“The most beautiful sound in the world,” Bono exclaims after walking out onto the ‘e’ stage and getting the sold out Bell Centre to partake in a sing-along of “Whoa ohs” from “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone).” As he walks to the main stage to join The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., Bono declares, “It’s you!,” finishing his thought about the world’s most beautiful sound — as the band explodes into the first song of the night.
U2’s latest album, Songs of Innocence, was given away free last year to anybody with an iTunes account, whether you wanted it or not. Unfairly, the band were lambasted for the move, with many iTunes users feeling “violated” that somebody, anybody could put music into their own library (pro tip: Apple users should read the Terms of Service). The release method and subsequent debate ended up overshadowing what is a really, really strong album.
Fortunately for U2, there’s no controversy surrounding the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour — and the songs off of Innocence are the centerpiece of the show.
The concert is very much split into two parts — with a very brief intermission separating the halves. The first half of the concert focuses on the 1970s, specifically Ireland and how U2 became U2. After ripping through four rockers to begin the show, U2 begin the journey to their past.
U2’s trip to the past isn’t bright. In fact, it’s just the opposite: it’s cold and bleak.
Bono begins the journey to the past telling a story about his mother’s death (she died at her own father’s funeral when Bono was 14) — and how it left him cold and incomplete before the band plays “Iris (Hold Me Close),” which is written about and for his mother. The gigantic screen which spans the majority of the arena floor gets its first usage during “Iris,” which includes rare footage of Bono’s mother.
“Cedarwood Road” follows “Iris,” as Bono invites the audience to follow him back to where he grew up, as he literally walks into the video screen. The visuals and presentation of “Cedarwood Road” are another one of the show’s highlights, as the band flexes its technological muscle while putting out an excellent performance of “Cedarwood Road.”
The first half of the show concludes with a somber version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” a loud car bombing explosion leading into “Raised By Wolves,” and Bono reciting Psalm 23 and begging for comfort before “Until the End of the World” begins. Thematically, the trio of songs flows perfectly and effectively brings the audience back to 1970s Ireland in a way only U2 could.
The end of the first half of the show culminates with “confetti” falling from the ceiling — which is really torn pages from the Book of Psalms, Ulysses, Lord of the Flies, and Alice in Wonderland. The purpose? To recreate a scene from a then-war torn Sarajevo — when a library was firebombed.
The band disappears into the screen during the brief intermission, which features “The Wanderer” being played over the PA system, as we ‘watch’ an animated Johnny Cash age on the screen.
Once “The Wanderer” ends, the screen turns into the Berlin Wall — with all four members inside it. U2 “break down” the wall when they play “Invisible,” a fitting song to break down the wall and re-emerge as Bono sings “there is no them, there’s only us.”
After “Invisible,” the show takes on a new feel altogether, and becomes something akin to a party or celebration. “Even Better Than The Real Thing” is performed mostly in the screen, until the band leave to finish the song on the e-stage, where they play another 4 or 5 songs.
In each of the four shows in Montreal, Bono pulled a fan on stage to dance with him during “Mysterious Ways,” and let the fan stay on stage to broadcast U2’s next song live across the world — and on the gigantic screen — via the Meerkat app. During the second and third Montreal shows, a fan was pulled on stage to play guitar each night — the end of “Angel of Harlem” during night two, and the entirety of “Desire” on night three. For critics that say U2 take themselves too seriously (which may have been true in say, 1989), U2’s performances on the e-stage illustrate the contrary.
This isn’t to say that the second half of the show is all a party. Bono and The Edge perform a moving version of “Every Breaking Wave,” with The Edge on piano. While it’s not going to get the crowd jumping, it’s an awesome moment in the show, as many in attendance eventually take out their cell phone (or lighter, if they’re old school), and turn the stands into the Milky Way as Bono croons his way through “Wave.”
While much of the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour focuses on Songs of Innocence, as it should since U2 have never been a Greatest Hits touring act, the old classics still sound as good as ever. “Bullet the Blue Sky” has been reinvented to fit the financial crises — and to tackle Bono’s supposed hypocrisy. While Bono’s voice isn’t as strong as it was in 1987 when the song was released, “With or Without You” is always a highlight of every show.
U2 save their best song for the encore, and no matter how many times I’ve seen it (44 and counting), there is nothing in music like “Where the Streets Have No Name.” As is tradition, the arena is doused in red light as the organ reaches its climax and Edge’s surreal guitar riff begins. When the house lights come on as the song kicks into high gear and you see 20,000 people simultaneously losing their mind, you’ll realize why it’s U2’s best song. It’s not even worth writing about, as there’s simply no way to describe what seeing “Streets” is like.
So far, U2 haven’t settled on a closing song, and instead have rotated “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “One,” and “40.” Of the three songs I saw close the show, “One” was the best — and seemed to resonate with the crowd more than “Haven’t Found” or “40.”
Just as 20,000 people lost their minds when “Streets” was played, the same 20,000 people had no problem singing “Is it getting better, or do you feel the same?” at the top of their lungs. Pure awesomeness.
It’s still very early on for the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour, and a lot has already changed from opening night in Vancouver. Expect more changes to the setlist and visuals as the tour progresses and lands in Europe this fall. U2 still have stops in Toronto, Boston and New York City before then — and you can expect more A+ efforts from the band formerly known as The Hype.
Overall, night 2 and night 3 were the best in Montreal. Night 2 featured the live premiere of “Lucifer’s Hands,” and also featured “Bad” — one of the few songs that can rival “Streets” for the title of “Best U2 Live Song.” Night 3 was special in its own right: rare performances of “Volcano” and “The Troubles,” while Bono allowed approximately 40 fans to come on stage during “Streets” and let them stay on stage for “Still Haven’t Found.”
If you’re not sure how you feel about U2, or think you kind-of-sort-of-maybe like them, you should absolutely see the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour this (or next!) year. While no plans have been announced to tour next year, it’s widely expected that U2 will indeed come back to the United States in 2016.
I know I’ll be there this year in Toronto, Boston and New York — will you?