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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Concert Review: The Return Rate of Sequels

U2 return to Madison Square Garden
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Just a small band from Dublin: Adam Clayton (right) Bono (center) and The Edge (right) rock Madison Square Garden
Photo by Susan Weinstein, who also got us the tickets.
Most giant rock tours don't get a sequel. An exception is the epic stage production by the Irish band U2, who brought their new "Experience and Innocence" tour to Madison Square Garden on Monday night. This tour is a follow-up to the band's "Innocence and Experience" trek of 2015, and is in support of their new (and thirteenth) studio record Songs of Experience. (Warning, review contains major set list spoilers.)

From the start, this show is darker and less exuberant than the earlier tour, both a reflection of the troubled world of 2018 and the somber nature of the new songs. It opened with "Love is All We Have Left" from the new record and then slammed into "The Blackout", a hard-edged track of the new record. The band then moved down to the rectangular "I" stage at one end and rocked "I Will Follow", "All Because of You" and "The Ocean", a deep cut from Boy and one of the evening's three rarities. (The set contained no songs from the band's most popular album The Joshua Tree: that was last year's tour.  It was followed by a heartfelt "Beautiful Day," which burst out with new-found passion.

Some of the production numbers from the 2015 tour are reprised here: notably a sequence of "Iris", "Cedarwood Road" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday". The first is about Bono's childhood street and the second about the Irish troubles, and the two songs form a powerful double act near the end of the first set. This set piece makes extensive use of the tour's centerpiece, a huge, elevated LED screen that allows the band to move through digital environments and appear high above the audience.

Two more screens provide high quality views to everyone in the end seats, and the sound, through a specialized spread PA designed by band guitarist The Edge. The crystalline sound doesn't have the ear-damaging thrust of the typical rock PA, and the complex sonic palette and small performing surfaces made Madison Square Garden's chilly, sterile environment surprisingly intimate. (It didn't hurt that our seats, in one of the press boxes commanded the back corner of the main stage.) "Until the End of the World" ended the first set: the night's first cut from Achtung Baby.

The second set started on the circular "e" stage, with "Elevation," "Vertigo", "Desire" (with disco ball and halo of circus lights) and the show's big surprise, "Acrobat", a deep cut from Achtung Baby unplayed live until this tour. Bono was replaced by his demonic Zoo TV alter ego Mr. Macphisto, and with top hat and digital enhancements he offered a stark reflection on the changing nature of evil. That nature carried over into another rare track: "Staring at the Sun" from POP, with footage of "white power" idiots protestors marching in the streets.

These images of Trump-era hatred were wiped away beauty, trooth and goodness. Weekend warriors, neo-Fascists, wannabe Nazis and Klansmen were replaced by people marching for freedom, dignity and equality, and Dr. King's face was a stark reminder that those who do good are often killed for their trouble. "Pride (in the name of love)", the band's stirring hommage was the climax of the second set, an emotional, full-throated singalong of the famous vocables at the end of the track.

Two searing new cuts: "Get Out of Your Own Way" and "American Soul" paved the way for the set ender: the soaring "City of Blinding Lights" with Edge's slide guitar and a galaxy of illumination from Robert Wilson-like light bars that seemed to come from nowhere. The encore was "One", illuminated by the audience and two final, gorgeous new tracks: Love is Bigger than Anything in its Way and the album's closer: "13 (there is a light)." As Bono exited and a lightbulb swung on a long cord over the now-silent stage the audience seemed stunned: having not gotten the show they wanted but one they so desperately needed.

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