May 21, 2011
Denver, CO USA
Review by David Huff
Photos by Scott Witty
U2 - U2, The Fray
Waking up to an overcast morning on May 21, I had every intention of staying home, writing some stories, then watch basketball (more specifically the Dallas Mavericks), on television that evening. Then it dawned on me this was the day the world was scheduled to implode. That changed everything. I figured what the hell, I'm cashing in my Southwest Airline voucher and flying to Denver. So much for original intentions and pre-determined plans! If Armageddon was on its way, then I figured the safest place to welcome the dawning of a new age was with 70,000 hearty souls who were already participating in a real rapture of their own - U2.
Jam photographer Scott Witty had already made his pilgrimage to the holy temple Invesco Field had been transformed into the day before my impromptu arrival. Needless to say my phone call from the airport caught him totally by surprise. When I explained to him the spiritual significance of this particular last minute trip, he understood all too well the journey's true meaning. I had come up with the lamest excuse I could think of to get out of town and join him.
When we arrived at the football field, you would have thought it was game day for the Denver Broncos. The parking lots were jammed pack with people celebrating everything U2. Beer was flowing, food was grilling, loudspeakers from cars, campers and RV's were blasting everywhere. There was no mistake that rock and roll had descended from the heavens and settled in nicely around the stadium. The merchandise booths were humming with activity all day long. With the multitude of U2 clothing products and other assorted goodies on display, the way people threw their money at the hawkers, you would have thought the end of the world really was coming. There was absolutely no sign of a recession, or depression, at these booths - not when it meant owning a piece of this Irish quartet.
Yes, I've made half-hearted fun at the expense of Harold Camping's doomsday 'under a blood red sky' prophecy, But here's the thing. There is no denying the reality of the earth-shaking power Larry Mullen, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Paul Hewson create on stage. These four, without a doubt, are the greatest rock band the world will ever see (and I say that with the greatest reverence to Led Zeppelin). These grade school friends may have lost tens of millions of dollars on failed business ventures and real estate purchases over the years, but when it comes to the job of making music, they are in a class all by themselves. Their impressive streak of hit albums - and folks I'm talking 30 years and counting here - is unprecedented in the world of music. The ability of this band to change gears and reinvent themselves time and time again, yet still retain consistency in the music, is simply remarkable.
By the way, when you do think of U2, it's impossible to ignore this group's continuous fight for humanity. Whether it's highlighting the war on poverty, human rights abuse, and other causes dealing with individual plight, U2 is on the front line waging it's own PR campaign to combat the problem. Bono's rigid stance on defending individual rights and freedoms in impoverished countries is well documented. That's why it wasn't a surprise to see petitioners stationed throughout the stadium, gathering signatures for Amnesty International's Demand Dignity campaign. The program is aimed squarely at ending human rights violations that drive and deepen global poverty. When you see something like this, it really makes you wonder how in the world did an incompetent boob like Obama receive a Nobel Peace Prize over this true humanitarian.
One of the more interesting aspects about this concert, or any U2 concert over the years for that matter, are the reasons given by people as to why they love this band so much. Everyone has a story to tell, and each of them, in their own mysterious way, are cherished thoughts they don't mind sharing. I'm sure more than just a few thousand jaws dropped when they walked into Invesco Field to behold their next U2 memory that's affectionately been dubbed 'The Claw'.
This particular road trip for U2 has been called the 360 Tour. When Bono announced the group's plans earlier this year, he said the band was unveiling an innovative stage set-up, allowing for superb sight lines from every imaginable seating angle for people to enjoy. He wasn't kidding. There really wasn't a bad seat in the stadium. The singer also stated he wanted to meet the fans on this tour, and trust me at one point during the concert, Bono did just that. He mugged for photos on one end of a catwalk that stretched all the way into the audience. It was surreal to say the least.
If you are fortunate to attend this concert, you will be amazed at the sheer magnitude of this massive production. The stage is 160 feet tall with a giant video screen holding it together at its apex. It's rumored the claw-like design costs around a $1 million per show to construct. Doesn't surprise me one bit, especially when I counted a mind-boggling 47 semis used to transport the equipment. That's one hell of an army to support on the road. Seriously, the word breathtaking is about the only description I could come up with upon closer inspection of this incredible 'thing' built in the middle of the field.
I'm not going to go into the songs the band performed. The set list is at the bottom of the page. All you need to know is U2 went all out on this big budget, balls-to-the-wall extravaganza. In an eerie sense, watching this show made me feel as though I had finally come a full 360 with U2 myself. When The Edge launched into the opening chords of "I Will Follow," it took my back in time 30 years ago to the very first time I ever saw the band perform. We had just taken over a disco club in Oklahoma City and transformed it into a rock bar called Jammies. One of the first bands we booked was a group called Huey Lewis & The News. The second equally unknown band we had in the club, as a favor to a promoter, was this four-piece outfit from Ireland who thanked us for giving them a place to play. As I stood inside Invesco Field lost in thought, I couldn't help but laugh at the irony of watching U2 perform the song now, to the distant memory of paying them $500 for the same privilege back then.
If anything, this show is all about connecting with the present, while at the same time, reconnecting with the past. It gives fans a truly incredible way to be up close and personal with their heroes, and a chance for the heroes to say thank you for all your support. I did a double-take several times throughout the show as I saw The Edge, Bono and Larry Mullin casually stroll out into the crowds from the walkways protruding from the stage. Talk about some 'rattle and hum.' As I alluded to earlier, every one who goes to a U2 performance has their own personal connection to the band. This tour literally guarantees it. You want to talk about bliss, this show definitely has it. You want communion, jubilation, euphoria, inspiration and nirvana - this concert is guaranteed to send you into auditory overload.
If there were ever a band for the ages, U2 is it. Twenty-five years ago, the musical standard was set for this band when they wrote The Joshua Tree. To their credit, these Irish rockers have continued to defy those insurmountable odds stacked against them. I never gush about any artist, but the prolific body of work this quartet has produced in their career has earned my utmost respect. This particular cool and crisp evening in May, they had plenty to say about Armageddon. Tonight, we were all 'in God's country', a Mile High in the sky 'where the streets had four names' - Hewsen, Evans, Clayton and Mullins.
Even Better Than the Real Thing
I Will Follow
Get On Your Boots
Until The End of The World
All I Want Is You
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
Beautiful Day / Here Comes the Sun (snippet)
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
City Of Blinding Lights
Crazy Tonight / Discotheque (snippet) / Please (snippet)
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On / You'll Never Walk Alone (snippet)
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (snippet) / Where the Streets Have No Name
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
With Or Without You
Moment of Surrender