Monday, May 22, 2017

U2 concert review: Pasadena, Calif. #1

Seattle photo: Kevin Mazur/2017 U2 Ltd.
U2 returned to the Rose Bowl on Saturday for the first of two sold out shows. The veteran rock band last played the stadium (among the biggest in Southern California) 7 ½ years ago during the 360 World Tour for its underrated album “No Line on the Horizon.” U2 performed in-the-round under a gargantuan “claw” set.

The current tour launched earlier this month and finds the Irish musicians celebrating the 30th Anniversary of “The Joshua Tree.” That landmark album won multiple Grammys, spawned three top 20 singles - two were No. 1 - and was certified 10x platinum. A lavish deluxe box set reissue is due out June 2 (read more in my previous blog post here: via Universal Music Enterprises.

After the Pogues’ “Rainy Night in Soho” played on the Rose Bowl sound system, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. suddenly appeared at his drum kit on the small B-stage next to the general admission crowd and launched the nearly two-hour set with martial rhythms of early college/rock radio hit “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” The other three members slowly strode down the catwalk and joined in. “New Year’s Day,” also from 1983’s “War,” was equally powerful.

“We have always felt at home in Los Angeles,” affirmed Bono, before the captivating “A Sort of Homecoming” (KROQ/106.7 FM was one of the first stations to champion a young U2). The charismatic singer dedicated a driving, inspirational “Pride (in the Name of Love)” to “those holding onto the American dream and those who belong to the party of Lincoln and Kennedy: you’re welcome here.” At one point, the famed "I Have a Dream" speech by the song's lyrical focal point Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., scrolled on the backdrop. Key words broke apart for emphasis. Bono yelled, “maybe the dream is telling us to wake up America!” 

Once the band returned to the main stage to perform “The Joshua Tree” in its entirety, awesome LED imagery (highway, desert, country) from longtime visual collaborator Anton Corbijyn was projected on the backdrop.

Each helped illustrate the songs in excellent fashion. “Where the Streets Have No Name” was transcendent as always, while the quiet grandeur of “With or Without You” sounded gorgeous, even in the cavernous stadium. While listening to The Edge’s sharp-as-glass guitarwork on “Bullet the Blue Sky,” you could easily hear how it was an influence on Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and other young alt-rockers during the 1990s.

A calm, hymn-like “Running to Stand Still” was dedicated to the late Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave,” who Bono described as “a sweet beautiful soul.” The U2 front man’s harmonica work and Edge’s piano added a sense of levity. The revamped arrangement of “Red Hill Mining Town,” with an old school military brass band playing along on the screens, worked well. Afterward, Bono wondered why they’d never played it live until 2017. 

Edge’s guitar shards were particularly cutting on “In God’s Country,” where Bono sardonically said, “thanks for letting us Irish into the country,” was a standout. The singer donned a hat and gave a manic delivery on the harrowing “Exit” (complete with jarring, blurred images to match). 

For the encores, U2 played the life affirming “Beautiful Day,” which boasted a new slightly EDM-influenced undercurrent that was a pleasant surprise, and Bono quipped, “it’s a beautiful day when human rights drown out human wrongs.” They followed it with a vigorous “Elevation.” Watching thousands yell right along was quite a sight.

“Ultraviolet (Light My Way),” off “Achtung Baby,” was visually devoted to female pioneers around the world. With Bono in a tender vocal mode on the B-stage, various pictures flashed on the screens: Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Patti Smith and Pussy Riot got some of the loudest cheers.

An introduction about the ONE campaign to help end world poverty and disease by co-founder Bono included a thank you to Americans who have donated to the cause over the past 13 years. He noted they were de facto AIDS activists because more people than ever with the disease can lead productive lives thanks in part to the efforts of ONE.

Then U2 did the moving song of the same name as well as “Miss Sarajevo,” “Bad” and finally closed the encore with “I Will Follow.” All told, U2 showed why it is still one of the best rock bands around, easily made the Rose Bowl feel intimate and left fans with plenty of food for thought about the current state of America.

To see a full list of tour dates and more info, go to   
All photos copyright 2017 U2 Limited, courtesy of Universal Music Enterprises  

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