Thursday, July 07, 2011

A Pro Bono Review of a Value-Packed Performance -- U2 at Soldier Field

Concert Review

with Interpol
Soldier Field, Chicago
July 5, 2011

Probably the worst thing I can say about Tuesday's U2 show is that the legendary Irish quartet didn't have to give me my money's worth quite to the extent they did.

Certainly, many of the 63,000 or so fans at Chicago's Soldier Field paid far more than the $32 + fees I ponied up for an upper deck seat (back in November 2009 for a show that was originally scheduled for last summer but postponed due to Bono's back injury). Given that U2 360 tour now stands as the highest-grossing concert tour ever--supposedly with revenues of $700+ million--I doubt Bono & the Edge will be busking in Temple Bar anytime soon, despite the troubled web of bringing Spider-Man to Broadway.

And even if the mammoth stage setup known as "The Claw" that's been shlepped around the world the last 2 years is completely excessive--and perhaps even unnecessary--it is pretty damn cool in its multifaceted visual and technological capabilities. Although I didn't quite feel this way during the tour's opening shows in Chicago in Sept. 2009--when the Claw and numerous intertwined video & lighting cues proved an uncomfortable albatross for the band--I now find the 360 tour's visual feast less obtrusive and overshadowing of the music than U2's Zoo TV or PopMart outdoor concert spectacles of the 1990s.

Having seen them fifteen times over 25 years, I've preferred their (relatively) stripped-down arena shows to the over-the-top stadium productions. But no one shoots for the moon like U2 and even if all I really need is the music--hence why even the highly acclaimed Zoo TV production seemed like subtraction by addition--the sonic and visual production was fantastic enough, and now more properly coalesced, to not only well merit $32, but @@@@@.

According to one in a string of statistics streaming pre-show on on the Claw's video screens, there are 436 tour personnel in addition to Bono, Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. And I assume that doesn't include the members of the opening band--in this case, Interpol (as with most U2 opening acts, they're relatively popular, though I wasn't overly impressed with their 45 minute set).

So in addition to one of my favorite bands ever playing several of their biggest hits and some other noteworthy songs for nearly 2-1/2 hours, I got a gargantuan production requiring a mid-sized company worth of roadies, plus a substantial opening act, all for considerably less than the cheapest ticket to the Cirque du Soleil show now in the United Center parking lot.

How can I complain?

Photo Credit: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune
I really can't, especially as the pacing and production glitches prevalent back in Sept. 2009 didn't plague this show, and I even found U2's performance slightly better than when I caught them in Denver 6 weeks ago. On a beautiful Chicago night, Bono seemed loose and the band sounded tight, as best I could tell from 100 yards away and 300 feet up.

Although Tuesday's U2 set list was largely similar to Denver, I appreciated the inclusion of "Out of Control," (their very first single, preceding even "I Will Follow"), "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and a surprise show-closer of "One Tree Hill" commemorating the 25th anniversary of the death of its subject (Greg Carroll, who had been Bono's personal assistant).

And while "Pride (In The Name of Love)," "Where The Streets Have No Name," "With Or Without You" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" have been highlights of every U2 show I've seen since 1987, they resonated well in the packed stadium. Although I always wish the band would mine their catalog a bit deeper--and write more great new songs--even the set list didn't provide much room for griping.

All in all it was an extremely worthwhile, rather remarkable evening, even if the poor logistics of Soldier Field meant getting out of the stadium and to the subway took nearly as long as U2's performance.

I won't mind if the next U2 show I see is much more sparse in its presentation--though if they do ever return to an empty stage at the Aragon it'll assuredly cost me far more than $32--but this one really did nothing to disappoint. And 30+ years into a band's career, that's really something for U2 appreciate.

(Here's a YouTube clip of "One Tree Hill" from Tuesday night. It was seemingly not planned, hence the initial confusion.)

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