U2 Bring Spectacle and Politics to Atlanta

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Twenty-five years into their career, U2 exist as both an Idea and a Band. The problem is, it's near-impossible to separate the two. U2 the Idea is that of all things big, flashy and still somehow passionate in rock 'n' roll, but U2 the Band is still the same group of guys who introduced the world to some of the best rock songs of all time. Everyone remembers 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' and 'One,' but with U2 the Idea so omnipresent it can be hard to remember that the group wasn't always overshadowed by Bono's political work.

The band's current tour of the country's biggest venues, then, attempts to reconcile the Band with the Idea by making each bigger than a fan ever thought possible. Just as the stage setup is breathtakingly gigantic and elaborate, so too does U2 attempt to recreate each song in an emotional space that is both individual for each fan, but shared throughout the whole crowd.

And they almost pull it off, too.

In front of a near sell-out crowd in Atlanta's Georgia Dome (capacity: 71,250) to deafening applause, Bono, the Edge, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton ran through a two-hour-plus set heavy with hits from U2's most recent three albums while literally running all over the stage, a multi-layered circle adorned with a towering structure that looks like the claw in an 25-cent arcade game. There are few words that could do the stage justice -- overwhelming, incredible and, to cop a phrase from tour openers Muse, supermassive all seem to sell it short.

Speaking of Muse, U2 seem to have found their juniors. The English trio stomped through an hour of electro-tinged, huge-chorus rock jams including 'Time Is Running Out,' 'Hysteria' and 'Supermassive Black Hole,' Muse's slinky 'Twilight' soundtrack tune. Though the giant stage swallowed the band members a bit, Muse's sound filled the cavernous Dome well.

Then, after a half-hour of set-up, David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' blared through the PA and it was time to blast off. The song was an appropriate choice, as the stage structure resembled a spacecraft from a high-budget sci-fi flick with gigantic mechanical legs sprawling out over the circular stage with a 150-foot cylinder made of interlocking LCD screens in the middle.

"Thank you all for helping us to build this madness," said Bono after a powerful rendition of 'Beautiful Day.' "It's our spaceship. We built it to take us to interesting places. But, really, we built it to get closer to you. So put your Southern church voices together."

'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For,' one of the few earlier tracks U2 played, was bolstered by thousands of voices trying to hit the high notes, a goose bumps-inducing, truly beautiful moment, and one where the band and the idea of U2 gloriously reconnected. Though the recent hit 'I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight,' played like a techno remix of a rousing rock tune, is as far from vintage U2 as an old fan could imagine, it pushed the crowd to a frothing frenzy, right in time for 'Sunday Bloody Sunday.'

Bono's sociopolitical causes (and, hence, U2 the Idea) came into focus towards the end of the show as he spoke often about AIDS awareness. A hundred-fan march around the stage to support Myanmar's politically repressed leader Aung San Suu Kyi during 'Walk On' pushed things further.

By the time the group returned for its encore after a recorded Desmond Tutu speech about world unity, U2 the Band lost out to the Idea. The visuals (Bono hanging above the stage from a steering-wheel sized microphone while wearing a neon jacket) beat out the music. 'With or Without You,' arguably the band's finest song, felt rushed.

Still, expecting the show to be purely about the music would be silly. This tour is about the spectacle of it all, pushing the boundaries of just how big, how absolutely gigantic, a rock show can be. And to that, can U2 360 be considered anything else but a breathtaking success? 70,000 jaws dropping can't be wrong.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 7, 2009 6:54 PM.

U2 Starts to Think "Me Too" to Rock Band was the previous entry in this blog.

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