many of the songs before it, drops right into a fun, toe-tapping beat. Finally, “The Troubles” close things out using guest vocals from Swedish pop singer Lykke Li on the chorus.

Songs of Innocence is chock full of great rhythms and melodies and is so much easier to not only listen to but straight out enjoy from the first spin (or is it download?) than No Line. None of the songs really end where you think they’re going from how they start. Yet it’s all cohesive and there isn’t one filler on the entire album. Bono is polished throughout vocally and brings one of his best performances to date.

Waiting is always the hardest part for a new album, this one five years since U2’s last release, but a lot of thought and energy went into making this record. It’s not as if the band has reinvented itself, they’ve always known how to push the envelope a bit and this time around they ripped it open.

All anyone needs to do to get this album is get iTunes and download it. That’s it. Now, whether or not U2 starts an industry trend by eschewing album artwork and thus the traditional album release, nonetheless they’ve certainly got people’s attention. Unless album sales soar into platinum status, it’s apparently not worth the financial effort to produce physical CDs anymore. The real money is made on tour and what better way to bring the crowds (as if U2 needs any help) then to give away the reason to see them play live.

For many bands, especially those who rose into prominence in the last 10 or 15 years, waiting five years between releasing new material pretty much undercuts whatever momentum they enjoyed the last time out. But U2 is at the point in their career where waiting 10 years would barely put a chink in their armor.

And with an album like Songs of Innocence it should keep fans satiated for a while, unless it just makes them hungry for more.

Grade: A-

Songs of Innocence Track Listing:

1. The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)
2. Every Breaking Wave
3. California (There Is No End of Love)
4. Song for Someone
5. Iris (Hold Me Close)
6. Volcano
7. Raised By Wolves
8. Cedarwood Road
9. Sleep Like a Baby Tonight
10. This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now
11. The Troubles

Written By: AndrewT