Friday, July 29, 2011

U2's Space Oddity Lands in the Burgh

Throughout Tuesday's U2 show at Heinz Field, I halfway expected the spaceship stage to actually take off. I wouldn't put it past Bono to make it happen.

After going over the set list and reliving the night, I think the show can basically be walked through in four parts.

Part 1: The Intro
The show was appropriately kicked off when David Bowie's Space Oddity began piping over the speakers as the band made their way to the stage. From other reviews I had read of the tour, I had been anticipating an Achtung Baby-heavy set list, so it wasn't a big surprise that the opening was a no-stop, high energy run through four AB songs: Even Better Than the Real Thing, The Fly, Mysterious Ways, and Until the End of the World. This was followed by their first hit, I Will Follow. I wouldn't call any of those songs particularly memorable, but it sure did set the tone right with heavy lifting being done by all four band members to show off their cutting edge stage. It was at this point in the show that Bono did his introductions and also reminisced about a long tour and his first time in Pittsburgh, at the Decade in Oakland, and even joked about his mullet.

Part 2: The Spaceman
In the second part of the show, we were shown that Bono can basically make anything he wants happen at a U2 show. Following Get on Your Boots (the worst song of the show), I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, and Stay, we were greeted with a "Hello, Pittsburgh" from astronaut Mark Kelly in outer space. Remember, this is an active duty military officer who was leading a sing along of Beautiful Day via satellite in space. Appropriately enough, Bono also mixed in some Space Oddity lyrics.

This portion of the concert continued on with another All That You Can't Leave Behind tune, Elevation, staple U2 anthem, Pride (In The Name of Love), the operatic Miss Sarajevo, and, as the spaceship stage began transforming, Zooropa.

Part 3: The Spaceship Soars
This show was every bit as much about proving that a stadium show can draw you in like an arena show as it was about the music. In the third act, we really got to see it. With a video screen netting that extended multiple stories down from the "claw" stage putting on a dazzling red and white light show, U2 launched into one of my personal favorite songs, City of Blinding Lights from the How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album. This is a song that really shows off what Bono's enthusiastic vocals and lyrics and The Edge's trademark rapid-paced guitar sound can accomplish together.

After Vertigo and an odd medley that featured The Rolling Stones' Miss You, I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight, Discotheque and the refrain from the Talking Heads' Psycho Killer, we were treated to another trademark U2 anthem, Sunday, Bloody Sunday, before closing out the main set with Scarlet and Walk On.

Part 4: The Encore
The encore kicked off as most U2 encores do, with the classic One. I might not be saying enough about their sound in this recap, but every song is what you'd want to hear and more. More than just faithful-to-the-album performances, they all had that "live" sound with some surprises built in along the way. By the time we got to Hold Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, Thrill Me, Bono was wearing some sort of light suit, while swinging from a dangling, neon red glowing microphone.

The show finished off in grand style with my all-time favorite U2 song, With or Without You, my favorite song off the newest album, Moment of Surrender, and the fan favorite Bad.

This was the third time I've been to a U2 show. While I wouldn't put it at the top of my list (that would be the Vertigo tour at Mellon Arena in '05), it was definitely better than the other time I saw them in a stadium on the Pop Mart tour at Three Rivers in '97. I'm a huge fan, so would see them again any time they came back. But, I'm pretty sure that all it takes is a basic appreciation of their music to feel like any U2 show is well worth the price of admission.

Here are some other random thoughts about the show:

