As an avid U2 fan for decades, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the band in concert dozens of times. This past Memorial Day weekend, I had the privilege of attending both of their Innocence/Experience Tour concerts at US Airways Arena in Phoenix.

U2 is the consummate live band. Live is where they live, and while both concerts were extraordinary, as most U2 shows are, Friday night’s, only the fifth since the tour opened in Vancouver on May 14th, was one of the best U2 concerts I’ve ever seen. My daughter, a lapsed fan, found the show just as personally meaningful.

The band’s finest shows – and there have been many – are intimate, celebratory, energetic, passionate and powerful affairs. Carlos Santana once told interviewer Charlie Rose, in studied Santana prose, that “music changes the molecular structure of the room, man.” U2 does that quite regularly and with seeming ease. But there are times when they raise the roof even higher, seamlessly establishing a communal and rarefied atmosphere even in a stadium. Friday night was such an occasion.IMG_0558

With the literal center of their last outing – the massive 360º Tour – being a monstrosity dubbed The Crab, the band had hoped to break down barriers and connect more fully with their audience. Their hearts were in the right place, but The Crab only seemed to layer a few more bricks on a wall of separation, and style and spectacle threatened to overshadow substance.

With I/E’s set-up, they’ve found what they were looking for. (Sorry!) Two stages – one rectangular for the ‘i’ of innocence; the other circular for the ‘e’ of experience – are linked by a walkway with a cage/screen suspended above. The audience, closer than ever, is pulled right into both the story and the performance. For Friday’s show, we had a couple of the best seats in the house – three rows up on the left side of the arena, mid-way down the walkway, with straight-on views of both stages as well as all of the connecting apparatus.

Structurally, I/E concerts are divided into two distinct sections. Act I, Innocence, and Act II, Experience, a story-line that follows Bono’s personal journey from childhood to adulthood. (Blissfully, there is no opening band.)IMG_0687

Under a single bare light-bulb, Act I opens with The Miracle of Joey Ramone, the Ramones being one of the band’s primary musical influences. Punk is then represented by U2’s own Electric Co and I Will Follow. Vertigo is here too. The ‘70s punk scene was, after all, pretty heady stuff.

If art is an attempt to identify yourself, then with his mother’s death and his reaction to it, Bono, at age fourteen, first became an artist, and Iris, Cedarwood Road and Song for Someone  lay out further influences on Bono’s creative expression. “She said ‘free yourself to be yourself. If only you could see yourself’,” he sings in Iris, while footage of his parents’ wedding unfolds on-screen. And then he takes us right into his childhood home on Cedarwood Road, where visuals become a reflection of enigmatic memory, of family and friends, room by room.

Song for Someone has always had a sense of Bono’s personal faith about it to me. (“In you I found a rhyme . . . . I’m a long way from your hill of Calvary.”) Thoughts on finding inspiration on a higher plane; about feeling protected and guided through difficult times. “If there is a light you can’t always see and there is a world we can’t always be . . . if there is a dark that we shouldn’t doubt and there is a light, don’t let it go out.”IMG_0553

When the Irish Troubles of Sunday Bloody Sunday boil over into Bono’s life, made personal by a friend’s witnessing of a 1974 Dublin car bomb that killed thirty-three innocent people, his faith is challenged. “I don’t believe anymore . . . . When I open my eyes, you disappear,” he sings in Raised by Wolves, while the relative normality and color of his life on Cedarwood Road warps into the black war-like remnants of sectarian violence. And then he closes out the tune on his knees, with a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer.

Act I ends fittingly with Until the End of the World. Life as Bono has known it is gone and images of Cedarwood Road, its cars, its trees, its homes, are up-rooted wave by wave and swept away.

Johnny Cash lopes in then with U2’s own The Wanderer for a short lights-off intermission lasting only as long as the song. An innocent childhood has come to an end and Bono is off on that age-old adolescent journey to discover his true self – that person capable of molding a turbulent past into a singular future. “I passed by a thousand signs looking for my own name,” The Wanderer sings. As a child, Bono could have just as easily collapsed under the weight of despair and loss. Instead, he joined a band, and music – literally – saved his life.

With U2’s experience, achievement and longevity, there’s a lot that could go into Act II and content is evolving as the tour continues. But Invisible makes the perfect opening. Anyone who’s ever left home – a neighborhood, a town, a country – has some measure of the process expressed in this song. Other people’s expectations frequently come into play when you stay where you are or you may find yourself accepting and internalizing how others have defined you. Leaving changes that dynamic. “I finally found my real name. I won’t be me when you see me again. No, I won’t be my father’s son. I’m more than you know, more than you see here, more than you let me be.” Sometimes you can only be all the people that you are with a fresh start. For Invisible, band members materialize by degrees inside the suspended cage, making their way toward a IMG_0628glowing future.

In Act II, matured and experienced, Bono gets to comment on contemporary events, to acknowledge special tour memories attached to specific places. For that first night in Phoenix, we had a fun and deeply appreciated In God’s Country. Act II also gives the band – especially Bono – a chance to meld a bit with the audience on a physical level, inviting fans to the stage, as they’ve done so often on previous tours. Three lovely young sisters are brought up for Desire and Mysterious Ways, filming by cell-phone; an enthusiastic guitarist plays rhythm for In God’s Country, passing out hugs on arrival; and eight-year-old “Adam, the first boy” walks the ramp with Bono for I Will Follow.

From their lengthy and impressive back-catalog U2 offer up passionate anthems and poignant and fresh renditions of old staples, along with a prized handful of their most recent work, ending with With or Without You. But the high-point for me was Bad! After all the years and all the inspired genius of their work, Bad remains my all-time favorite U2 song.

A single encore that begins with City of Blinding Lights and closes with I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, is capped by the explosive celebration of Where the Streets Have No Name. House lights are up and walls are down everywhere. “There is no them. There is only us”

As Bono has said, U2 in full flight is something be behold. For me the band’s natural live energy, intimacy and passion coalesced with the perfect set-list, the inclusion of Bad, an incomparable sense of inclusiveness born of an innovative stage set-up and gorgeous and gifted song-writing, to produce an experience of monumental proportions. What fan could ask for more?

3 Responses to “U2 PLAY PHOENIX!”
  1. JDH says:

    Thanks for writing this up so well. I found you in the wikipedia ultraviolet (light my way) article, made my day thanks again.


    • grimspound says:

      Hi JDH, Think I may have already replied to you, but just in case, I wanted to thank you again for your kind words about the U2 Phoenix concert post. Much appreciated.


  2. grimspound says:

    Thanks so much for your kind remarks! Much appreciated. Best, Dianne


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  • Copyright © 2011-16, Dianne Ebertt Beeaff. All Rights Reserved.
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