Leave it to U2 to revolutionize the art of the concert. In U2’s 360° Tour the band brings their show to major stadiums, in Chicago’s case Soldier Field, where they play their music on a circular stage below a giant, claw-like “spaceship”, catering to fans in every direction. Complete with a surrounding circle walkway of the actual stage that covers over a third of the field, Bono and company are able to reach out to the crowd like never before. High above the stage a cylindrical video screen is featured that even more increases the concert experience, especially for those seated further away. The tour, in support of their latest release No Line on the Horizon, includes riveting light show technology, an energetic stage show and songs ranging from U2 classics to a heavy selection of currents.
Edge commented on the tour’s design as it was announced, “It’s hard to come up with something that’s fundamentally different, but we have, I think, on this tour. Where we’re taking this production will never have been seen before by anybody, and that’s an amazing thing to be able to say. For a band like U2 that really thrive on breaking new ground, it’s a real thrill.”
It was a real thrill for the fans, too.
Chicago was the opening stop for the band’s North American tour and the first time they’ve been to the city since the 2005/2006 Vertigo Tour. For the 70,000-plus fans in attendance, the weather was about as perfect as one could ask for during Sunday’s show at Soldier Field – a balmy 73 degrees with just the right breeze from the lake. Not long after a strong set for supporting act Snow Patrol, the crowd came alive as the stadium lights went out and the spotters honed in on Larry Mullen Jr., Edge and Adam Clayton as they casually walked from the northeast tunnel onto the field and headed to the stage. Larry quickly took to a beat as Edge and Adam then joined him on guitar and bass before Bono finally emerged from a trap door near the drum set and went right for the microphone. With a series of fist pumps and a couple rapid kicks from Bono, the band kicked into “Breathe”, the first of a handful of songs in succession from their latest album including “Magnificent” the groove-laden “Get On Your Boots”. Even after only the first couple of songs it was apparent that U2 was on top of their game with Bono’s spot on vocals and the musical precision of rock veterans who have excelled at their craft for over three decades.
After a generous helping of material from No Line on the Horizon, U2 went into a healthy diet of favorites including “Beautiful Day”, “Bullet the Blue Sky”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “City of Blinding Lights”, “Pride” and “Elevation”. Each song came with its own special identity created in part by inventive lighting that seemed to perfectly capture its feel.
As the band went into “Vertigo” the video screen, mounted on a multiple pantograph system, opened up to the semblance of a monstrous honeycomb-like web and descended upon the band in which a tremendous light show within took place. The video screen also had the capability to lower to and rise from the band during various songs, causing an unusual effect like nothing seen before.
As in any U2 concert, the band brought awareness to many important social causes and charities such as Amnesty International and The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria wherein all proceeds are donated from ticket sales of “Red Zone” seats that bring fans right up to the stage. As the band performed “Walk On”, volunteers wearing Aung San Suu Kyi masks assembled on the circular walkway to the cheers of thousands. Suu Kyi’s father is responsible for founding the Burmese army and negotiating Burma’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947 before he was assassinated that same year. U2 saluted the pro-democratic leader Suu Kyi, who overwhelmingly won the election for Prime Minister in 1990 only to have the military refuse to hand over power, instead placing under house arrest numerous times for her activism and efforts against violence. In the first of three encores, just before going into the song “One”, Bono also congratulated the United States for its efforts in raising the money necessary in providing medicine and drugs for 3.5 million Africans in need. Bono later encouraged audience members to join One (www.one.org), a nonpartisan organization he co-founded that fights preventative disease and extreme poverty throughout the world, but particularly in Africa.
Barring a couple of slower songs, the crowd remained on its feet for the entirety of the concert – even those in the furthest seats from the stage. Fans clapped to the beat of many songs, marveled at Edge’s guitar tones that flowed freely throughout the night air, and sang along to the choruses that have become a staple in modern music. Their set was long and without a doubt entertaining from beginning to end. All four members played with a vibrant energy - an energy that had Bono running full speed around the outer walkway at one point.
The band played three songs along with Bono’s heartfelt rendition of “Amazing Grace” for their second encore that came equipped with a lighted, steering wheel-shaped microphone hanging from above that changed colors that also enabled Bono to swing across the stage. To close the show, in the final encore, U2 played two more songs one of which was The Joshua Tree’s “With or Without You”.
In all, it was a perfect night.
U2, once again, showed why they are one of the greatest rock bands on the planet.