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Live review: U2's 360 Tour at the Rose Bowl

U2_ROSE_BOWL_REVIEW

"Enough of the folk mass!" declared Bono during U2's historic Rose Bowl performance Sunday, leading his band and the nearly 100,000 fans in the stadium out of a singalong and into a dance party. The 49-year-old singer/activist/life of the party has been making such quick metaphorical turns for much of his life, fronting a band known for transcendence but hardly immune to sensual pleasure.

Usually, Bono and his band mates travel from prayers to come-ons on the force of charisma and a sound that's ascendant and sleekly funky, structured around the Edge's stretchy guitar parts and Bono's dirty-faced choirboy cries. But for this tour, U2 has adopted another mode of transport: the four-legged circular stage rig known as the Claw, or the Space Station. This contraption is an extravagance with a big carbon footprint and an even bigger price tag. But in Pasadena, it proved worth every Euro, allowing this most ambitious rock band to genuinely reconfigure live pop performance.

Plenty of artists have played in the round, built multi-tiered sets and spent time roaming through the crowd on ramps or trapezes. But the Space Station (Bono's preferred term these days) changes the architecture of the live concert. It not only puts the stadium audience closer to the band, it cuts holes in the fourth wall between star and fan, creating a feeling of immersion and communal connection that's startling in such a huge venue, and that translated differently in person than it could have on YouTube, where the concert was streamed live.

Getprev-16 Ringed by a ramp that the band members usually reached via moving bridges, enclosing a good chunk of the crowd within a welcome pen, the Space Station truly conjoined U2 and its audience. The Rose Bowl's relatively low walls enhanced the illusion that mere footsteps (and sometimes less than that) stood between the men unstack and their elated devotees. When Bono crouched at the ramp's edge or the Edge strode across it, churning out a riff, they seemed as touchable as superstars could be.

The Space Station's fragmented and shifting ground dismantled the conventions of the rock concert. "I was born to lift you up," Bono sang in "Magnificent," one of the many songs performed from the band's latest album, "No Line on the Horizon." But at times this music seemed to do the opposite -- it pushed the crowd under a wave of echo and distortion, or formed a passageway between the fans and the band.

Those joyfully shouted group choruses, to older songs like "One" and "With or Without You" but also to newer ones like "Magnificent" and "Unknown Caller" (the latter aided by lyrics splayed across the Space Station's screen), offered the clearest route to union. But it also happened when the Edge and billowing guitar phrases bathed the space in harmonics during "Until the End of the World," or when the rhythm section of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. (the latter playing a strapped-on conga) moved every body in the house with a Latin-cum-rave take on "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight."

U2's time-honored approach to spiritual enlightenment worked its magic too, when Bono prefaced the old favorite "Where the Streets Have No Name" with some verses of "Amazing Grace," or when he interjected phrases from crowd-pleasing oldies like "Stand by Me," or simply shouted "Soul! Soul! Soul!" (His funniest interjection, though, was when he compared himself to Dennis Hopper and then did a bit of that actor's heavy breathing from the film "Blue Velvet.")

But after three decades as an important band, U2 is long past simple uplift. Its music is as much about emotional entanglement (as in "Ultraviolet" on Sunday) and disorientation ("Vertigo"). Ultimately, it is a meditation on space: the majestic natural landscapes that the Edge's guitar playing often describes; the crowded dance floors or train platforms Clayton and Mullen's rhythms evoke; the inches between a whispering mouth and a lover's ear, or the infinite journey of a prayer hurled into the air.

The Space Station allows U2 to make those musical and lyrical preoccupations physical in a new way. At the Rose Bowl, it created a new experience even for the most jaded concertgoer. U2 concerts have often included moments in which raised voices build goodwill, or shaking hips stimulate joy. But for the first time, perhaps, this band's noise resulted in a kind of silence and stillness -- not a literal one, but the rapture that comes when nearly 100,000 people relax together, as if held within a gentle, open hand.

"God will put a wind at our back and a rising road ahead, if we work together as one," said Archbishop Desmond Tutu in an on-screen message late in the concert. That vision of nations and individuals opening up to one another is at the core of U2's mission. This extravagant tour gave the band another way to enact it and made for a whole new concert experience in the process.

Opening the show, the Black Eyed Peas went for something more tried and true, but also powerful: a party vibe celebrating the home team. Performing its many hits in an exuberant set, the Peas radiated Southern California pride. Tabu draped himself in Mexican and American flags; will.i.am name-checked neighborhoods and towns from Hollywood to East L.A. to La Crescenta.

The set's spirited climax came when Fergie took Axl Rose's part in a rough and true-blooded cover of  the Guns N' Roses classic "Sweet Child o' Mine," with Slash himself on guitar. If U2 aimed for universals, the Black Eyed Peas reminded us that particulars have their uses too. Especially when those particulars are as diverse as the elements that make up the Southland.

