“God bless America. Thank you for letting us in. We Irish boys are so grateful,” Bono said during U2’s Friday concert in Newark, NJ, before stressing “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and playing the aptly-timed “Get Out Of Your Own Way.” It was one of many poignant moments during their Prudential Center performance in which the Dublin rockers continued their enduring tradition of advocating for peace and taking a firm stance on current events. Even as the hall-of-famers lifted spirits in the packed arena with their vibrant Experience + Innocence show, they found countless opportunities to bring serious statements and symbolism to the forefront. Whether expressed through emotive art – an illustrated dove wrapped in barbed wire, with the words “Peace cannot be kept by force,” splashed across the massive screen – or pointed commentary – Bono made a heartfelt speech dedicating “One” to all journalists, in memory of those killed in the recent Capital Gazette shooting in Annapolis, MD – their message was repeatedly evident and met with resounding applause.
Their high-energy performance – squeezed in between 3 big nights across the water at NYC’s Madison Square Garden – was the best kind of sensory overload, rich with high-tech visual surprises and cool configurations across the multiple platforms the band gracefully traversed as they rocked. Their use of space is really brilliant; arena shows can so often feel distant, but that wasn’t the case at all with U2’s playground-like stage design. There was never a dull moment; Bono happily let the action swirl around him with the flourishes of a circus ringmaster, first scaling a shifting ramp that was lit like a pathway of stars as he sang – the same one on which the full band performed in midair when they opened the show. Bassist Adam Clayton popped up on a platform smack-dab in the middle of the crowd and practically everywhere else as he supplied his essential grooves. Larry Mullen Jr. alternated from drum set to congas to floating drum set to marching snare as he crossed between the two main stages and drove the tempo with his seasoned chops. The Edge even became the subject of some eye-catching visual tricks as he shredded; at one point, a real-time video projected beside him showed Bono spitting water from the other stage, at just the right angle so that it appeared to be dousing him.
As if that weren’t enough, this tour even features an augmented reality experience that transforms your surroundings wildly via the iOS/Android app, designed to interact with the graphics on the 100-foot-long LED wall that ran the length of the arena. As the full spectacle unfolded, U2’s upbeat setlist was seemingly timed down to the second to correspond with the dazzling production that surrounded them, and thus, was in line with other recent tour dates, spanning 10 albums and featuring 8 tracks from Songs Of Experience. While some fans seemed surprised they didn’t play any songs from their famed 1987 album, The Joshua Tree (one of the best-selling LPs in the world, selected for historic preservation by the US Library of Congress) it actually made a lot of sense, given they played it in full just last year, touring in celebration of its 30th anniversary. Memorably, Friday night’s show featured several elements dedicated to the New Jersey crowd that made the evening extra special – including Newark-specific tour shirts at U2’s vast merchandise table, shots of Prudential Center mixed into their graphics during the show, and jokes like “Can you drop us off in Newark on your way home?” included in the comic book-style segment that split up the setlist. Bono even remarked on the irony that Bruce Springsteen was playing over in NYC while U2 performed on his home turf in Jersey. “It’s Bruce’s universe. We’re just fireflies in it,” said Bono – ever the humble frontman; never acknowledging that U2 are as big as they really are.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley