Over the course of their 40-plus years as a band, U2 have pretty much done everything there is to be done. But hot damn do they keep finding new and creative ways to make their fans fall in love with them all over again.
Case in point: Thursday night (June 21), their first of two nights at Boston’s TD Garden.
The Irish rock legends ushered in summer with a blistering set of new material, a few deep(-ish) tracks, and only a handful of their most precious staple tunes as Bono and crew set out to tell the “deeply personal story about a boy searching for his manhood” on the Innocence + Experience Tour. (Spoiler: The “boy” in the story is Bono.)
The quartet continued to boost their already awe-inspiring and widely-acclaimed light show and visual game, as they began the night with two tracks off of their most recent effort Songs of Experience — “Love Is All We Have Left” and “The Blackout” — whilst suspended above the stage inside an 80-foot long two-sided video screen that served as both a social awareness bulletin board and a visual storytelling tool. The crowd was digging what the band had in store from the very first note of the evening, but something has to be said for the absolute eruption that ensued as The Edge, who was more active than usual as Bono’s right-hand man, blared the opening riff to “I Will Follow” once the band made their way out of the screen and onto the main stage.
Judging by the obviously weathered, but still-present, raw power of Bono’s operatic vocals, and the musical stamina of his cohorts, it may come as sort of a surprise that each member of the band is pushing 60 years old. Even so, the band did not show their age, as much as they further showcased their instrumental expertise and creative confidence by smashing through a handful of songs, including “Beautiful Day,” “Iris (Hold Me Close),” and “Cedarwood Road,” before doling out a dose of the reality of growing up in 1970’s civil war-torn Ireland, with an intense, Irish-flag-light drenched rendition of “Sunday Bloody Sunday”.
Following a short intermission that was filled in with a comic book version of the band’s journey from Dublin to the states (set to “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”) the band re-emerged to christen the “E” stage at the other end of the floor with “Elevation” and “Vertigo”. It was before the latter that Bono explained, in a storyteller’s fashion like he had done periodically throughout the evening, that it’s a track that marked a chapter in the band’s career where “it started to get to our heads,” as he put it.
Further tapping into the hits vault, the boys from Dublin belted out “Desire” as a disco ball hung from the ceiling and turned an already aesthetically pleasing show into a full-on party scene. Dawning a top-hat and eye shadow, Bono brought back his Zoo TV-era alter ego, MacPhisto, to play “Acrobat,” which the frontman tagged with a hauntingly fitting spoken rendition of the first verse of the Rolling Stones classic “Sympathy For The Devil.” He added a little creative license for an updated second verse: “I was there in Charlottesville/With the Nazi flag/And the KKK/And I sprayed painted/The first lady’s jacket/But she still wore it anyway/You can’t make this shit up.”
It was obvious that the band wanted to experiment with a number of creative and visually-pleasing aspects throughout the evening, and did so much so, that it’s nearly impossible to effectively describe on a computer screen what transpired and how. If nothing else, that confidence in experimenting, in addition to revisiting early-’90s nostalgia showed, yet again, that the ascension from innocence to experience has made them more thorough, more exciting, and more creatively powerful in their approach.
As drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton made their trek back to the main stage, Bono and The Edge stayed back on the “E” stage to pop off a socially-charged acoustic duet of “Staring At The Sun” as a montage displaying the behavior of modern-day Nazis garnered equal parts boos and applause, assumedly for the same reason.
Filling out their second set with “Pride (In The Name of Love),” “Get Out Of Your Own Way,” “American Soul,” and “City of Blinding Lights,” U2 totally could’ve stopped there and left everyone happy and satisfied with what they just witnessed. But they came back and continued to jam.
Never failing to be done with a passionate vigor, the band began their final stretch of the night with “One” before bleeding into “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way,” a new track that sort of gave credence to the underlying theme of the night.
U2 sent the capacity crowd on their merry way as a single giant light bulb dangled from the ceiling following what seemed to be as much of a plea to humanity as it was a reciting of lyrics in “13 (There Is a Light).” Bono made his exit with a message of solidarity and gratitude, along the lines of: “Thank you, Boston. We love you. Be safe.”
Thursday night showed that age has treated U2 very well, but experience has treated them even better.
Photos by Jason Greenough; follow him on Twitter @DadBodVanilla.