  • How cool is the story about how U2 came to add Pittsburgh to their schedule? I won't rehash it, you can read it here. But speaking of people who can pull off great feats, Pittsburgh is lucky to have someone like Dan Rooney on their side. The acknowledgment from Bono last night speaks for itself.
  • I've had two people over the past year tell me they don't like Bono. Otherwise indifferent towards U2's music, they harbor anti-Bono feelings. To me, this is inexplicable. He's not even overtly political, he just hates injustice, poverty, AIDS and other ills of the world and uses his position of influence to pressure politicians the world over to try to do something about it. What could be more noble than that. I never get the impression that he is anything but genuine in his charity and advocacy. I even heard rumblings that some people were turned off by the Amnesty International update. To these people I say, "It's a U2 concert, dummy. What did you expect?"
  • After some research, I found out that Andrew Rowen, to whom the show-closing Bad was dedicated to, was actually the inspiration for the song. He is the brother of Peter Rowen, the boy on the cover of the War album. Andrew has apparently battled addiction in his life. This review of the show was just one of my sources in piecing together that history, which also confirms that the couple who slow danced on stage together were celebrating their 60th concert together.
  • While I'll still take a show at the smallest venue possible, the 360 set made me a believer that it is possible to do a stadium show that feels the same as being in a closed building.
  • The Post-Gazette review can be found here. Trib here.


  1. Pills said...

    Spot on with the review. I have to say that I really enjoyed the music and the spectacle that U2 put on. The showmanship of the whole group was very good and for me separates a good concert from a great concert. Everything seemed larger than life from the size of the "claw" stage to the shows lights and music. I am not a huge U2 fan as I did not get into their music until Vertigo came out, but I really enjoy their hits and put them high on my list after the concert.

    I really do like Bono and his spirit and political advocacy. In fact, one reason I really wanted to see the show was to hear him speak on issues. If I was disappointed by anything it was the fact that he was not as political during the show as I had hoped. The fact that people were turned off by his statements just show how politicized and extreme our country has become. All of the issues he discussed were ones which if you were against means that you just are not human. As we left the concert I heard one uptight guy on his phone dressed as if he was going to play golf at Augusta say, "I'll tell you what the music was great, but Bono needs to learn to shut his mouth."

    Great concert and I would go again.

  2. R Korn said...

    Great review, I really enjoyed the show, it was more than just a concert, it was an event. I thought the band sounded great live especially the guitars and drums. Just disappointed they didn't play New Years Day.

    As for the political speech, what can anyone possibly be agaisnt that Bono advocated at the show? Maybe people who lean to the right think they are supposed to disagree with him just on principle without actually researching the causes that U2 supports.

  3. Great Review! I thought it was that couples 60th show together. They are true fans!

    As for the show, I agree with R Korn, it was an event. I will always remember this show. I do not think another band at any point in history could pull off a show like this. The biggest bands of all time...Beatles, Stones, none of them could pull of a spectacle like the 360 tour. It was completely bigger than life, yet some how U2 at times made it feel like a much more intimate show. This says alot about not only their music, but their live performance skills. Bono is one of the greatest frontmen of all time. He is able to connect with 60,000 people, while basically singing from a multi-million dollar spaceship. Pretty impressive! In my opinion U2's message goes hand and hand with the music, if you are not on board with their message, which is basically respect and equality for all humans (a polarizing stance apparently), then why are you a fan of their music? I can't imagine how anyone could disagree with any of the things he said. Overall, a great show that made me a much bigger fan of the band than I was before.

  4. One of my favorite concerts ever! Although, still not as good as the 05 Vertigo tour. I'm not exactly sure why I prefer the Vertigo concert, maybe because it was my first U2 show. The giant "The Claw" stage was very impressive. Getting moved up closer to the stage was a bonus, those seats were awesome!

    I look forward to seeing U2 the next time they come to town. Unfortunately, it will be 5 years from now.

  5. Coso, I think there are two reasons I preferred the Vertigo show. First, it was the tour to support the How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album, which was just a great album. Second, as I mentioned in the review, despite how well they did the stadium show, it's always better to see bands in as small of a venue as possible and indoors over outdoors.

  6. Two more random thoughts that I meant to include in the original review, but which escaped me at the time.

    1. I was wondering about how happens with the grass at a show like that. Somewhere while researching this post, I saw that after the concert, Batman was filming there and then they were going to re-sod for the football season.

    2. When I hear With or Without You now, I think of this French movie called Tell No One. It's basically a murder mystery and there is this scene where the main character makes a realization that is really crucial to the movie. With or Without You starts playing and he does this dramatic sprint. You can see the clip on YouTube here: It doesn't give anything important away. I highly recommending seeing this movie.