After U2 kicked off the American leg of its current tour in Chicago at Soldier Field on Saturday, September 12th, the term “suit of lights” will have to take on new meaning. It always used to mean a toreador’s suit in the bullring. But in the three-song encore portion of U2’s fantastic new show, Bono is attired in a suit of actual lights…red ones…and he uses a round hanging microphone that intermittently glows red or blue and from which he dangles, at one point.
The arena show is groundbreaking in another respect: the huge claw-footed space-age spaceship stage. The stage looks like a reject from the Terminator movies or half a lobster. The creative team, headed by show designer and direction guru Willie Williams and executed by Mark Fisher, (who has been integral to the band’s creative sets since PopMart and Zoo TV allowed video to really add to a show’s impact), was immense, and was originally assembled in the tiny village of Werchter, in Belgium. That is because it was built by the Belgian company Stageco, using a high pressure hydraulic system. According to details on U2’s website (www.U2.com), the stage center pylon is 150 feet tall and the rest of the stage is 90 feet tall. It will support 180 tons of video screens, made up of 1 million pieces which take 4 days to assemble. The screen is 500,000 pixels and has 320,000 fasteners. It takes 12 days to load in the screen, stage and universal production equipment, 6 hours to dismantle it, and 2 days to dismantle it and load it out of the stadium.
The next concert, after Chicago, is at Rogers Centre in Toronto on 9/16 and 9/17, followed by Foxborough’s Gillette Stadium on 9/20 and 9/21; Giants Stadium in East Rutherford (NJ) on 9/23 and 9/24; Fedexfield Landover on 9/29; Scott Stadium in Charlottesville on 10/01; Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh (NC) on 10/03; Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on 10/06; the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa (FL) on 10/08; the New Dallas Cowboys Stadium on 10/12; the Reliant Stadium in Houston on 10/14; the Oklahoma Memorial Stium North on 10/18; the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale (AZ) on 10/20) ; the Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas (NV) on 10/23; the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (CA) on 10/25; and BC Place in Vancouver (British Columbia) on 10/28. All those places are in for a treat!
The program quote from Williams: “Mark Fisher has been my Siamese twin in the thinking behind U2 productions since PopMart. He’s an architect with unrivalled experience in building rock shows, so his sense of whether something will work is critical. He sent me some initial sketches of the LAX Theme Building across a football pitch…It’s the Theme Building at LAX, Los Angeles International Airport, that crystalized it for me. It’s a very space age looking restaurant with four legs and very sleek curves, and when I imagined it straddling a football pitch (field), I knew I was on to something.”
Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullins, Jr., were definitely on to something and greenlighted the idea in April after it germinated for quite some time. The something they were on to added up to a spectacular sound-and-light show for the stadium crowd, with the band starting off with songs from their newest album (I only like “Boots,” which they played on “Letterman” and elsewhere). They moved on to the crowd favorites for the final 2/3 of the show, such as “Beautiful Day,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Vertigo,” “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” “Where the Streets Have No Name” and (as one of the three encore numbers), my personal favorite, “With or Without You.” Their lead-in act was Snow Patrol (at 7:00 p.m.) and U2 played from 8:30 p.m. until approximately 11:30 p.m. with no real intermission.
During the playing of “Walk On,” audience members were encouraged to place a pop out life-sized facemask of Aung San Suu Kyi (contained in the program over their own faces. Who, you ask, is Aung San Suu Kyi? She is Burma’s democratic leader and a Nobel Peace Prize winner whose party, the National League for Democracy, won the elections in 1990, after which the ruling junta placed her under house arrest, where she has remained for the past 14 years. With an election looming in 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi will not be allowed to run for office because she would win. The other program notes of a political sort detailed how the military dictatorship is trying to wipe out ethnic people in Eastern Burma with 3,300 villages destroyed in the past 15 years and rape routinely used as a weapon of war against females as young as 5. More than 2,100 political prisoners crowd Burma’s jails while an oppressive dictatorship and ruling military junta continues in office, refusing to give way to those democratically elected.
On a happier note, reviews of the show, which premiered on U.S. soil in Chicago on Saturday, September 12th, from Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune were glowing. Kot declared that the 70,000 plus audience had seen “one of the best stage shows of the past 10 years” and further noted in his review, “Stadium concerts usually tend to feel puffed up and bombastic, but this was downright strange—and wonderfully so.”
During the “Vertigo” and “Elevation” tours, Bono physically ran a track-like stage that was circular in one case and heart-shaped in another. There were also hanging light-up emblems denoting the world’s major religions dangling as changing lighted strands in the indoor show, but this arena show had a huge circular speaker/screen nestled amidst the lobster-claw legs that projected a green clock upon opening, followed by both close-ups of the band and film of space from NASA. The rest of the time, the screen either changed colors dramatically or depicted the band members.
There were also a couple of small bridges (I immediately thought of the Stones’ “Bridges to Babylon” tour) and, at one point, Bono ran the track with a small boy from the audience, only to collapse as though exhausted and lie there for several long moments before resuming singing.
Bono declared, “The 360 Show was designed to make our audience the 5th member of the band.” Even from the second tier of seats, you entered into the spirit of the sold-out show. One program note declared, “There may be another band with the imagination, ambition and courage to do something like this…but I can’t think who they would be.”
For the far more veteran Rolling Stones, those might be fighting words, as their Steel Wheels Tour way-back-when featured an impressive array of pyrotechnics and a huge proscenium stage, but we’ll all have to wait to see if the gauntlet that has been verbally thrown down by U2 is picked up by the much more senior bad boys from Britain.