The Edge takes a dive but U2 soldiers on at Rogers Arena in Vancouver
It was the kind of thing that really takes the wind out of a show. Not when the Edge took a severe tumble off the stage at the very end of U2’s encore at Rogers Arena on Thursday night (May 14), hitting the ground hard and probably launching an animated gif that’s been around the world a thousand times by now.
And it wasn’t the mandatory proselytizing that came from Bono on behalf of his (RED) foundation one song earlier, which might have reminded some eagle-eyed attendees of the placards they passed outside the venue that read “Foreskins aren’t a birth defect”—a reference presumably to his more prepuce-obsessed partners (cough, Bill Gates) in the singer’s war on AIDS in the African continent.
No, the most jarring moment of the night came when, just shy of launching into “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for”, Bono thanked us all for keeping the biggest band on Earth in designer shades and (probably very, very expensive) toques. “Without you we’d still be in a garage in the north side of Dublin,” the vocalist oozed. And that’s when you thought, assuming you’re built a certain way: "Would that be so terrible?”
Really, some things can simply become too big, for too long, and U2 has been jealously protecting its global status for something like four decades now. That’s fine, I suppose, but it bleeds every scintilla of credibility out of the theme underpinning the band’s iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour, which is getting its worldwide send-off with a two-night stand in the city that hosted U2 while it rehearsed this epic nostalgia trip.
As per the 2014 album that landed on your phone without your permission a few months back, Bono and company are taking a mid-life glance backward, something that was clear right off the top when the four-piece mounted an admirably uncluttered stage and burst into “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone”). It was turgid, sluggish, as so many opening numbers at a show this size often are—but that’s okay. The 1-2-3 punch of “Out of Control”, “Vertigo”, and “I Will Follow” that came next was genuinely thrilling, largely because these 50-something men looked and sounded like a pretty fantastic rock band and not the “caring face of global technocracy”, as one of U2’s (and specifically Bono’s) most incisive critics recently put it.
Two of those songs came from the band’s first album, 1980’s Boy. The other, “Vertigo”, was the Steve Lillywhite-produced single from 2004 that made U2 appear to be a viable force again. That’s been the cycle forever, hasn’t it? Just when you think you’re done, U2 comes back with a killer song or two. Most of them were aired during this 24-number set, with a particularly groovy “Mysterious Ways” (including a touch of Talking Heads “Burning Down the House”) giving Bono and the Edge the chance to dance with each other in the time-honoured, faintly sexual fashion mastered by David Bowie and Mick Ronson.
Speaking of Bowie, he showed up a few times—along with Lou Reed, Johnny Rotten, the New York Dolls, Joe Strummer, Patti Smith and more—on a screen that flanked either side of a gantry jutting out and bifurcating the two halves of the Arena. At one point, all four members were aligned in a row on this thing for an acoustic take on “Sunday Bloody Sunday” that was otherwise illustrated with pictures of the victims of a 1974, Dublin car-bombing.
On a somewhat dewier note, this is also where Bono—in the show’s technical and visual highlight—appeared to stroll through a cartoon rendering of “Cedarwood Road”, the street (with a name) that once rang with the clatter and bang of a young band who wanted to sound like Joy Division but couldn’t. Unless I’m mistaken, among the graphics was an image of Gavin Friday, whose own band, the Virgin Prunes, operated like the shadow side of its friends U2, embracing art, decadence and subversion at the same time the teenage Bono was fixing his sights on something a little more messianic.
Forty years later, look who’s still up there. Why? Because—and apologies if it’s becoming indecorous to complain about this kind of thing—U2 has eagerly embraced its role as the anointed musical division of the global corporate hegemony. In a bizarro society where Steve Jobs is made to look indistinguishable from MLK (“Think Different!”), Bono and the boys unite us as powerless consumers entranced by their otherworldly fame. On behalf of the one percent, here is your “rock” music. We’ll even put it on your little mind-control device while you sleep, you lucky peasants. You’re welcome! One love! Now take that grass roots Woody Guthrie shit and shove it up your ass!
That’s the naked lunch, I’m afraid. But still—pretty good show, boys!
out at night
May 15, 2015 at 8:54am
Nice piece Adrian Mack. You've distilled the essential contradictions from this thing we call rock and roll. On the one hand we like it when the music and the artists become larger than life and give us glimpses of something kind of magical and transcendent, but on the other hand, past a certain point (and who's to say where that is exactly?) it becomes so big as to be bloated, unwieldy, not so much fun anymore. I've always been fond of U2 though the last record of theirs I actually bought was War. No, wait a minute, that's not quite true, I own their greatest hits compilations, but that doesn't really count, does it? What I mean is, they are so "Everywhere" that one doesn't necessarily anticipate the "new album" and eagerly go out and grab up a copy. It's more like they're just there, and they'll find you where you stand. Kind of like Apple. As the late BB King said, "The Thrill is Gone".
May 15, 2015 at 9:18am
"Bone Prancer", live in Vancouver!
If Johnny Ramone was around he would beat the fucking shit out of him. Slowly.
May 15, 2015 at 9:38am
The Edge's brother (Richard Evans) was in the Virgin Prunes, hence the very close relationship with U2 back in the early days. But you knew that.
May 15, 2015 at 9:40am
the best concert review I have ever read.
May 15, 2015 at 9:46am
out at night
May 15, 2015 at 10:00am
Yeah well Johnny Ramone was a jerk wasn't he? Do you really need to invoke the gnarly, violent, macho r 'n' r imagery AGAIN? Music is music, and these romantic notions of musketeers is just adolescent hokum. We can enjoy music and culture generally AND be grown-ups y'know.
May 15, 2015 at 10:16am
Fuck, Adrian is the best rock journo of this generation!@#$%!
May 15, 2015 at 10:38am
It was a great show. You knew exactly what to expect from Bono. Taking in consideration all of prejustice in this review, it seems like there is nothing U2 could do to make you happy. You wouldn't enjoy the show anyway, so you could just leave a ticket for somebody who really want to see them live.
May 15, 2015 at 12:24pm
You're right. I have no right to an opinion regarding The Ramones and if I do it is just that of a redundant Neanderthal. But I have a very strong sense of what The Ramones spirit was and was not. That band did not and would never sell out. That was part of their power and essence and what stood them apart from the rest.
The miracle that was Joey now seems to be U2's corporate directive for this new album and tour. When did U2 take The Ramones on a stadium concert tour with them?
But now that they are gone for a price their" invocation" can be bought and re sold?!
But that's okay with you. Have fun.
May 15, 2015 at 12:40pm
to rake in the shekels is the right thing to do
so the heart of this mother had no grief to rehearse
as she welcomed the dollars to a home in her purse