U2 @ The San Diego Sports Arena (iPayOne Center), San Diego CA 03/28/05
*silence* *utter silence*
My brother and I just witnessed the opening night of U2’s Vertigo Tour and we’re still trying to regain our composure. This is the group’s return to the American stage after a 4 year absence. The last tour, The Elevation Tour, was awesome beyond words. That tour was groundbreaking in an austere, sentimental way. After the glitz and technological overload of the ZooTV and Pop Mart Tours, U2 scaled down their production and delivered a more intimate and more compelling arena show – where the focus was once again on the songs. This current tour is an extension of that.
My brother and I made the trek from Orange County. We got to the arena fairly easily and caught The Kings Of Leon. The pre-show music began and we were treated to a bunch of great tracks, my favorite being The Pixies’ Monkey Gone to Heaven. Then Arcade Fire’s Wake Up begins…the volume increases…a voice chants “everyone” repeatedly, and the house lights go down. Musically, this group means just about everything to my brother and I. We grew up with U2 and their music became the soundtrack to our lives, a term poetically coined by a Rush fan and subsequently used by Neil Peart. Our hearts were racing and our breathing ceased as the lights went down. The deafening roar of the crowd begins and the opening number swells through the PA, a very non-obvious opener at that – “City of Blinding Lights.” It was an anthemic way to begin the show, to begin this tour. Confetti dropped from the ceiling and the lights came up in grande fashion. It was joyous and celebratory. The new album had been out since January or February, and the crowd was jumping, and filling in nicely on the woo-ooo-ooo and chorus sections. The momentum continued with “Vertigo,” the punky big single off the new record. The crowd was energized and bouncing off the walls practically. A teasing snippet of “Stories for Boys” was inserted at the end, foreshadowing what was to come later on. We marveled at the set design and the impressive use of lights and what looked like LED curtains that served as video screens.
The set continued with what had to be the jaw dropping shocker of the night…in “War Tour” fashion the band launched into “The Electric Co.” and the arena went frickin’ crazy. Perfect way to keep the momentum of the show going. It was like we were transported back to the Under a Blood Red Sky concert video from 1983. Our eyes were pretty much popping out of our heads at that point. The crowd was pulsing, and the group recaptured the magic of the early 80s: hungry U2, aggressive and passionate U2. After a final release and end to the song, the next shocker slammed us like a ton of bricks. A spotlight shone on The Edge and the ghostly intro to “An Cat Dubh” began. My brother and I turned to each other and our jaws dropped simultaneously. By instinct I air-drummed to Larry Mullen’s intro: Bum-Bum-Bum-Bum-Bum-Bum-badabada-Bumbum. That song hasn’t been played since…the War Tour??? I’m not entirely certain. But anyways, U2 started off with 2 new tracks, then reached back to their debut album for the following 2 tracks and it was surreal and beyond belief. What’s more interesting, it’s as if those 4 tracks had something in common: sound, elements, themes, they fit together and it was awesome. The trend continued with “Into the Heart,” which closed this awesome opening salvo for the night. My brother and I were giddy.
The show continued and it was a non-stop amazing experience. Of note was the poignant yet rocking “Miracle Drug,” notable for some lead vocal duties by The Edge. The “heart of darkness” segment of the set included the trio of “Love and Peace Or Else/Sunday Bloody Sunday/Bullet the Blue Sky. All three of those tracks have warfare and the futility of war as common themes. Love and Peace was like an atomic flavored vamp that grooved and slinked its way into the arena . Near song’s end, Bono pounded out a rhythm on a floor tom out on the elipse. He donned a head band that had Christian, Jewish and Islamic symbols on it, spelling out “C-O-E-X-I-S-T.” That led to the militant, marching styled attack of the immortal Sunday Bloody Sunday, which then led into the mother of all drum grooves; Bullet the Blue Sky. Edge’s guitar work was searing on Bullet, it was as if you could hear fighter planes making strafing runs overhead. A tender “Running to Stand Still” followed, very much like the rendition found on the Rattle and Hum movie. The crowd joined in nicely on the ‘still running’ sing-along.
The surprises didn’t end there. At the end of the main set, the arena went pitch black and it was as if the switch for ZooTV was turned on. The into to “Zoo Station” began and the monitors onstage showed images from the ZooTV Tour. A group of guys from Mexico were freaking out, one of them kept shouting with a heavy accent: “ZOO STATION! ZOO STATION!!!” It was another dose of nostalgia…but damn, it was bitchin. The song sounded GREAT, the video and production effects were awesome, we were truly transported back to the 92/93 tour and we were reliving another classic U2 era. “The Fly” continued the theme, complete with the seizure inducing onslaught of rapid changing buzzwords on the video screens.”Elevation” finally ended the main set. HO-LY CRAP. My brother and I were geeking out. More classic tracks and two final newer selections from the latest album were played. The final and most fitting surprise came with the performance of “40.” This was the traditional closer to the U2 tours of the 80s. It hasn’t been played properly since The Lovetown Tour ’88-’90. The crowd was yet again transported back in time to the sacred closer that is “40,” complete with Adam Clayton and The Edge switching instruments. Each band member exited the stage one by one, ultimately leaving Larry Mullen to thump away on the drum kit, solo, until a final crash ended the song. As he waved goodbye and exited the stage, the San Diego crowd continued singing “how looooooong, to sing thiiisss sooooong.” U2 never lost the magic. This show and this tour proved they’ve still got it, they’re still relevant, and they’re still inspiring fans the world over. Perfect opening night.
Afterward, I thought it was very brave of the band to showcase 7 or so new songs, delve back to the Boy album for 3 more numbers, and pretty much omit the obvious big singles like With or Without You, Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Desire, Angel of Harlem and Mysterious Ways. Other notably absent numbers included I Will Follow, Stay, and Bad. Despite those omissions, U2 still put on a strong show. I think it just goes to show that they have a wealth of quality material to choose from. The set seemed short, but in reality 22 tracks with assorted interpolations/snippets were played.
SET: City of Blinding Lights,Vertigo – Stories For Boys, Cry – The Electric Co., An Cat Dubh – Into the Heart, Beautiful Day – Blackbird, New Year’s Day, Miracle Drug, Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own, Love and Peace or Else, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bullet the Blue Sky – Hands That Built America – When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Running to Stand Still – Hallelujah, Zoo Station, The Fly, Elevation
Encores: Pride, Where the Streets Have No Name, One, All Because Of You, Yahweh, 40
images from opening night 03/28/05 taken by the San Diego Union Tribune – no copyright infringement intended