The Scene: The city had been buzzing about it for days. Photos of the stage and talk about the tour had been on all the major network news shows and all over the web for the last week. The U2 360 tour landed in Denver and was the biggest event this city has seen since the DNC. Traffic was backed up for miles getting to Invesco Field and seas of people flowed toward the stadium for the opening of U2’s US tour.
Upon emerging from the tunnels into the venue, everyone in attendance knew they were in for something special. “The Claw” dominated the massive stadium and took up almost half the field. As the crowd milled about on the GA field and nervously sat on the edges of their seats in the stands, it was immediately apparent that this was a major night out for Denver yuppies, and in many cases probably the only concert they would see all year. While there were lots of folks dressed to the nine’s showing off their latest Prada bag or Gucci sunglasses, there were also some young teens tagging along with their parents to what might be their first ever rock concert, and yes, the occasional seasoned show-going veteran who just couldn’t miss the spectacle that is the U2 360 Tour.
U2: As the anticipation built following a 60 minute hometown set from The Fray (that we missed), David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” finally came over the PA and the four members of the world’s biggest rock band made an entrance that only they could. There were no pyrotechnics, aerial stunts, or other fanfare, they just walked into the stadium though the same tunnel that the Denver Broncos use to enter the field on game day. Sure, they were followed by an army of camera men and other personnel, but somehow it seemed like four guys just walking into work and throughout the night they made it clear that they were perfectly comfortable doing their job in front of more than 80 thousand people.
The ease with which these four men grabbed the attention of the crowd and masterfully manipulated it, was almost as stunning as the massive stage they were performing on. At moments they were huddled together closely like they were in someone’s garage in the early days of the band and at others they were separated by 30 yards or more on one of the biggest stages in the history of Rock-N-Roll. Through it all they managed to stay in perfect time as they played note perfect versions of many of the songs that got them to this place.
The shows opener, “Even Better Than The Real Thing,” set the stage for a powerful show that seemed meticulously paced until a misstep at the end. As they kicked into “I will Follow,” the sound began to settle down as the crew fine tuned the massive rig. Although the enormous video screen and the thousands of lights dominated the view, it was the stage presence of U2 that somehow managed to overshadow The Claw and command the venue in a way that spoke volumes to why they are who they are. Bono gyrated and pranced about the stage like he was a teenager, not a 51 year old man just a year out from major back surgery that led him to joke later in the evening as he thanked the German doctors that performed the surgery, “If I were to pull down my pants, I have made in Germany stamped on my ass. I’m Bono 2.0!”
About 7 songs into the set, the band made a not so veiled nod to the supposed “Rapture” that was predicted to have occurred on Saturday with “Until The End of the World,” which Bono dedicated to Harold Camping, the man who made the prediction. While we all made it through the 21st of May, and there was no “Rapture,” the flashing and pulsating claw made the crowd believe at moments that something out of this world was indeed happening right in front of them.
It had a been an extremely rare rainy week in Denver leading up to the show, but Saturday turned out to be just about perfect weather and, appropriately, the first real climax of the show came with the one-two punch of “Beautiful Day” and “Pride.” While both songs had everyone in the stadium singing along and pumping their fists in the air , the stadium erupted when Bono broke into the chorus of The Beatles “Here Comes The Sun.”
Just when we thought that they couldn’t push the envelope much further, the giant screen that had hung above the band for the duration of the performance began to expand and stretch toward the stage to create a sort of LED cage around the band. Encased in this giant conical enclosure, Bono led the band through the title track of their 1993 album Zooropa before the entire band donned LED enhanced jackets for “City of Blinding Lights.”
As they continued to up the anti throughout the show, it really seemed like they had thought of everything right down to the smallest detail of the disco ball on top of the giant spire that projected from the top of The Claw. It was a majestic performance in every way and as they left the stage before the first encore the band waxed a bit political and Bono introduced a video message from the recently freed leader of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi. The heartfelt message thanked U2 fans and Amnesty International for playing a role in securing her release from house arrest after more than twenty years.
When the band returned for the obligatory encore segment of the evening, they broke into one of the biggest songs of their career, “One.” Bono then picked up a guitar for the first time in the evening and sang a few lines of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” before The Edge took over and filled the air with the epic introductory riff to “Where The Streets Have No Name.” As the band left the stage again, I caught myself wondering what they could to top the last two songs.
When they re-emerged, the much talked about steering wheel microphone dropped from The Claw and Bono took full advantage of the new prop as he swung around the stage like a kid on a tire swing and leaned far out over the screaming crowd as he sang the only non-album track of the show, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.”
The only real low point of this unforgettable show came at a very unfortunate time as the band chose to end the night on “Moment of Surrender” from their 2009 album No Line On The Horizon. While the track was critically acclaimed, it simply didn’t pack the punch that the show had been building toward all night and many in attendance were left scratching their heads as the band made their way off the stage and out the same tunnel they had come in through 2 and a half hours before to the strains of Elton John’s timeless song, “Rocket Man.” No, it didn’t ruin the evening for anyone, but they would have done the night a little more justice if they had stopped one song short and left us on the mega anthem “With Or Without You” or possibly with the almost criminal omission from the setlist, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
With all that said, most of the fans that had packed the massive stadium found exactly what they were looking for out of the 360o show and U2 showed them all that the hype that has surrounded this tour for more than two years is more than justified. They are the biggest band in the world for a reason, and they proved it in Denver.
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: A+