Boston’s always been a sort of Irish city, and no Irish band has been adopted like hometown heroes more so than U2. The quartet famously got an early gig at The Paradise, and decades later they still keep something in reserve when they hit town. Though they still continue to sell tickets by the truckload all over the world, it wasn’t a surprise that these two shows sold out pretty quickly; the Irish are also loyal.
It’s a long way from clubland for Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry but they remain a band who can make the largest space feel like Brighton Music Hall at times. This time, the stage design split the venue in half, with an elevated catwalk with display screens on each side spanning the near length of the floor. At one end was the main stage, and opposite that, a small circular stage that would see plenty of use. The band, esp Bono, made frequent use of the catwalk and as such, was much closer to a far greater number of fans than pretty much any other arena show I can think of.
The show started with a sole light on Bono, who was in the catwalk but obscured by images on the screen. As he finished singing the elegant “Love Is All We Have Left,” his band mates appeared as they kicked into “The Blackout,” a surprisingly effective song that was a proper shot of adrenaline. As they’d previously toured on the record that made them superstars in this country, songs from The Joshua Tree were totally bypassed. Instead, the quartet focused on their new record, as well as some hits and deep cuts from the 90s. It could be argued that some of their new songs are blatant attempts to curry contemporary relevance via the guest spots of Kendrick Lamar and Haim, but the greying crowd probably has zero idea who any of those people are and couldn’t care less.
“I Will Follow” got a huge swell of approval, but aside from “The Ocean” (with the very prescient lyric of “I felt like a star, I felt the world could go far if they listen to what I said”) the deep cuts of the evening would belong to their mid-period. “Acrobat” in particular was really effective, the phase at Achtung Baby where U2 started to leave their fascination of America and its folklore behind and plunge back into their creative milieu. It was also a bit telling that they forsook the big radio hits of “Even Better Than The Real Thing” or “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” or even “Mysterious Ways.” It would be impossible to shirk all the fan favorites, and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was prefaced by a retelling of Bono of The Troubles and the brutally violent day which forged that song, played tonight in a somber, stripped down fashion.
Political statements are something the band’s never shied from, and their poignant elegy to Martin Luther King via “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” remains a rallying cry for human rights today, more so than ever in this brutally regressive times. The band played to all corners of the building, Mullen Jr at the kit on the main stage, Bono singing from the opposite smaller stage, and Clayton and The Edge up on smaller platforms in the middle. U2’s ONE and sister charity (RED) has tried to make inroads to help address systemic poverty and AIDS prevention in Africa, and with the swell of the #metoo movement, #womentakeover became the new hashtag of the moment, borrowed in an I-didn’t-see-that-coming moment via Jim O’Rourke. The encore concluded with one more gesture towards togetherness, when Bono’s fading last lines of “13 (There Is A Light)” followed by his stepping down from the smaller stage and walking slowly through the crowd and out of the building (albeit with a phalanx of protectors in case any boundary-insensitive fans decided to try their luck at getting really close).
More photos of the show here:
Created with flickr slideshow.