-- Ann Powers

RELATED:

U2_ROSE_BOWL_BONO PHOTOS: U2's 360 Tour: Live at the Rose Bowl

Amid the rattle and hum before U2's Rose Bowl show

The masses descend upon Pasadena for U2's Rose Bowl gig

Making the U2 set so big that it's invisible

INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: U2 360 tour: Stadium in the round

Photos: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.

 
Comments () | Archives (56)

I was at the concert last night and while it was awesome because U2 is just plain awesome, it wasn't the best concert I have seen by them. The only time I felt I felt at one my fellow concert goers was when standing in the lines for the shuttle buses. I never felt a connection with the band, I felt more like a dollar sign to them. It was a bit sad for me considering that during this rough economy so many loyal fans forked over 250 bucks to see them and while the stage was brilliant, the band didn't go above and beyond for us.

I have been going to see U2 since the early 80's and I just didn't feel the connection this time. Saying all that, will I buy tickets next time they come around? Heck Yeah!!! U2 ROCKS!!!

it was alright. Intimacy? not really. I couldn't tell those volunteers were wearing masks. The best part was Sweet Child of Mine with Slash, Fergy, and the rest of Black-Eyed Peas who (only half jokingly) probably should have headlined.

No need to feel sorry for me. If anything, I should feel sorry for you. You must not have seen U2 before, perhaps not even another concert.

I make it out to numerous events around the world, and this was one of the most disappointing shows I have ever seen. Bono was terrible. Sure the show was still entertaining, but not at $100 a ticket for the average person in attendance.

If you want to hear a great show, check out anything from the Zoo TV tour or the Vertigo tour. Once you have the best, second rate--even by the best band in the last 30 years--won't be good enough.

Seriously ... did you hear Bono on "With or Without You" or "One" or his pathetic attempt at reinventing "Mysterious Ways?"

I'm a huge U2 fan that has seen them 3 times prior. Every time prior was like a spiritual experience. The Rose Bowl show was phenomenally disapointing. I can only surmise that people who felt "close" to the band because of that horrendous contraption (The Spaceship) are the same people who feel like they know about the world from watching T.V. They have no idea what they are missing. The Spa eship seem to go against every ounce of integrity the band has had. The fact that it seemed to work best when they did a dance rendition of one of their songs sort of solidified what was wrong with it. It was frivolous. Don't get me wrong. They pulled off some amazing spectacle moments with it but it felt wrong many times. Anyway, that and the drunken sot spilling beer on me 3 times, and the venues horrible logistics for entry & parking made for a pretty mediocre evening. What was Bono doing in that red laser suit swinging from the lit up mic? That was ridiculous no more than superficially connected to the music.
They themed the show around outerspace. What does that have to do with U2?
If you missed it, be grateful and see them when the mid-life crisis is over.

FYI, Archbishop Tutu was paraphrasing the traditional Irish Blessing which reads in part:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Loved the BEPs, I have new respect for the band as live performers. Having seen U2 play in Charlottesville, VA as well as last night's show, I could tell that Bono was playing for the global crowd on YouTube rather than the one right in front of him last night -- can't deny that both experiences were outstanding and that the band didn't impress, as always.

I think what everyone fails to realize is that ever since U2 started with Zoo TV back in the early 90s, they've tried to have a theme for every tour. Zoo TV was, well, television. Elevation brought the heart symbol from the album symbols to a different level. But I digress.

Regarding intimacy, with big venues and enormous stages, you can still get some sort of intimacy from the band. (And yes, I was there last night and have to say what an awesome performance it was). What do you call more than 95,000 people singing along to the choruses of "One", "Unknown Caller", and "Where the Streets Have No Name" with the help of Bono? A cheap thrill? I think it's pretty intimate.

Another thing people fail to realize is that this particular performance was filmed for both DVD and YouTube. So, naturally the band members, and especially Bono, will be constantly lapping up the cameras and maybe spend less time on the audience. I personally felt that there was some connection between the band and us audience members.

My last comment is on the stage. Yes, it was overwhelming. Yes, it was huge. But GET OVER IT. Fans of U2 should already know that with every tour, they try to outdo themselves from the prior. I had no issues with the stage, whether it was too big or some other reason. But, I guess it depends where you sit.

I think if there is any criticism on my part, it ought to be the parking and guiding people to the shuttle incident. Horrible organization. But everyone is entitled to their opinion.

This was a disappointing concert - and this from a fan who drove down from San Francisco to see it!. The line between my girlfriend and I as we left early(!) was "I was both impressed and really bored at the same time".

Great photos and rap from last night's record breaking U2 show http://tinyurl.com/yzpq6j5

This was my fifth U2 show and it was the best one I've seen yet. Just an amazing experiance, my wife and I have been on a post concert high all day. My wife and I sat very far away from the stage and felt the connection with the band.

