U2 unites a sold-out TD Garden
By Evan Lips | July 16, 2015, 10:58 EST
BOSTON – Give U2 credit for making a show at a sold-out 18,000-seat arena feel like an intimate experience.
The ageless Irish rockers roared into the Hub last Friday for the first of a four-night set. The band’s iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour held its third show Tuesday night at the TD Garden, complete with a breathtaking stage design grand enough to leave even the patrons in the last rows enthralled.
And there was Bono, the band’s front man, sporting a bleach-blond haircut, endlessly traipsing along a stage that stretched from goalpost to goalpost, rim to rim. U2’s production layout was such that center stage was a moveable feast.
Few can connect with a crowd the way Bono can and his talents were on full display Tuesday night, with the stage layout reflecting his calls for a more fair, more egalitarian society. Bono and his mates rarely played in one part of the stage for more than a song or two. Instead they changed it up, trying their best to make sure everyone felt like they were in the front row.
This particular tour, which kicked off in Vancouver in May and is scheduled to end in Paris in November, was nearly derailed when Bono injured himself in a bicycling accident last fall. The crash has thus far prevented him from picking up a guitar again, but if Tuesday’s performance is any indication, it hasn’t had any effect on his vocals or his ability to prowl along a 200-foot catwalk.
The rest of the band played at the level one would expect from a group that has remained intact for nearly 40 years. David “The Edge” Evans’s searing, soaring guitar strains pierced the air during songs like “I Will Follow” and “Until the End of the World.” There was also Adam Clayton’s thunderous bass riffs on songs such as “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” which also saw drummer Larry Mullen Jr. take to the catwalk with a marching drum, as the crowd sang along with band in a “we can be as one” chorus.
Yet it wouldn’t be a true U2 show if it didn’t touch on current world events in an attempt to call attention to various injustices. There’s a point during one of the band’s live tracks from 1988’s Rattle and Hum album in which listeners who’ve never had the opportunity to see U2 for a live show are treated to this:
The moment occurs during the anti-apartheid anthem “Silver and Gold,” after Bono takes a turn atop his soapbox to decry the policies of 1980s white South Africa, when he acknowledges those who may be frustrated with the band’s marriage of politics and rock n’ roll.
“Am I bugging you?” Bono asks the crowd. “Didn’t mean to bug ya.”
A far-less confrontational but no-less energetic Bono was the man who took the stage Tuesday night. A video montage accompanied one of the band’s newest songs, “Cedarwood Road,” named for the North Dublin street central to where the band members grew up. The montage depicted a virtual Bono roaming the street, with an animated video of a boy (presumably a mid-1970s teen Bono) surrounded by posters of bands like the Clash.
In between the final songs Bono spoke of the scourge that is AIDS and remarked that a miracle has occurred over the last several decades – formerly a death sentence for the poor, drugs used to fight the HIV disease are now fully accessible and not limited to the deep-pocketed.
During the band’s performance of the politically-driven “Bullet the Blue Sky,” Bono equipped himself with a megaphone emblazoned with the colors of red, white and blue.
“I’m an American,” Bono said at one point during the song. “And I can’t breathe,” a reference to the words of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died last summer after police put him in a chokehold during his arrest.
The song would eventually morph into a rendition of “Pride (In the Name of Love),” the band’s passionate tribute to Martin Luther King.
For hardcore fans, there was also something special, as Bono delved into the song “The Crystal Ballroom” for only the second on tour, complete with a snippet from “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones.
The song, according to an interview with the Irish Times, is named after a Dublin club, long since demolished, where couples would dance, including Bono’s parents.
“My mother died when she was at her father’s funeral,” Bono told the Times. “She had a cerebral aneurysm. I was only 14. And in this song I am singing, “Everyone is here tonight, everyone but you.” And it’s me wanting to see my mother dance again in the Crystal Ballroom and for her to see what happened to her son.”
When the band left the stage midway through the concert, presumably for a break, the audience was treated to a visual of Johnny Cash singing “The Wanderer,” a song the group wrote for Cash about a man’s journey toward redemption.
Unlike the proverbial punches he threw from the stage at various world leaders, as witnessed on the Rattle and Hum tour, a softer Bono emerged Tuesday night with a singular, broader message:
He challenged concert-goers to remember that America is a country based upon “evolving ideas.” He paid homage not only to the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and last month’s church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina,but also those affected by violence in places like Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri.
The theme of inclusion was personified when the band invited a fan to take the stage with them. Gretchen Shae, a member of a local band known as The Knock-Ups, was handed an acoustic guitar and helped the band perform “All I Want is You.”
The band’s encore featured several classics from albums past, including “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from The Joshua Tree.
Just prior to performing the former, the band teased the audience with a few snippets of Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion,” while Bono praised Simon for his commitment to humanitarian causes. Bono used the song as a launching point to talk about the leaps-and-bounds in the progress of AIDS research.
Bono urged world leaders to direct more resources towards solving how to prevent the disease from being passed from mothers to their children. He set a goal of five years.
“Every person in America is an AIDS activist,” Bono said about the mission of treating and eventually eradicating AIDS, as The Edge dove into the staccato-fire opening riff of “Where the Streets Have No Name.” “You’re paying for this. Your generosity. Not just a country, an idea.”
The band now moves on to New York City, where it will close out July by playing eight dates at Madison Square Garden.
Contact Evan Lips at [email protected]