Just several miles from the current “Boston Garden”, stands a small restaurant and music venue called the Paradise Rock Club, lovingly referred to as the ‘dise. And it was there, almost forty years ago on December 13, 1980 – that a relatively unknown four-piece band from Ireland introduced themselves to the city, as an opening act for a band that most have already forgotten about. To this day, one local radio station in particular, WZLX, gleefully and frequently reminds its listeners – that they helped break the band. It’s typically the stuff of legend, but this anecdote is true. Promoting their album Boy, U2 played to roughly 150 people, but in turn – started their relationship and close-connection to Boston, establishing a “home away from home” for the many years of touring that followed.
Fast forward to 2018. U2, who is currently crisscrossing the US for their eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour, in an effort to promote their latest record, Songs of Experience – stopped in their beloved city of Boston once again, for two consecutive nights the TD Garden. The setlists for both nights, which were chock-full of more recent material than the standard fare of greatest hits, were almost identical – differing by only one song. Regardless, U2 sold out both nights and for this show on Friday, June 22nd performed more than twenty songs and for almost two and a half hours – much to the delight of their hardcore fans that they were deliberately reaching out to.
There was an electric buzz amongst the attendees, from the general admission/standing only section on the floor and all the way up to the highest row of seats that rested just feet below the Garden’s ceiling. As the anticipation grew for the show to start, all empty space on the floor and all the seats filled with one eager fan after another. The house lights finally dimmed, and the spectacle of sound and light began. An immense, double-sided video screen, that divided the floor length-wise, lit up with abstract black and white imagery and fleeting glimpses of Bono, Adam Clayton and the Edge were illuminated by lightning-quick flashes of light. Larry Mullen Jr, stayed on the main stage – hidden behind his kit like a ninja in the dark.
The video screen would lift up and down during the initial part of the set, stealthily revealing the trio for moments at a time. The screen lifted to its optimum height, allowing for Bono, Clayton and the Edge to be fully visible from both sides of the arena. During the first few songs, the band walked gingerly back and forth along the catwalk that joined the main stage to the e-stage in the round. Bono captured most of the attention with both his dramatic gestures and expressions. Though a bit overwhelming in regard to the size of the production, it was truly a sight to behold.
During “Lights of Home”, Bono resided on the catwalk as the Edge and Clayton walked to the main stage to join Mullen Jr. Moments later, Bono walked down the ladder crossed over to the main stage as well, during the climax of the song. And, with all four members in one spot, U2 broke out one of their all-time classics. “I Will Follow” ignited the arena’s and band’s energy alike. “All Because of You” (which replaced “Gloria” from the previous night) kept the rock and roll going right into the anthemic-blockbuster “Beautiful Day”. The cheers from the crowd, rivaled the volume of the Edge’s intricate guitar outro. During “Oceans” and “Iris”, all attention was drawn to the video screens which played a vintage montage that seamlessly accompanied the dramatic soundtrack that emanated from the stage.
Bono found his way back up and in between the video screens once again, becoming a storyteller during the epically visual performance of “Cedarwood Road” where he recounted seemingly personal stories before the entire band united on the catwalk for the staple “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. The classic anthem brought the fans and the band together as they sang the ever-timely hit in unison. Mullen Jr. brought the song to a close, standing alone on the catwalk as he struck his single-snare drum slowly and solemnly.
“Until the End of the World”, performed back on the main stage, lifted the mood a bit with its upbeat melody. Both Bono and the Edge found their way back up and into the video screen. Bono went a step further and out to the e-stage. Bono demonstrated his ability to interact with the audience as more outlandish graphics sprawled across the screens and a limited amount of cocktail napkin-sized confetti fell from the rafters. The band disappeared into the shadows as a comic book-styled video played along to a remix of “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”. Though the video was over the top, it was fun and a good distraction from the e-stage being set up for the band’s return for the most captivating part of the night’s performance.
After the story on the screen concluded, larger than life silhouettes of the band traveled through the rainbow-colored clouds that resembled the innards of a lava lamp. Once in the round, the band wasted no time in bustin’ out some more well-known, radio-friendly hits. Highlights included a euphoric “Elevation” and a frenetic “Vertigo” that had one and all, joyfully singing the Spanish-introduction together. After debating the virtues of both innocence and experience, Bono introduced the band as Mullen Jr. worked his craft on his kit, pummeling the skins for the intro to “Desire”. Bono played to the crowd, calling them the ‘greatest rock and roll fans’ with a cheshire cat grin. They ate it up. Mid-song, Bono asked, “Are we feeling experienced? Are we feeling, like we might have lost a little innocence along the way? Do you think we might get that back?” before rapping through the bridge and back into the chorus.
Bono’s alter-ego, MacPhisto, made an appearance before delving into “Acrobat”. Bono and the Edge followed “Acrobat” by playing and singing a beautiful duet on the e-stage. “Staring at the Sun” was accompanied by another video montage of disturbing, hate-filled scenes of Neo-Nazis, alt-right, and racists at the Charlottesville civil rights rally. As gripping and unsettling as the video was, it was certainly poignant and a reminder that these behaviors and beliefs exist. As Bono and the Edge continued through the song, Clayton and Mullen Jr. left the e-stage. Mullen returned to his kit on the main stage. Clayton found his way, with the help of security – to a riser adjacent to the first level of seats in the loge section, just above the fans on the floor. As “Sun” wrapped, the band segued into “Pride” as a more positive video montage was displayed on the screen – showing Martin Luther King, Jr. The crowd erupted. The Edge, found his way to the other side of the arena – directly opposite of Clayton. Bono went to farthest point, straight out, opposite of Mullen Jr. – to ensure all points were covered as the band proceeded to successfully bring all in attendance closer through song.
The band returned to the main stage for “Get Out of Your Own Way” and the bombastic “American Soul”. Bono added a punctuation mark to his vocals with the use of a bullhorn, custom-painted like the American flag. A gigantic American flag was unfurled behind the stage as well. Bright lights exploded to the left and to the right as the song came to an end. The end of the primary set concluded with the engaging and inspired “City of Blinding Lights”. After a round of thank yous from the band’s front-man, the Irish-foursome gathered at the center of the stage, locked arms, waved and left the stage as dozens of bright white columns of light enveloped the stage. But there was more to come.
After yet another video that played along to “Women of the World”, Bono appeared on the stage to sing the song’s final lines before thanking the crowd once more. Bono then took the opportunity to express some of his hopes for humanity and how we can help. After rousing renditions of “One” and “Love is Bigger”, Bono appeared to be genuinely blown away by the fans’ reception. He was all smiles and clearly emotional. The Edge set aside his guitar to play the piano as Bono sang “13” while clutching an over-sized light bulb that faded out to bring the show to a close.
As U2 had clearly stated before the tour commenced, it was not going to be a show full of hits – but a show for the band’s long-time, die-hard fans who are well-versed in their entire catalog. The songs that they performed from the most recent records were played with vigor and genuine emotion, as Bono referenced innocence and experience multiple times throughout the performance. His efforts should be recognized. And as for the “hits”, there were enough of them to keep the casual fan content. “I Will Follow”, “Desire” and “Acrobat”, amongst the others, were surely memorable and as a whole – worthwhile. U2 definitely can’t be accused for giving any less than 100% and not thinking of their fans. Hats off to you, U2!