It was a cold and wet April day when U2 touched the ground at DIA. Thankfully, an unforgettable fire set between the band and 19,200 adoring fans kept things nice and hot at Denver's Pepsi Center Wednesday night.
During the Elevation Tour, the band started each show with the arena lights up. This time around, the entrance was far more dramatic. With all lights off, one handheld spotlight lit the elliptical catwalk.
Finally, all four members of the band were on the catwalk, taking a complete lap around the ellipse, shining their spotlights across the arena, a symbolic salute to the crowd, showing off those in the rafters and those on the floor.
It was a stunningly different way to open a show, followed by an entire evening of surprises, magic and incredible music. Mixing it all up, it would be Bono banging on the drums during the opening song, "Love and Peace or Else," and, later on, Larry Mullen Jr. tickling the electronic ivories during "Yahweh."
After four days off, the band was loose and having fun. Bono allowed himself to get lost in his own lyrics during "Beautiful Day," looking for new wonders of the world to rattle off. Finally, after a vocal pause as he pranced around center stage, it came to him, "See the... oh, I don't know... see the hail stones right in front of you."
It was a timely reference to the late afternoon hail that pelted the diehards queued up outside for prime general admission floor spots.
Prior to that, Bono the Magnificent plucked a young boy, Nicholas, perhaps 10 years old, from the crowd at the tip of the ellipse and treated him to a couple magic finger tricks. Looking back to the center stage and his bandmates, Bono invited the boy to see some more magic. With that, the band kicked into "City of Blinding Lights."
That was indeed pure magic. The music, the lights, Bono, walking hand-in-hand with Nicholas along the entire circumference of the ellipse, through the curtains of light, created an indelible image of wide-eyed wonder, an Oz-like moment in time that no other rock band or Broadway show could replicate.
But the band was hardly done pulling out the magic tricks. The night featured a career-spanning set list that served to emphasize how many great songs U2 has in its bag of goodies. Aside from a few bars of Roy Orbison's "She's a Mystery to Me," written for the pop legend by Bono and Edge, there simply wasn't time to perform cover tunes and rarities that would typically dot the set lists of shows past.
Fulfilling expectations, the band's new material filled the arena with rich, powerful sounds. "Vertigo" is a new classic, bringing down the house early in the set; "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own" is a beaut; "Love and Peace" rocked with tremendous thunder. Even the less obvious songs, "Miracle Drug" and "Yahweh," proved their live potency.
Older material was dusted off, with "Electric Co." and "Elevation" playing back-to-back. Nearly stealing the show was a sexy, unexpected rendition of "An Cat Dubh." It put a whole new feline spin on the elliptical catwalk as Bono crouched down and toyed with the audience, reaching out with his Bono-fied claws, teasing his more-than-willing female targets.
In keeping with the band's free-styling ways, when it came time for "Yahweh," Larry was a little late to the keyboards waiting for him at the edge of the ellipse. Hoping to dart in while Bono wasn't looking, his efforts were unsuccessful as he fumbled at the keyboard.
Bono seized his opportunity for another lyrical improvisation, "Teach me how... to play this song."
It was a nice one that even the otherwise straight-laced drummer couldn't help but laugh about.
Ah, but it wasn't all fun and games. "Bullet the Blue Sky," a concert staple, found new intensity and edge in its presentation as Bono blindfolded himself and slowly raised himself from a kneeling position back to the mike.
The show was heavy on the politics, but not leaning left nor right. Not slamming one politician or another. Not creating anger, but hope. The argument was simple--human rights are universal.
Bono recalled how he used to phone the 41st president, George Bush Sr., during ZooTV. Back then, he commented, the White House wouldn't take his calls. Now they do, he said, to the rapturous cheering of the crowd.
But, in a well-spoken turn on things, Bono said the White House was getting bored with Bono and it was up to the audience to pick up their cell phones and call and help make poverty history.
Getting back to ZooTV, that classic tour received a fantastic nod from the band as Bono stumbled and mumbled across the catwalk a la his alter ego, The Fly, during "Zoo Station," which made a welcome return into the set list. "The Fly" and "Mysterious Ways," dependable stalwarts of rock, also shook the rafters.
As with their unique stage entrance, the band found a unique way to close out the show during "40." With the crowd singing at the top of their collective lungs, "How long must we sing this song," Bono gracefully exited the stage, followed by Adam, then The Edge.
Finally, there was only Larry, offering up a righteous drum solo. The man who gave Bono his first--and only--day job would be the last to leave the stage.
From start to finish, it was an incredible show. And, if tours past are any indication, the Vertigo Tour will only get better from here.
• Originally published at Interference.com.
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