Favorite moments:

-Great acostic verson of Stuck In a Moment, inspiring.
-Vertigo and Elevation
-Amazing Grace transition in Where the Streets Have No Name.

Honorable mention:
Slash with the Black Eyed Peas

In my opinion, the review was spot on
Slash with the Black Eyed Peas.

BAD.

Nice review, particularly the last bit about the Black Eyed Peas. I saw U2 a zillion years ago, when they first came to the LA area at the Country Club, and they seemed overblown to me. They stil seem overbown to me.

This was my first U2 show and I was very pleased with them. I thought the band performed well and sounded great, but as far as the venue...ugh. This is by far the worst place to get in and out of I have ever been to. I'm from Dallas and we have a lot of bad places here also but none come close to the Rose hole. I didn't like Black Eyed Peas except for the bit with Slash but I've never been a fan so I didn't expect much from them anyway. If it wasn't for U2 putting on such a great show then my lasting memories of this concert would have been very negative.

"the infinite journey of a prayer hurled into the air." Seriously? I've been attending live U2 concerts since they're very first U.S. tour. Until the Zoo TV, ummmm, BS. And then started again seeing them when Bono seemed to come back to earth. Maybe it was Easter. :)
Before that they were always able to ride the fine line between sermonizing and being a rock band. They are, after all, from roots to tip a Christian Rock Band. I never was a Stryper fan. But I also never had a problem with the inherent Christian undertone of U2's music because good music is good music and great lyrics are great lyrics. There was always a sense of intimacy in the largest arena with U2 because of their sheer energy, they're obvious joy in being on stage, and they're unmatched ability to get 60,000 people to sing "How long must I sing this song" (or any song) from arena seats all the way to car seats. THAT was amazing and even prayer-like if you will.
But the 360 tour with the immense set (I love that it's not eco-friendly, how unsettling) and 90 jillion cameras and huge HD screens showed how much the band and Bono in particular are taking themselves way too seriously now. The Spaceship/breaking the 4th wall aspect, was anything but audience friendly. It set the audience apart in a starkly disappointing way.
Bono was phoning it in, unless he was pimping for a camera. The rest of the band seemed disconnected from each other let alone the adoring fans. And Bono slipped past the fine line and was so God-like in his performance with his many wide-open-armed straight to camera poses. And since the band itself, The Edge, Larry or Adam do not have the same sort of stage presence that Bono has they looked like aliens following their new leader.
And it was flat out boring. The vocals were bad, the sound was terrible, the whole thing was ridiculous not inspiring or prayer-like at all. This was U2's Bob Geldof moment. The concert for the world. Well, the world that either has a very high priced ticket, or a computer with live-streaming capability or electricity etc. etc.
I watched the concert on U2-ube again and had to turn it off. It was no more than an over-hyped concert film. So I switched to old U2 videos like Live at Red Rocks when the band had no money but infinite passion. That was a performance. That was moving. That was inspired and spiritual. With no more than a white flag that didn't even stay up properly in its' intended place, and Bono's vocals that made you "believe", his Freddy Mercury-like front man performance, well-written songs, solid back up from an extraordinary band, and yes, even Bon's mullet. All of it "simply" worked.
Very sad to see the grandeur disguised as intimacy. Less is more. Even when writing a review or comment. (LOL at my own expense)

I've no idea what Dennis was doing at the show, but I know that the concert WAS amazing, the band DID connect and the audience was in no way, shape, or form bored! I'm just sorry you didn't enjoy it Dennis. I sure did and I'll never forget that night.

And incidentally Ryan, this is the 14th U2 show I've seen, stretching back to 1983, which might not seem that many, but it's enough for me to make comparisons. This is right up there with Zoo TV which was the highpoint up to Sunday. Anyway, it's all personal opinion at the end of the day. I'm just sad you wasted your $$ man!

In reference to April's Comment towards me: Your post did not make any sense. You stated the show was boring, and guess what? I watched it yesterday online, and I've to agree with you. It had a few strong points, but it truly looked as though "those Hollywood nights" had gotten to our mates, ie, phoning it in. I truly hope U2 follows Green Day's lead, and keeps US rock'n like they don't know where there next meal is coming from, rather than stating things like, "..all the stars are out tonight.." Really, Bono? I'm sure the folks that bought fake tickets online and flew hundreds, or even thousands of miles to 'witness' your latest, were comforted hearing that info.

peacE!

