eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour 2018
"This is no time not to be alive."
Love Is All We Have Left
from U2's album Songs of Experience
The “Mattopian Soul” Leg
- Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, T-Mobile Arena — 11 May U2018 — Nosebleeds
- Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, T-Mobile Arena — 12 May U2018 — General Admission
- Nashville, Tennessee, USA, Bridgestone Arena — 26 May U2018 — General Admission
- Lisbon, Portugal, Altice Arena — 16 September U2018 — General Admission
- Lisbon, Portugal, Altice Arena — 17 September U2018 — 1st Floor
- Madrid, Spain, WiZink Center — 20 September U2018 — General Admission
- Madrid, Spain, WiZink Center — 21 September U2018 — General Admission
The Mattopia Jones eXPERIENCE
It's quite a show and here are a few of my favorite things about the new tour, based on the two shows in Vegas (overall, my 50th and 51st U2 shows).
First of all, I'm thrilled Mr. Macphisto has returned. Bono is a showman, as he explains during the show — without, curiously enough, ever playing the song The Showman (Little More Better) from Songs of Experience. And, true to form, Bono plays with the latest tech in the process. As he looks at a mirror/tablet, and sporting Macphisto's white face paint, an animated caricature of Macphisto splashes onto the giant screen while Bono speaks. It's a playful spin on augmented reality.
More impressive, technically, though, is the band's entrance. It is a magic trick truly worthy of Vegas. For my first e+i, I was in the nosebleeds and I was floored by how the band appears at the start of the show. Sure, it's sleight of hand and stagecraft, but it's first class stagecraft, the kind that makes me ask, "How'd they do that?!"
Backing up a couple more minutes, this tour is supplemented with a U2 eXPERIENCE app. That bit needs some work, but it's a cool little gimmick. By opening the app and holding your phone camera facing the giant screen, on the phone's screen a small waterfall appears (this is also shown in the e+i tour program). After a few minutes, the waterfall widens and the volume of the water flow rises. Then the water turns into an iceberg. Finally, Bono starts singing Love Is All We Have Left and a VR version of Bono dominates the phone's screen. And there he is, magically, live on the catwalk. After the song, the app posts a notice that "that's all for now," it's time for blackout. From there, The Blackout kicks in and the full band appears within the screen framework — a trick right out of a David Copperfield or Criss Angel show.
And my love affair with this band is renewed yet again.
In the winter issue of M Life magazine, distributed at MGM's Vegas properties (including New York, New York, where I stayed), U2 made the cover with the headline, "U2: The World's Biggest Band Hits T-Mobile Arena This May." Inside, Bono comments, "It's almost impossible to be great. And that's our drug of choice. Very good is the enemy of great — there's lots of that. But who wants to be in a very good band at this point?"
I've also seen comments from Bono about how they stage things so the best seats are at the back of the house. Having experienced e+i from almost as far back as one can get, I can say he's right — to a point. From that vantage point, I was able to take it all in, including the fantastic overhaul of the screen space. The show was loaded with custom imagery reflecting the Vegas landscape and skyline. And The Edge's daughter plays a large role in the video support. And there's a slick animated sequence which had me all kinds of giddy. The segment, stylized like a motion comic, tells the story of our heroes (the band), their rise and their fall (uh... the timeline here is a little confusing; is that "fall" a reference to Pop? I hope not. Or was it the post-Joshua Tree turmoil that almost saw the band break up?). They ask for a second chance. There are the Fly sunglasses and the band taking on a complete reinvention. This piece is set to a funky Alabama 3-esque rendition of Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me (performed and recorded for the show by Gavin Friday (a long-time friend of the band) and Regine Chassagne (of Arcade Fire)).
Oh. And, following my chirping about last year's tour skipping over the 20th anniversary of Pop, it was awesome to hear the acoustic version of Staring at the Sun back in the setlist. They should break out a plugged-in version during the tour.
Overall, the show tells a story. A story about the band and a personal story about Bono. As he explains, after innocence, there's experience. And if you manage it correctly, you can work your way from experience back to a place of innocence.
