U2 is a band intensely focused on reinvention through innovation. Just over a year ago, commemorating thirty years after the release of their acclaimed album, The Joshua Tree, the band played Lincoln Financial Field to the backdrop of the world’s largest and highest definition video screen ever used in a live concert; the show was miraculous. This week, when the band returned to Philadelphia for two nights at the Wells Fargo Center, it did so in an immensely captivating way, but one that felt more intimate, while still at an arena-level.
In 2018’s ‘eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE’ tour, the nucleus of the staging was a large two-sided video projection rig that encased a bridge walkway for band members to transition on. It was back and forth across this platform that the band tore through song after song, mysteriously disappearing and reappearing behind a cloak of intense imagery.
As U2 front man, Bono, described to the capacity crowd, the ‘eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE’ tour was about recognizing the loss of innocence as a result of gained experience, and reflecting on a hopeful return to innocence in order to fuel new growth. He described the relationship between innocence and experience as a balance where each side has its benefits: experience leading to intelligent decisiveness, and innocence leading to naïve creativity.
The June 13th performance began with Bono standing inside of the large high definition screen rig that, throughout the show, would cycle up and down, connecting both ends of the arena and into the audience. Following the opening song, “Love Is All We Have Left,” the remaining band members became visible as the whole group dove into “The Blackout,” both songs off of their 2017 release Songs of Experience. The band went on cover a wide catalog of material including “Sunday Blood Sunday,” “Elevation,” “Vertigo” and “Beautiful Day,” among many others.
Throughout the entire performance, a constant theme of social and political justice rang clear in the complementary visuals. By far, the graphical component of the show was more intellectually designed and diverse than the any of the band’s tours over the past decade. Images provoking thoughts of resistance and justice were perfectly relevant to the issues facing today’s modern world. During a brief segue at the midpoint of the show, U2 were depicted in a type of dark superhero comic book short film in pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. This video sequence brought out a youthfulness and abstract interpretation of the band’s mission and trajectory.
To bring attention to the oneness of people all over the world, the words during “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” and projections of the Civil Rights Movement filled the enormous center stage screen to make a clear statement of social justice. It was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s image that stared into the faces in the audience when Bono sang, “Free at last, they took your life, they could not take your pride.”
After closing out the main set with “City of Blinding Lights,” U2 returned to the stage to the chorus of “Women of the world, take over/ ‘cause if you don’t the world will come to an end,” a mantra in tribute to the activation women in leadership throughout the world. Shortly afterwards, the band moved into a trio of “One,” “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way” and “13 (There Is a Light)” to close out the evening’s encore. U2’s pursuit of higher creativity and their ability to execute uniquely engaging performances proves that band still hasn’t found what it’s looking for.