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U2 at BC Place Stadium

U2 No Line on the Horizon stage show at BC Place Stadium

U2’s The Claw, at BC Place Stadium Vancouver, Oct 28 2009.

Review - U2 at BC Place Stadium, Vancouver, Oct 28 2009

– by Mike Herle

“Where are we going on the SkyTrain, Vancouver? Expo Line? Millennium Line? Canada Line?”

You know, Bono, no line – as in No Line on the Horizon.  Only the second song (“Get On Your Boots”) in, and it’s typical Bono: doing it and overdoing it. What next? Maybe he’ll read the transit schedule as a way of showing off his local knowledge. Sometimes I’d like to get on my boots and boot him in the ass.

And other times, maybe not. Say what you want about Bono being a pompous do-gooder–he connects with the audience. Plus, his questions did connect with the space-travel theme. This was a night that began with the hypnotic chords of David Bowie‘s “Space Oddity” (the entire song played full volume before U2 took the stage) and ended with Elton John‘s “Rocket Man” after the encore.

What happened in-between kept the sold-out crowd of over 50,000 at BC Place Stadium entertained. Musically, there were classic crowd-pleasers:  “The Unforgettable Fire”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”… and when the Edge laid into the razor-sharp riffs of “Vertigo”, the stadium erupted.

However, even the biggest U2 fan would have to admit the song selection lacked balance. A full seven songs were from their latest album No Line On the Horizon - almost a third of the setlist. It’d be different if these were truly great songs. Even the designated singles (“Get On Your Boots”, “Magnificent”, and the amusing “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”) aren’t bona fide hits. Bono once said nothing is easier than writing a mediocre song. Here’s your proof and plenty of it.

U2 tours always overhype production and visuals. What’s the big deal this time around? A giant lemon again? Naw…  it’s “the Claw”!

What is it? At 164 feet tall, it’s the biggest stadium set ever, that’s what: twice the size of the Rolling Stones‘ set for A Bigger Bang Tour. A giant four-footed beast, it boasts a massive 360-degree video screen which can move, separate, and expand, surrounded by a circular ramp with bridges at its base that move and connect to the stage.

Also known as the “spaceship on four legs”, it was especially effective for the amazing encore. A much-larger-than-life Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke of aid to Africa and the ONE campaign. Then U2 played their one truly great song, “One”.  The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., and Bono all seemed genuinely inspired.

Then came “Where the Streets Have No Name”, with what seemed like absolutely everyone in BC Place completely into it. Even Richard Dawkins would have a hard time calling it anything a religious experience.

Then, foreshadowing “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)”, a robotic voice emanated from the giant screen. W.H. Auden‘s poem “Stop all the clocks…” (also known as “Funeral Blues”) gradually became recognizable as brilliant multi-coloured lights highlighted each syllable.  “The stars are not wanted now: put out every one/Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.” Absolute magic.

In a darkened BC Place Bono, in a laser-laced suit, sang “Ultraviolet”, using a glowing steering wheel as a mic. Two mirrorballs speckled the stadium with subdued yet stark lighting.

“Let’s turn this place into the Milky Way!” roared the great-and-all-poweful Bono. Within seconds thousands of cellphones illuminated the stadium. Bono and the boys began playing “With Or Without You”. U2 had now played for over two hours. Fans patient with new songs were rewarded with poignant musical moments.

Which is why the last song (“Moment of Surrender”, from “No Line”) was such a letdown. “Oh believe in me/ At the moment of my surrender”… we do believe, Bono baby – we believe you could have chosen a much better song. The sea of cellphone lights almost completely flickered out.

“Thank you to everyone who helped us build this madness.” The members of U2 took their bows, hugged, and then slowly made their exit. The applause died down, and “the Claw” became a uniform yellow, like a giant porch light.  Shadowy figures of giant bugs gradually settled on it, as people slowly, and reluctantly, began to leave.

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