BY HELEN LAME’
Irish rockers U2 brought their latest concert extravaganza to the SAP Center in San Jose Monday night for the first of two sold out concerts at the arena. In just the third show of their new Experience + Innocence tour in support of their 2017 album Songs Of Experience and its companion piece, 2015’s “Songs Of Innocence.”
While the show featured a flock of hits along with several more obscure tracks being performed live for the first time, the list of concert staples that had been played on nearly every U2 tour for a generation of fans was still long, if not endless.
Returning to the Bay Area for the first the since their Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary show at Levi’s Stadium a year ago next week, the band only duplicated five songs from that show in their 25 song set, skipping the Joshua Tree album in it’s entirety, during their two and a quarter hour performance.
As always with any U2 production the stage and it’s backdrop were a huge part of the story. A 100 foot long video screen hovered over a stage extension situated perpendicular to the main stage, separating the arena floor into two halves while running the length of the venue’s floor. The immersive screen provided colorful visual effects and imagery of the spectacle.
Opening with “Love Is All We Have Left,” “The Blackout” and “Lights of Home,” a three song mini-suite from “Songs of Experience” before launching into more familiar territory with songs including “Beautiful Day,” “I Will Follow” and “Gloria,” the U2 narrative of blending storytelling with their history was just beginning.
The Band dug deep for “The Ocean” from their 1980 debut album “Boy” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” from 1983’s “War” before launching into “Raised by Wolves” from “Innocence.” One of the better songs on that album, it finds Bono telling a story of growing up in a tough part of Dublin and narrowly escaping being a potential victim of a car bombing. It was an experience that he has often speculated eventually led to him becoming so outspoken and prolific in the form of writing protest songs.
The first segment of the show concluded with the biblical “Until the End of the World” from 1991’s “Achtung Baby,” a song that Bono has described as “A conversation between Jesus and Judas.” It segued into a recording of “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” from the “Batman Forever” soundtrack that produced a series of animated comic book images on the video screens that portrayed the band as superheroes.
Returning after a brief interlude, the wallop of performing “Elevation,” “Vertigo” and “Desire” consecutively as the band retreated to a stage in the rear of the hall had the audience in a rather frenzied state.
Bono intensified that effect as he slipped into the persona of Mr. MacPhisto, Zoo TV’s fiendish alter ego. “I’ve been a busy little devil. But you’ve made it all so much easier for me these days. The truth is dead and the KKK are out on the streets of Charlottesville without their silly little costumes. Who would have thought ? When you don’t believe that I exist, that’s when I do my best work,” he stated.
That led to “Acrobat,” a fan favorite from “Achtung Baby” that had never been performed live prior to the start of this tour that is now three shows old. Written in an era when the Berlin Wall finally fell, it still seemed timely today in the sordid era of Trump fake news with verses such as “Nothing makes sense” and “Don’t believe what you hear, don’t believe what you see.”
An acoustic version of “Staring at the Sun” from 1997’s “Pop” soon followed. Not played live in concert since 2001, it appeared with disturbing video images of last summer’s Charlottesville riots showing neo-Nazi’s wearing swastikas and waving Confederate flags.
Next up was “Pride (In the Name of Love).” The rousing anthem from 1984’s “The Unforgettable Fire” was highlighted by all four band members positioned at the four corners of the arena, The Edge and bass guitarist Adam Clayton in the center, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. at the drum kit on the main stage, and Bono at the far end of the catwalk on the rear stage, while images of Dr. Martin Luther King leading peaceful protest marches were flashed on the screens overhead. The contrast to 2017 Charlottesville was both striking and unmistakable.
The set concluded with “Get Out of Your Own Way” and “American Soul” from “Experience” before an uplifting rendition of 2004’s “City of Blinding Lights” sent the group backstage for a brief respite from the fans adulation.
Returning to the stage for an encore of “One,” “Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way” and “13 (There Is a Light),” the evening came to a a subdued conclusion with Bono slowly walking across the length of the catwalk one final time to be greeted by a solitary lightbulb that appeared from within an animated version of his childhood home before the arena went black. It was a fitting end to a diverse presentation and a perfect way for the packed house to put a bow on this U2 experience.
U2 continues their tour with a pair of shows at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas this weekend before heading to Los Angeles for two nights at the Forum in Inglewood beginning next Tuesday.