As for that notion of staging with the best seats at the back — it's true, there's hardly a bad seat in the house. But the only complete eXPERIENCE for people like me is to soak up all the magic — and the music — from multiple vantage points. And, while being up close limits the appreciation of what's going on on the screen (as well as renders the app unusable), there's nothing like having U2 right in front of you.
The Creative Process
It's always fun to hear and read about how U2's tours come together. For 360°, at least according to lore, the massive spaceship staging was sprung by Bono over dinner, with Bono leaning forks against each other to represent the giant claw. It was awesome, then, to read in the e+i tour program about how Bono wanted to shift from that enormous stadium setting to something intimate for the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour — and that's how the idea of a simple light bulb above the arena stage became the opening setting, symbolically recreating Bono's childhood bedroom.
And so it is the e+i tour ends with a similar (albeit, smaller) light bulb, one Bono pulls out of a stylized doll house representing his childhood home. And that's what's shown in the video at the top of this page.
Stars in the Sky — and in the House
Bono likes to call out the celebrities — and family members — in the house. In Vegas, there were lots of relatives. In Nashville, the (mostly) A-listers were plentiful: Emmylou Harris, T Bone Burnett, Oprah Winfrey, former Democratic U.S. Vice President Al Gore, former Republican Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, Ashley Judd and Ava DuVernay.
Let's be fair. Sometimes you get too close to a thing to see all the possibilities, and I think that's what's behind the missed opportunities during the Joshua Tree 2017 and e+i tours.
The miss on the JT tour was the complete shut out of Pop from the set list. That album was celebrating its 20th anniversary during the tour, which was conceived to honor the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree.
During e+i, but also during other recent tours, the band has shied away from something that had been pretty common: either a cover song or a guest appearance, a little musical customization to set each show apart. Granted, that's somewhat appeased by the e+i show's custom graphics on the giant, floor-spanning screen, which features text and visual references to the current show's stop.
Nonetheless, in Nashville, it was all the more evident the show is a highly-orchestrated and choreographed affair. Naturally, with all the prep work, spontaneity is a victim. It's kinda ironic all the technology seems to be getting in the way of spontaneity instead of fueling it. But, come on. The true fans would appreciate some raw U2. And when you're in a place that's as significant to music as Nashville is, why not pay proper tribute to the city and its history by breaking out something truly special?
During the 360° tour I tweeted out lyrics that fit with the area on each stop I visited and, in the process, U2 perfomed Electrical Storm in Gothenburg, Sweden. The song's video featured a mermaid and there's The Little Mermaid, written by Scandinavian (Danish) Hans Christian Andersen. I remember that well. When Bono was introducing the song, he said it was the first time they'll be performing it on the tour; Edge corrected him. It was the second time.
Imagine Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad (written for Frank Sinatra) in Vegas. Or, in Nashville, The Wanderer (written for and performed with lead vocals by Johnny Cash on Zooropa) or Slow Dancing (written for and performed with lead vocals by Willie Nelson as a B-side to If God Will Send His Angels off the Pop album).
Even better, imagine Willie on stage at the Bridgestone Arena, right across the street from Tootsie's, an historic honky tonk that figures heavily in Nelson's own personal history, performing Slow Dancing with Bono.
Listen to Noel Gallagher
"They are far and away my favorite live band ever."
No. I'm not quoting myself. That's Noel Gallagher talking about U2. Yeah. Noel effin' Gallagher, formerly of Oasis.
I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds open for U2 in Buenos Aires in October U2017 during the Joshua Tree anniversary tour. Great stuff.
And now, ahead of the e+i tour, it's great to hear Noel talk about music, the state of his life and his U2 fandom.
"People get it or you don't get it." That's how he sums it up with Metallica's Lars Ulrich on Beats 1's It's Electric!. Both are U2 fans and, well, great minds think alike.
It's an entertaining 20-minute chat. For the U2 stuff, head over to 16:50.