Monday, May 14, 2018

U2 finds riches and renewal via 'eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour' in Las Vegas

U2’s eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour is coming to the Forum in Inglewood, CA on Tuesday, May 15
and Wednesday, May 16. U2, from left, is The Edge, Bono, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton.
 Photo by Danny North
If you caught U2's The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, you weren't alone. After all, the stadium-minded extravaganza featuring a complete performance of their 1987 masterwork grossed $316 million while selling 2.71 million tickets. This writer caught two of the 51 shows (the tour opener in Vancouver and their final U.S. date, a late September gig in San Diego featuring Beck as the opener) and they were both impressive.

Exactly one year after seeing U2 perform the kick-off to their previous tour in British Columbia, I found myself in Las Vegas at the decidedly more intimate T-Mobile Arena catching the sixth show of their eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour on a beautiful Saturday night (May 12, 2018).

Bono (pictured) and the other members of U2 will
bring high-tech visuals to arenas this spring and
summer. Photo by Danny North
This time around, U2 has opted out of performing at gigantic stadiums and is only playing smaller arenas en route to delivering an experience very different than what fans of the Irish quartet got last time around. Essentially, the new tour is a continuation and companion to U2's Innocence + Experience Tour in support of 2014's Songs of Innocence LP that wrapped up in December 2015 but only played out at 10 cities in the North America. Like the 2015 tour, the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour features an impressive projection screen that runs the length of the floor bringing visual elements and band mates Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. as close as possible to concertgoers in every part of the arena. The screen also is able to accommodate members of U2 actually performing and moving inside the high-def marvel  even interacting with animated images and those of their fellow band mates. Amazing.

All of the planning, 21st century technology and great sound systems in the world wouldn't mean a thing if U2 couldn't deliver artistically. A long-time fan of U2 (I first caught the band at the US Festival in May 1983 and have seen them dozens of times since), the band delivered a powerful and deeply affecting 130-minute concert event on May 12. Those wanting a nostalgic-centered show of hits will only be partially satisfied; about a half of the songs offered up in Las Vegas came from the band's two most recent albums (2014's Songs of Innocence and 2017's Songs of Experience). 

Bono, left, and The Edge seen on the massive projection
screen during the performance of the deep cut "Acrobat."
Photo by Robert Kinsler
And while there were certainly staples of the band's four-decade discography offered up (including "I Will Follow," "Beautiful Day," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "One"), there was a strong focus on deeper cuts from the past as well as recent gems that provided a magical experience for die hard fans. It was simply spellbinding to watch the band soar through "Acrobat," a nugget from Achtung Baby never before played live by the band until this tour's opening date in Oklahoma on May 2. "Staring at the Sun" — offered up during an acoustic set — was so beautiful and I marveled that the song hadn't been featured in a U2 set since 2001. 

The consequence of this calculated focus on deeper and newer cuts were long-time favorites such as "With or Without You," "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Where the Streets Have No Name" were nowhere to be found. But there was such power in the set that such omissions didn't matter; in fact, they likely enhanced this night.

Special moments came early and continued through the fast-moving two-part concert. Bono opened the show, alone on the long ramp as he sang "Love Is All We Have Left," a foreshadowing of the wide-ranging themes of love, loss, family, faith and political turmoil that defined so much of the lyrical content to come. 

The Edge's guitar playing continues to astound, especially when heard in an expansive concert setting; his first major solo during "Lights Of Home" bolstered that song to be sure. And even his driving rhythm work was a wonder, notably on early favorites such as "I Will Follow" and "Gloria," the latter featuring his use of both ringing harmonics and even pounding on the guitar body for effect before unleashing another otherworldly lead foray. And, never to be overlooked, the signature drive of Clayton's driving bass guitar and Mullen Jr.'s solid drumming provided for nuanced and potent versions of the material all night. The house lights up, the band roared through "Beautiful Day."

U2 on the big screen. Photo by Robert Kinsler
Bono and The Edge took the lead in interacting with the video and animated images on the screen, which itself was positioned over a ramp that connected the main stage and a secondary stage toward the rear of the T-Mobile Arena. The use of the screen (which could be raised and lowered artfully) and ramp never negatively impacted the power of the set; a second focusing on Bono's youth in Dublin was empowered by paintings and old movies; the performance of "Iris (Hold Me Close)," a song for Bono's late mother, was especially poignant. Leading up to the song, Bono noted: "A story about a boy and his search for his mother...a household that never mentioned her name; her name was Iris." Bono's weighty vocals, Edge's shimmering guitar and sublime harmonies added up to one of the most special offerings of the concert.

"Sunday Bloody Sunday" also benefited from the stage production. All four members performed, lined up on the ramp an equal distance apart. The subsequent performance of a newer song, "Raised By Wolves," got a huge unprompted boost when a good share of the audience would sing the "Raised By Wolves" refrain. And capping up the mighty run, U2 leveled the arena with a rocking version of "Until the End of the World."

The second half of the concert was just as awe-inspiring, featuring a high-octane opening punch with "Elevation" and "Vertigo." An acoustic-styled set presented on the second stage included "Desire," the aforementioned "Acrobat," lovely "You're The Best Thing About Me" and "Staring at the Sun."

A view of the projection screen during U2's set on May 12.
Photo by Robert Kinsler
The band's focus then turned and remained focused on the world stage and current events, including troubling images of hate groups such as the KKK and Nazis marching in American streets. Some of the disturbing images were then offset by those seeking to fight back and finally a black & white image of Martin Luther King Jr. as the band led the audience through a spirited version of "Pride (In the Name of Love)." U2 continued to make points geared toward a more inclusive America, women's rights and undocumented refugees via a run of songs that included a fiery "American Soul" (complete with Bono using a bullhorn) and an inspired "One." The night ended with a gorgeous "13 (There Is A Light)," with Bono at the far end of the arena from his band mates before they came together to end a very special night.

U2's set list at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday, May 12, 2018
Love Is All We Have Left, The Blackout, Lights Of Home, I Will Follow, Gloria / Van Morrison's Gloria (snippet), Beautiful Day, The Ocean, Iris (Hold Me Close), Cedarwood Road, Sunday Bloody Sunday / When Johnny Comes Marching Home (snippet), Raised By Wolves / Psalm 23 (snippet), Until the End of the World, (Intermission - Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me), Elevation, Vertigo / The Jean Genie (snippet), Desire, Sympathy For The Devil (snippet) / Acrobat, You're The Best Thing About Me acoustic, Staring at the Sun acousticThis Is Not America(snippet) / Pride (In the Name of Love), Get Out Of Your Own Way, American Soul, City of Blinding Lights
Encore: One / Invisible (snippet), Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way, 13 (There Is A Light)

(Click Here to read my post that originally ran in The Orange County Register looking at "6 things to know about U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour that comes to the Forum this week")

Robert Kinsler


When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 15; 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 16
Where: 3900 W. Manchester Blvd.,  Inglewood
Tickets: $46-$176, plus fees

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