Coming off the most massive and highest grossing concert tour in history, U2 could’ve either repeated the formula verbatim or thrown the entire rule book out the window. Considering this is the same group who chopped down “The Joshua Tree” with “Rattle And Hum,” the latter turned out to be the case on the Innocence + Experience Tour, which found the most enduring rock band of the last three-and-a-half decades trading excess for introspection during a two act, tech-savvy journey that vulnerably exposed members’ souls more than ever before.
It was a chilling way to end an evening whose shortcomings weren’t substantial enough to usurp U2’s “best band in the world” standing, but with slight shifts in the set list and an elevated presence from its front man, it could’ve made a brilliant concept even better.
On Monday at the United Center (as part of an essentially sold out five night stand), Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. may have been the stars, but the must-see-it-to-believe-it screens they brought along were just as much a factor projecting images representing both the personal and sociopolitical across two hours and some change. The first half spent the bulk of its focus on last year’s “Songs Of Innocence,” a fine return to early form effort no doubt, but one marred by an entirely free iTunes roll out demonized as spam by non-fans.
Nonetheless, the band sounded just as confident as ever on opener “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” to evoke the ghosts of its ‘80s punk beginnings, which made “The Electric Co.” a fitting follow-up with its bombastic spirit sounding like it could’ve easily been a part of these current sessions. Come “Iris (Hold Me Close),” the entire arena floor-spanning screens kicked into gear showing photos of Bono’s deceased mother, who after giving one of his most revealing introductions ever, became fully immersed in the bittersweet tribute.
By “Cedarwood Road,” the singer literally stepped inside the screens and took a virtual trip through the landmarks of his childhood, by far one of the most visually striking references of an increasingly engaging experience that culminated in the bursting “City Of Blinding Lights.” As captivating as it all came across, the heavy reliance on such innovative production also exposed how the normally superhuman Bono (now 55 and still healing after a bike accident) was operating at a much slower speed than usual, especially when ditching his signature sprint for a mere hand raise during the otherwise incendiary “Where The Streets Have No Name.”
The set list also left a bit to be desired, not just for being a little too top heavy on the current collection, but also in the omission of classics like “One,” “Desire,” “Bad,” “All I Want Is You” and “40” (in spite of showing up on other dates). Sure, it was a surprise to hear the debut of the clubby “The Crystal Ballroom” and charming to catch the less frequently performed “Sweetest Thing” (especially as Bono played piano), but did precious encore time really need to be spent on the start of Paul Simon’s “Mother And Child Reunion” or singing “Happy Birthday” to actor John Cusack with so much left on the cutting room floor?
Thankfully though, the band ended on the stronger note of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (accompanied by the crowd serving as the church choir), which found members walking down the lengthy catwalk one by one and laying down their respective instruments when they reached the backstage door. It was a chilling way to end an evening whose shortcomings weren’t substantial enough to usurp U2’s “best band in the world” standing, but with slight shifts in the set list and an elevated presence from its front man, it could’ve made a brilliant concept even better.