I was at the show. Being a fan since 1983, this was my 9th time seeing them live. I really enjoyed the show, and would go again in a heartbeat. However, my only disappointment was that I feel the live youtube factor distracted Bono a bit. I felt that he was trying to connect and play up to the camera a bit more that to us, the live audience.
There were a few moments however that he truly DID connect with us. As if he would suddenly forget that youtube was recording him, and his brilliance and personal conection would re-appear. Those are the magical moments.
The show was awesome and the set was crazy huge and really cool. I took my 12 year old daughter and she had a great time too.
I certainly prefer a smaller venue.. but with U2's supernova rock star status these days I bet seeing them in a smaller more intimate venue is dream of the past.

I don't think Ann Powers saw the same concert the rest of us saw. It was disjointed, boring, and indulgent to say the least. It also reminded me just how bad the album "No Line on the Horizon" is. It doesn't sound good on my mp3 player and it sounded even worse live. The only song halfway decent on the album is "Moment of Surrender" but by the time they closed the set with that song the crowd was already asleep.

U2 needs to stick with its classic hits (like Rolling Stone does) when playing live. I don't mind an occasional song from the new album but please only play the ones that are decent. The song "Stuck in a Moment" is horrible (especially live). I don't care if it was a semi-hit or not. I will definitely not be attending another U2 concert in my lifetime. They are starting to sound and act like Sting concerts which is definitely NOT a good thing.

Hmm... I was there and I have no idea what you're talking about. The Rose Bowl is a lousy place to see a concert. The rise of the seats is very slight, so unless you were in the first VIP pit, I can't imagine that you'd feel anything less than miles away from the stage. There was nothing about the elaborate space ship that made them feel closer. On the contrary, the space ship was a distraction. I was in the 34th row, really not that far away. I could barely see a damn thing that was happening on the stage and I have 20/20 vision. For the poor slobs in the 70th row, I can only imagine what they saw. If you want to invest in something, invest in a surround sound system. That might make people feel closer. Truth is, all stadium shows suck and no amount trickery is going to change that. I'm a huge U2 fan, but I'd rather see a lesser band at the Greek Theatre any day of the week.

I paid $65 for 4 hours of top-notch entertainment. Most of us had paid more for 2 hours of mediocre Vegas shows. This U2 concert with the BEPs was so worth it even though I was behind the stage thanks to the Space Station. I have no complaints about the show itself; the facility and security is another story. Larry, Edge, Bono, and Adam were amazing! All these complaints about them are so caddy. Did you really expect Bono to climb up the station like back in the days? Give them a break – they’ll get their APRP membership cards soon. People should realize that they lined up for a concert, not the pearly gates.

Weak, weak, show and keep your politics to yourself Bono. Unfortunately I wasted a big chunk of money but at least I will learn from my mistakes and maybe someone else will as well. If you want to bash on the US, please go back to Ireland.

I read a much more accurate review of U2’s show staged at the Rose Bowl Sunday night:

http://rockwrite.blogspot.com/

I think U2 was good, but the crowd and Rose Bowl were light years from ideal!

I've seen U2 many times before, own most of theor records and after about the 10th song at the Rose Bowl I couldn't even believe I was seeing U2. True, I do not own the latest album. After hearing Get on Your Boots I had to stop there. I guess I had hoped hearing a lot of the newer stuff live would really bring me back. Boring song after boring song. No Bullet the Blue Sky, Fly, New Year's day. Couldnt even sing along with the old ones cause Bono kep changing the way he sang them. Very dissapointing indeed.

I was there, behind the stage as well, and it was the most incredible, memorable concert experience I've ever had. Of course Bono was playing up the You Tube factor; I expected that! I loved most of the new songs from "No Line...", especially "Magnificent". My only minor complaint is that they could have ended with a better song than "Moment of Surrender". The sound was amazing, the visuals were great; what on earth do people want?

This was my third U2 concert (saw Zoo TV in '93 and Vertigo in '05). This was definitely my least favorite of the three, but that was mainly due to the setlist (not really a fan of their last three records). But as far as intimacy and crowd reaction? I have honestly no idea what all the naysayers are talking about. I was about halfway up smack dab on the fifty yard line, and everyone around me was singing, clapping, and even some obviously Christian fans were holding their arms up in that sort of praise gesture. The drunk guy next to me looked like he was about to explode with happiness. The sound was iffy for the first few songs (Edge was way too low in the mix), but they seemed to sort it out. And I thought Bono's vocals were especially on point, maybe even better than Vertigo tour.

I'm beginning to wonder if it was the venue and large crowds that soured people to the show, not the band itself. Also, the band members are 50 years old. Expecting "Red Rocks" style youthful energy is just not going to happen. Especially at the second to last date of a world-wide tour. I for one think they were still exuberant. Edge especially seemed to be bouncing around like I've seldom seen him.

Finally, ran into a stranger at my local 7-11 this morning talking to the cashier about the show, and we ended up talking about how amazing it was for five minutes even though we were both running late for work! If that's not a testament to how U2 brings people together, I don't know what is!

 
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