Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Concert Review: U2 - June 28, 2017

It was a gorgeous late June evening when my wife, daughter, Uncle, and cousins took in a U2 concert at MetLife Stadium. U2 was playing the first of two nights at the Stadium and tapped The Lumineers to be the opening act. It was The Lumineers final two nights as openers for U2, who also used Mumford & Sons and One Republic on this US leg of the tour. Truth be told, The Lumineers were the reason my wife, daughter, and I were there in the first place. That’s not to say that I didn’t come to see U2 or that I chose them over U2. However, it was my daughter’s desire to see The Lumineers that made me think of attending the concert in the first place. When I heard that U2 was performing The Joshua Tree in its entirety, I was interested in seeing one of the shows, but it was far from a must see show for me. When I saw that The Lumineers were opening though, and I knew how badly my child wanted to see the band, then it became a must see. I knew that she was going to love U2 when the night came to an end, and I was probably going to love The Lumineers even more after their set, so the decision was made. Let’s go to the stadium and see a great show!

The Lumineers took the stage at 7:20 PM and began the night with a tight powerful set of hit songs punctuated by a terrific live performance. I had never seen the band in concert before and the opportunity to witness them prior to U2 was a welcomed one. The band was flat out incredible! Lead singer/guitarist Wesley Schultz proclaimed his love for New Jersey (he is a Jersey native, which I did not realize), told the crowd how he still refers to this stadium as Giants stadium, and announced how honored the band was to be opening for U2 especially here in New Jersey. And while he was most likely as excited as a teen boy on prom night, his professionalism kept him from being overly giddy.

Thank goodness for large video screens!
 Watching their performance, it was easy to tell that The Lumineers are a polished road act that can hold their own with the best live bands out there. Their setlist structure was unexpected and surprising all in a good way. I anticipated that their signature song “Ho Hey” was going to be the big closer of their set, but the band played it early on, the third song of the night. I was amazed and impressed. The Lumineers believe in the strength of all their songs and they don’t need their most known song to be the big closer. An excellent decision on their part. 

If you look closely you can tell that's The Lumineers on stage!
The band performed all their hits including the aforementioned “Ho Hey,” “Cleopatra,” “Angela,” and “Ophelia.” They ended their portion of the evening with an amazing live rendition of “Stubborn Love” which was drawn out with a nice little jam to wrap up the song. That performance left me wide eyed and grinning. I now know that I must see this band’s headlining performance. They were magnificent on stage!

More than an hour after The Lumineers ended their set U2 finally took the stage. Their opening number, “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” was terrific and whipped the crowd into a frenzy right away. Their stage was massive and included a 200 foot LED screen and a smaller stage that sat in the middle of the general admission floor. The first four songs were performed on that small stage and the screen was not lit at all. U2 were performing as if it were their club days both in song selections and style of performance. Four men, one small stage, general admission crowd, and songs pre-1985. It was a clever way to start the night. 

After “Pride (in The Name of Love)” it was time for the reason of the tour. The Joshua Tree was about to be played in its entirety and I was about to witness U2 songs that I had never seen the band do live before. This was the treat of the evening for me and my excitement was high. The opening notes of “Where the Streets Have No Name” sang out from The Edge’s guitar and the giant LED screen lit up with an image of a two-lane road in the desert heading straight out into nowhere. I was instantly transported back to my pre-teen years where I played this cassette endlessly for more than 12 months straight. It was a wonderful moment of nostalgia and memories.

Hey look! It's Bono and a full moon!
 As a live rock band, time is catching up with U2. That’s not to say the show wasn’t fantastic, because it was. But as someone who has seen U2 several times in the past, there are small nuances I noticed and I realize they come with all bands as they age. First is the energy level of front man Bono. At past U2 concerts he was running around the stage like a madman for 2 hours straight, never ceasing to move, a bundle of nervous energy channeled into the performance he was giving. On this night, however, he was less energetic, walking instead of running, and not interacting with the crowd as often as he had at previous performances. I understand that he is in his late 50s and the energy level isn’t the same as it was 10 and 15 years ago, but it was still a bit of a surprise to me.

During “With or Without You,” one of my favorite The Joshua Tree songs, guitar feedback cut in ruining the sound and the song. As Edge played his signature guitar solo intro to the hit, massive feedback wailed throughout the speakers that was so loud and so forceful fans were covering their ears. I was disappointed as this was supposed to be one of the best moments of the night for me. The feedback made the song memorable, but not in the right way.

Bono’s voice is also not as strong as it used to be and I was left wondering if U2 was a bit too ambitious with their touring schedule. Our show was the second of 3 in a row and when you factor in travel, the band didn’t have many off days. I don’t think that was such a great idea at their age. They may have benefited from taking a day or two between shows to rest and recharge.

U2 decided to close the night with a brand-new song, “The Little Things That Give You Away.” I’m not against new songs being played, but to finish the night---to close out the evening for 60,000 fans with a new track that no one knows---is a risky decision at best. Had I gone alone, I may have started making my way to the parking lot (which would have been a wise decision on my part). The song was okay. Not great, but not terrible either. The traffic getting out of there that night on the other hand---well that was horrendous. New Jersey traffic sucks.

Lest you think this is a review filled with nothing but negativity, there were highlights throughout the evening as well. One of the finest came in the form of “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).” I’ve always felt that this gem is one of the most underrated songs in the entire U2 catalog. It was the first time I saw the band perform the song live and I enjoyed every moment of it.

Other highlights for me included “Bad,” which is always an amazing live moment at a U2 concert, the entire side two of The Joshua Tree especially “Mothers of the Disappeared” which is one of my favorite U2 songs. I was ecstatic to hear that song live and it was one of the finest memories in my U2 concert history.

As I mentioned, overall this was a great concert, but it was only a good U2 concert. And that’s their own fault as they have set the bar so high with their past performances. I came in with huge expectations. If I had never seen U2 in concert before I would have been amazed. But since I have seen them several times, I was only impressed. As far as U2 concerts go, this was my least favorite one. As far as concerts in general go, it was a stellar performance by a hall of fame band and a terrific way to spend a summer night.

Sunday Bloody Sunday
New Year’s Day
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Where the Streets Have No Name
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
With or Without You
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running to Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town
In God’s Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Mothers of the Disappeared
Miss Sarajevo
Beautiful Day
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
The Little Things That Give You Away

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