U2 - Gillette Stadium
Photo by Nicole M. Vanasse

We’ve got old songs
We’ve got new songs
We’ve got songs we can’t play
We’ve got a spaceship
But we won’t leave without you

With those words, Bono and his friends in U2 launched their rocket ship from its pad in Gillette Stadium to kick off the first show of a two-night stand there. Hours later, I’m not sure that any of us who were fortunate enough to have been in the audience last night have returned to earth yet.

I am what you would call a casual U2 fan. I’ve enjoyed a lot of the music they’ve made over the years. I appreciate the political stands they’ve taken, and the charitable causes that they embrace. All of those aspects of their career were on display last night. Still, this show on their current “360 Tour” was only the third that I’ve ever seen, and my first since the Joshua Tree tour more than 20 years ago.

There has been much talk about the size of the current production. The band has been criticized by their peers and in the press for spending an enormous amount of money on the staging in the midst of such difficult economic times. Guess what? Once the music begins, all of that is immediately forgotten. What U2 has created is a truly thoughtful multimedia experience. This is not just smoke and mirrors for their own sake. Everything has meaning and depth, and the technology is breathtaking. The sound was as good as I’ve ever heard in a stadium setting, and the band was in top form musically.

It takes a confident band to open their set with four songs from a new album which, frankly, has yet to set the world on fire, but confidence is never in short supply for U2, and if anything, they improved on the recorded versions of the songs. It wasn’t until Achtung Baby‘s “Mysterious Ways” that a familiar song had the crowd singing along. But once we started, it was hard to shut us up.

In addition to the songs from No Line On the Horizon, the set list featured songs from the band’s more recent albums. Their was the stirring anthem “Walk On,” and a beautiful acoustic “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” from All That You Can’t Leave Behind. From How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb we got the majestic “City of Blinding Lights,” and a torrid version of “Vertigo” that reminded everyone of U2’s punk roots. Oh, and Nikki insists that I be sure to mention the majestic title track from The Unforgettable Fire.

The casual U2 fan’s favorite album is, was, and yes, probably always will be The Joshua Tree. Die-hards will scoff, but that fact was overwhelming evident last night. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” brought the first real tears of the evening. I’m not sure what I was thinking of, the state of my life, the state of the world, or just the incredible power of great rock and roll to transform a moment. It would hardly be the last moving moment in an evening full of such moments.

Politics were in evidence, but the issues were hardly controversial. You would have been hard-pressed to find anyone in the crowd who would have been against the dedication of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” (and yes Bono, it IS a rebel song) to the freedom fighters in Iran, or “Walk On” to Burma’s true leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The songs were accompanied tasteful and stirring video presentations. There was also a recorded poem from Maya Angelou, and a delightful video clip of Bishop Desmond Tutu which led to U2’s performance of the always-inspiring “One.”

If I haven’t spoken enough about the production, that’s because it’s hard to describe. Yes, the central element reminds you of a space ship, and the playing of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” as U2 come on, and “Elton John’s “Rocket Man” as they leave drives the point home. There are lights that seem to come from everywhere. Particularly striking are the beams that emanated from the very top of the structure and reached high into the Massachusetts night sky. As you might surmise from the tour name, the video projections, and the stage itself are circular in nature. It’s no accident that U2 have chosen this form, without beginning or end, as the motif for their tour. In fact, everything in the design of the evening, audio, video, and musical had meaning and purpose.

I know I’m forgetting stuff, but the set list is below for your perusal. I haven’t even spoken about what a great guitar player The Edge is, and how his playing has influenced countless bands. It was one of those shows that you never want to end because it’s perfect, and yet you want it to end because nothing can stay perfect forever, and you want to preserve the moment. More than 30 years into their career, U2 still have everything that I’m looking for in a rock and roll band, i.e. passion, commitment, and a demonstrated willingness to continue to take chances.

When it comes to the title “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band,” there’s not always a title-holder. The honorific is only given when there’s a deserving candidate. By the very nature of the title, it has to be held by a band that has found enormous success. Sure, there are great bands playing in clubs, but to be the world’s greatest, you have to be able to perform on the world’s greatest stages as if you belong there. The Rolling Stones famously held the title for many years. As they faded, no band seemed to have the power to take the crown. Until now. U2 are the world’s greatest rock and roll band. Long may they reign.

Last night’s set list, courtesy of U2Gigs.com.

Breathe
No Line On The Horizon
Get On Your Boots
Magnificent
Mysterious Ways
Beautiful Day / Blackbird (snippet)
Elevation
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For / Stand By Me (snippet)
Unknown Caller
New Year’s Day
Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
The Unforgettable Fire
City Of Blinding Lights
Vertigo / She Loves You (snippet)
I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
Sunday Bloody Sunday / Rock The Casbah (snippet)
MLK
Walk On
One / Amazing Grace (snippet)
Where The Streets Have No Name

encore(s):
Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
With Or Without You
Moment of Surrender

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