When a band return to the live stage after releasing their first studio album in half a decade, fans expect something special. When that band’s previous tour was the highest grossing tour of all time, fans expect something out of this world. Luckily for U2, they’ve got the knowhow and the catalogue to give fans exactly that.
Starting this May in Vancouver, Canada and finishing in the band’s hometown of Dublin, Ireland at the end of November, the iNNOCENCE and eXPERIENCE Tour is nothing short of gargantuan (though still dwarfed by the U2 360° Tour). Over multiple nights in arenas worldwide innumerable fans have seen the quartet in the flesh and as October bled into November it was the turn of Londoners, with U2 hitting up the The O2 for a six-night stint.
After a lengthy wait for those arriving early on, Patti Smith’s People Have the Power booms over the PA and the vast stage setup that stretches lengthways from one end of The O2’s floor to the other begins to come to life. As drummer Larry Mullen, Jr., bassist Adam Clayton and guitarist The Edge take to the ‘main’ stage (an illuminated ‘i’ for iNNOCENCE), main man Bono rushes through the crowd at the other end of the arena to the ‘second’ stage (an illuminated ‘e’ for eXPERIENCE), where he begins belting out the opening refrains of The Ballad of Joey Ramone from Songs of Innocence, joined by thousands now screaming along in unison.
Walking down the long platform that connects both stages, Bono commands attention like few others can and upon connecting with his bandmates, the arena erupts into euphoric cheers. The noise U2 produce is thunderous as they go all the way back to Out Of Control and I Will Follow, with speakers filling the arena end to end giving them a full sound from any vantage point. A single large lightbulb representing innocence hangs from the ceiling while Vertigo gets everyone moving until Bono furiously swings the bulb, signalling the end of ‘innocence’, so to speak.
For the next two hours, the audience are in the palm of U2’s collective hand as they go on an adventure through their back catalogue with an immersive stage show the likes of which have rarely been seen before. The 96 foot long ‘video cage’ that spans the length of the walkway between the two stages first comes into action when Bono sings to projections of his deceased mother on a touching Iris (Hold me Close) and is used to full effect throughout the show.
Taking it back to their old haunting ground, Bono climbs into the video cage that projects a suburban street, which he appears to be walking down throughout Cedarwood Road. The classic Sunday Bloody Sunday sees Larry Mullen, Jr. heading down the walkway with a snare drum strapped to his torso before a depiction of a car bomb appears on the video cage, exploding as they kick into Raised By Wolves. The car bomb reminds those in attendance of the 33 people in Dublin that were tragically killed in 1974 and no matter how big U2 become, they never forget where they’ve come from.
The cage drops to meet the walkway during an interval, soon revealing the band stood inside as they break out into “Invisible” and a snarling version of Even Better than the Real Thing encompassed inside all manner of graphics and live video projections. Soon after they’re over on the ‘e’ stage, giving those at the other end of the arena an up close and personal taste of the action. A fan joins them for Mysterious Ways and is then given a phone to film the band during a raucous Elevation, streamed live across the web through Meerkat. The melding of live music and technology is becoming increasingly important and although U2 have a hit and miss relationship with new tech (dropping Songs of Innocence into 500 million iTunes accounts without warning for example), they’re still pushing the boundaries every step of the way.
The Edge takes to the piano for an emotional pairing of Every Breaking Wave and October before the action moves back over to the ‘i’ stage. Bullet the Blue Sky becomes far too over indulgent, but when Where the Streets Have No Name, Pride (In the Name of Love) and With or Without You round out the set in stunning fashion, all is forgiven.
Returning to the stage for a final hurrah, City of Blinding Lights sees huge bars of white light drop from the ceiling and Beautiful Day elates the crowd, still begging for more. A finale of One has the whole arena singing together once again, with the band taking a step back to bathe in the final moments.
Over the top and a little too preachy in parts, mainly down to Bono’s excessive speeches, U2’s latest show was just as overblown and imaginative as anyone thought it would be. A perfect whirlwind of emotion and technology, it set a new standard for all superstar acts to try and reach, and we can’t wait to see what they come up with.
U2, The O2, 2/11/15
Get remaining dates and tickets for U2’s iNNOCENCE and eXPERIENCE Tour now at Ticketmaster.co.uk.