By Steve Newton
Near the very end of U2’s show in Vancouver last night–during the fourth and final song of the encore, “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”–aptly named guitarist The Edge was strolling casually along the edge of the catwalk when he stepped out into thin air with his right foot and went down in a tumble–the headstock of his black Strat slamming the corner of the stage with a bang.
Fortunately he was alright–unlike U2 singer Bono when he wiped out on his bicycle in New York last November and required major surgery. But the top brass at concert promoter Live Nation–like Arthur Fogel, the CEO of its Global Touring division, who Bono had profusely thanked just seconds before–must have damn near died. It was the very first stop on the band’s capital-letter-heavy iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour, which has multinight stands booked–and in many cases sold out–across North American and Europe until the middle of November. The prospect of The Edge with his fretting hand in a sling would not be welcome at this point.
The 53-year-old guitarist’s little run-in with the forces of gravity wasn’t the only threat to the Irish juggernaut’s latest attempt at box-office supremacy. Four days earlier drummer Larry Mullen Jr.’s 92-year-old father passed away, leaving fans to wonder whether the grieving timekeeper would be emotionally ready to handle the demands of the tour.
But Mullen soldiered on, and 45-minutes after last night’s scheduled showtime he, The Edge, Bono, and bassist Adam Clayton took the stage at Rogers Arena and launched into “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)”, the so-so opening track off that album they downloaded into your iTunes library last year, whether you wanted it or not. “This is the Apple commercial song!,” my wife enthusiastically observed, and indeed it was.
U2 would return to that album, Songs of Innocence, six more times during its 24-song set, leaving longtime fans to no doubt wish the band had cut back on the newer material to make room for unplayed gems like “New Year’s Day” and “One”. “Cedarwood Road”, one of the stronger Songs of Innocence tracks, benefited greatly from the use of the show’s main effect, a massive rectangular structure dangling from the roof that served as both a catwalk and, with its perforated metal sides, a video screen that allowed you to see Bono amid the gorgeously animated street scenes reflected on it.
Before the less impressive 2014 song, “Invisible”, the screen was used to show snippets of vintage interviews with various punk and glam-rock stars of the ’70s, including David Bowie, Lou Reed, the Clash, the New York Dolls, and the Sex Pistols. But this sequence dragged on too long, and half the time you couldn’t even make out what the artist was blabbing about.
As for the reportedly “special sound system”, which had numerous banks of speakers hanging from the arena ceiling, the overall quality of the sound was not any better than it usually is in the hockey rink.
For his part, Bono didn’t seem to be showing any ill-effects from the accident that broke his arm in six places, among other injuries. He’s still very good at lifting up said appendage whenever a rock-star pose is in order–or when it’s time to pull off those slinky belly-dance moves of “Mysterious Ways”, during which he thanked the doctor “who put me back together”.
For “Sweetest Thing”–a 1987 b-side that the band hasn’t done live since 2001–Bono pulled a young woman up from the crowd and gave her a phone to film the band playing the song, her footage appearing on the big screen. It was like a greatest hits of the crappiest YouTube concert clips you’ve ever seen.
“Technology has its uses,” declared Bono when the song was over, “but we gotta get better at this.”
The encore featured a recording of Stephen Hawking emoting on power and politics and Bono promising an end to the scourge of HIV/AIDS before The Edge comically forgot that you can’t walk on air. For anyone hoping to have a chuckle at the high-and-mighty U2’s expense, it was clearly a “Beautiful Day”.