U2’s 360° redefines ego in Baltimore

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U2
M&T Bank Stadium
Baltimore, MD
June 22, 2011


Yes, Bono is an egomaniac. Let’s get that out of the way in the lede. Thank goodness, too, that it is so or U2 360° would have never happened.

11.jpgThe U2 360° tour, for the uninitiated, takes place in the round in stadiums under a 164-foot thing (best described as “the Claw”) with a giant ring around it designed for Bono to run laps. This takes ego. It requires 137 touring production crew members. This takes ego. South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu has recorded video for the encore. This takes ego. Astronaut Mark Kelly introduces a song from the International Space Station. This takes ego. U2 know they’re the biggest band in the world. So in this sense, when ego is referred to, it simply means that U2 have accepted their status, embraced it, and worked and dreamed their asses off in order to live up to the title.

The show opened to massive streams of fog as the band marched four across into the structure to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” before launching into four straight tunes from Achtung Baby, the album that chopped down The Joshua Tree. Deep cuts like “The Fly” melded with hits such as “Mysterious Ways” that signaled Bono and The Edge to start their first laps around the arena.

After a perfunctory reading of the perhaps the band’s worst single of the 2000’s, “Get on Your Boots,” the band brought out “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and Bono took perhaps the first five lines before letting the other 70,000 in the room take the rest.

9.jpgOn this night it was 73 degrees and there was a moderate breeze blowing off Baltimore’s Inner harbor while everyone sang the number’s chorus preamble, “it was warm in the night/I was cold as a stone” and the chills passed through all who were circled around the futuristic structure while singing the timeless tune about unfulfilled longings, led on by a 51-year-old man in leather trousers. It was one of my favorite concert moments of all time and would only be topped off with Bono’s a capella coda (born somewhere in the hinterlands of Colts Neck, NJ)  – “no I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man, and I believe in the Promised Land!” that he sang in memory of the recently departed Clarence Clemons, The Big Man of E Street fame.

The space motif that begun at the introduction continued two songs later when Mark Kelly, an astronaut and husband to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, (who was recently shot in the head by a crazed gunman in Arizona), made a cameo to spell out – in zero gravity and with paper cutouts – “It’s a Beautiful Day” – another tribute to Bono’s ego providing a touching moment. A less confident person might have settled for a song introduction by someone on Earth.

U2 wasn’t content in simply playing sing-a-longs. In addition to megahits like “Pride,” “Vertigo,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” they also went deep into their back pages for “Miss Sarajevo,” “Scarlet,” and “Zooropa.” During the latter, a giant screen descended and covered the entire band – forcing one to focus on the visuals. For their main set closer, “Walk On,” dozens of volunteers with Amnesty International encircled the giant stage holding lights that shone into the sky above.

10.jpgU2’s first encore consisted of what some consider to be the two most earnest songs they’ve ever written – “One” and “Where the Streets Have No Name” which was introduced with an a capella rendition of the first verse of “Amazing Grace.”  Any other band singing “One love, one blood, one life, you got to do what you should. One life with each other: sisters, brothers” would probably be dismissed as hippy-dippy, for it sounds like a lyric written by Hannah’s Field.

But for U2, context is everything. The show had taken us to Berlin (“The Fly”), Ireland (“Sunday Bloody Sunday”), the Garden of Gethsemane (“Until the End of the World”), outer space (“Beautiful Day” with Mark Kelly), Memphis (“Pride”), Colt’s Neck (“The Promised Land”) Myanmar (“Walk On”), and Bosnia (“Miss Sarajevo”). So when U2 sings “One,” they mean it in a far more global and interconnected way – one that merges regret, hope and a recognition that our similarities should always overcome our differences. The introduction of the song by the aforementioned Desmond Tutu, who, along with Nelson Mandela led the struggle against apartheid, did not hurt the cause.

Bono and his 70,000 back-up singers managed to make the stadium rather small, before a verse of “Amazing Grace” took us to the slow build of U2’s final destination, the dusty roads of Ethiopia “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Bono ran laps around the stage as the arpeggios built into their great release and the floor looked like a great undulating wave of human pogo sticks. With that, U2 took their bow and were off.

The band’s ego took on its playful aspect before the second encore with video of aliens returning from the show. “That was amazing,” the first alien said. “Yes, but my feet hurt,” responded the second alien. The shimmering beginning of “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” began with the stage surrounded in purple light. Bono was adorned in a jacket that had dozens of lasers sewn into it. There was only one thing left to do for the Irish philanthropist… grab the microphone that hung from above and proceed to swing from it like a monkey.

“With or Without You” followed and Bono hung his laser jacket onto his microphone, which was raised 150 feet in the air and seemed like the show’s end. But the closer would be “Moment of Surrender” as Bono asked the massive gathering to pull out lighters and cell phones and think of Clarence Clemons, looking north once more to New Jersey, as Bono recited the closing lines of “Jungleland” as a poem at the end of the song:

“Outside the street’s on fire in a real death waltz
Between flesh and what’s fantasy and the poets down here
Don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be
And in the quick of the night they reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand but they wind up wounded, not even dead
Tonight in Jungleland”

And with that, U2 took their final bows, having taken us through their futuristic space vehicle on their tour of America and the world for two hours and fourteen minutes… retaining their title as the biggest band in the world.

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Setlist: 
Even Better than the Real Thing, The Fly, Mysterious Ways, Until the End of the World, I Will Follow, Get On Your Boots, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Stay (Faraway, So Close!), Beautiful Day, Elevation, Pride (in the Name of Love),  Miss Sarajevo, Zooropa, City of Blinding Lights, Vertigo, I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Scarlet, Walk On
Encore: One, Amazing Grace – > Where the Streets Have No Name
Encore 2: Ultraviolet (Light My Way), With or Without You, Moment of Surrender

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