U2 beguile with a turn to the space age as 'Claw' stage makes gripping debut

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Brian Boyd, Irish Times

"Ground control to Major Tom," sang David Bowie as the four members of U2 walked onto the stage of Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium last night to begin their "360 Degree" world tour. It was a fitting choice of introduction: on this tour U2 are unveiling a revolutionary new stage design -- "the Claw" -- which looks like a spaceship held up by four spindly legs.

This configuration means there is no stage as such, allowing the band to play in the round. The impression you get is that the band are sitting in the palm of the audience's hand.

Waiting for night to fall in Barcelona so they could show off their impressive light show, the band didn't take to the stage until 10 p.m. local time but they were ecstatically received by a 80,000 crowd. Kicking off with a muscular "Breathe" from the new album, they then turned it up to 11 for "No Line on the Horizon," "Get On Your Boots" and "Magnificent."

Addressing the crowd, Bono welcomed all to "our space station" (meaning the Claw), saying "it looks like it was designed by Gaudi, but then this is Barcelona -- the capital of surrealism."

Digging into their back catalogue as the show progressed -- "Angel of Harlem," "Unforgettable Fire" (the song of the night) and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" -- Bono draped himself in the Irish flag for a stirring singalong rendition of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

There was an affectionate nod to Michael Jackson, with Bono singing snatches of "Man in the Mirror" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough."

With a giant video screen relaying all the action in precise detail, the band made full use of the walkways stretching out from the stage that brought them right in among the crowd. What strikes most about this new stage configuration is the clear sight lines and, for a stadium gig, it feels surprisingly intimate. It also helps that there are no banks of speakers on view -- they are all hidden in the Claw's legs.

Continuing with the Space Oddity theme, Bono broke off the music to mention how it was 40 years since man first walked on the moon. He then did a live link up with the International Space Station currently circling the Earth. Band members took turns to ask the astronauts questions -- including if they had seen any UFOs on their travels yet.

Never one to let an opportunity pass, Bono got one of the astronauts to sign up -- from space -- to his charitable ONE organisation.

With their previous two tours -- Elevation and Vertigo -- playing mainly in indoor arenas as they circled the globe, the 360 Degree tour is a throwback of sorts to the spectacle of the Zoo TV and PopMart tours. It's a big, bold rock beast of an affair.

Despite leaning heavily on the new album, No Line on the Horizon, at the front end of the show, the set list takes in songs from all their albums from The Unforgettable Fire onwards.

The recession wasn't far from their thoughts, with Bono saying "We know these are difficult times but we thank you for keep coming back and buying U2 tickets." He also thanked the concert promoters, Live Nation, "for paying the bills."

There are always going to be a few rough edges on a world tour's opening night but they should all be sanded down by the time 360 Degree hits Croke Park on July 24th, July 25th and July 27th. This is a great son et lumière experience -- an event, even -- which will beguile with its sense of giddy, space-age bravado as it traverses the globe. U2 have re-entered the orbit.

© 2009 Irish Times

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on July 2, 2009 3:31 AM.

U2 have landed - and they're ready to take over the world was the previous entry in this blog.

Video of Bono Wearing "Laser Jacket" During "Ultraviolet" is the next entry in this blog.

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