This is my fifth time seeing U2 on four consecutive tours. Of all of the U2 shows I’ve seen, this one was the best since the Popmart Tour for a hard-core fan even though songs from the Pop album were non-existent in the set list. Nevertheless, the mix of songs succeeded in showcasing the new album, a healthy portion of hits, and some deep cuts of albums such as The Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby. Refreshingly, the politics, while not dialed back entirely, didn’t overshadow the music. Yes, Bono preached but he sang a lot more.
This brings me to Bono’s voice – he’s reclaimed it. Throughout his career, it has gone through changes in pitch and he’s learned to use it in different ways. It is clear that on this tour, his intention is to sing with full voice and hit all of the notes. The sound crew seems to know this as well. With the vocals raised to the front of the sound mix, Bono knows what he has and he ain’t afraid to use it. The result for the fans was a real treat. Even as I sang at the top of my lungs, Bono’s voice was clearly audible.
The band itself played with a real fervor as well. They were loose and were obviously enjoying themselves on stage as they back slapped, grinned and laughed their way through the 2 and 1/2 hour set. There has been some speculation that this may be U2’s last tour. The way they seemed to make every second count in Berlin might actually lend credence to that theory. This was a U2 show after all. First there was the sheer magnitude of the stage setup, then the set list tailored for a true fan and finally the tongue in cheek camp sections that segued to intense political hymns. Saturday night, they made it all look pretty easy. They clearly find comfort in the contradictions of the jarring effect of dance remixes and calls to “Radio Tehran” that appear just seconds apart.
Two highlights were what set this show apart from the Vertigo Tour stop in Berlin four years ago. First of all, the incredible Redanka dance remix of “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” was mixed with live vocals and live instrumentation and was a throwback to the ironic and unfairly maligned Popmart tour. It was unexpected, powerful and downright fun. The second jaw dropping performance was during the Achtung Baby gem, “Ultra Violet (Baby, Light My Way).” During this song, Bono donned a black suit striped with red laser lights that cut through the fog like something out of Tron. The effect was Bono at his theatrical best as he clung to a microphone suspended from the top of the stage setup. The costume and his performance matched the emotional depth of the song and will certainly help to usher the track into the canon of all time U2 live classics.
Finally, there were the hits. Most were played with fervor and “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” made a forceful comeback as Persian script filled the massive 360 degree screen and a green glow was cast over the entire set. Bono’s calls to “Radio Tehran” gave the song a new foil and the result breathed new life into an old classic. Others like “Beautiful Day” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” coasted effortlessly along on fan appreciation and Bono’s velvety, spot on vocals.
Some people claim that U2’s best days are behind them. That may be true in some ways but the 360 Tour certainly makes the case in their defense. At 49, Bono can sing better than most men 1/2 his age and though there was lackluster initial reception to their newest release, it was the “No Line on the Horizon” tracks that really carried the show and displayed the talents and uniqueness of the band. With this tour, the band has struck a balance between flexing its creative muscle on the new songs, putting on an incredible live spectacle, and placating fans with “the hits.” If this ends up being their last tour, it will be a tour of a band that decided to go out on top, guns blazing.