U2’s Innocence + Experience: a tribe gathers in Vancouver

I never would have thought to call on the memory of a punk rocker as an invocation for worship, but that’s what happened in Vancouver two nights in a row for the opening of U2’s Innocence + Experience tour. As Bono stepped into the sold out crowd at Rogers Arena, he played the part of choir director, leading a chorus of “ooh-ooh-oh-oh,” then immediately moving out of the way to let the audience sing during an extended intro for “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone).”

The choice of “Miracle” illustrates a principle on which U2 is founded: the band is the conductor, but the real performers are on the floor and in the stands. Always on a quest to remove barriers between themselves and audience (a theme that is accentuated on this tour by actually creating a barricade separating the “north” and “south” sides, and then removing it), U2 delivered on its promise of an intimate evening, right from the start. Filled with rich metaphors of dreams, fears, specters, pilgrims, sights and sounds—all part of the spiritual imagery permeating the song—“Miracle” welcomed fans back into the fold. And the tribe relished its reunion.

For me, two very different experiences, one each night, helped reignite the spirit of U2’s diverse community, providing a way for audience members to both engage the band and each other.

 

“Song For Someone,” young Bono playing guitar in bedroom

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Concert #1, Thursday, May 14

Early in the first concert, as part of a carefully crafted liturgy, three songs brought the crowd into a gripping communal experience. Though “Song For Someone” was dedicated to his wife, it also became a reflection on Bono’s own teen years. Lost in the grief and pain of his mother’s death, the massive state-of-the-art LED screen illustrated the teenage-Bono’s life in an empty house, alone and seemingly purposeless. Gazing up at the screen, the adult Bono sang to his younger self, “There is a light, don’t let it go out.” The acoustic version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday, which followed, was equally riveting as U2 spread out on the ramp dividing the audience. Then came a barrage of historic media clips about the infamous Dublin bombings of May 17, 1974, the subject of the next song, “Raised By Wolves.” Deeply emotional, the accompanying graphics drew the audience into that horrifying day, ending with a tribute to the 33 people who died in the explosions. The message was overwhelming: “Justice for the forgotten.” As U2 relived the trauma of its early years, we as an audience were each forced to consider the pain of our own past and how we might respond in peace and reconciliation.

 

“Raised By Wolves,” tribute to bombing victims

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Concert #2, Friday, May 15

Where the first night in Vancouver reminded me of the fallenness of our humanity, the second restored a sense of hope. During the encore, Edge’s simple guitar, layered in delay, was answered by Bono’s impassioned response, “If you, twist and turn away….” In “Bad,” the brutal chaos of the human condition is met with the plea to “Let it go.” “Surrender,” invited Bono. In an almost religious experience, the frontman offered counsel to those in pain. “Anybody want to be free from addiction tonight?” asked Bono. “You’re not alone.” As the iconic song came to an end, he sang, “At the moment of surrender, I fell down to my knees. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go,” hands held high in a prayer-like posture of intercession (or was it absolution?) for the crowd. From there, we were transported to a place where love reigns, banishing the pain, transforming the loneliness. “Where The Streets Have No Name,” reminded us of our journey together. And, in this version, Bono revisited the second song of the concert, “California,” nicely completing a theme, singing, “Love, love, love, there is no end to love.” It was a divine benediction for a lofty evening.

 

Abstract crosses made of light, used during “City Of Blinding Lights” and “Bad”

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So much more could be mentioned. Scripture falling from the ceiling during the apocalyptic “Until The End Of The World.” The remembrance of “Iris,” with film clips from Bono’s childhood. The chaos and beauty of a neighborhood highlighted with exquisite graphics during “Cedarwood Road.” And all were made more meaningful by the act of experiencing them together.

At the end of the second concert, Bono thanked the crowd for coming from all over the world to join with the tour premier, and graciously pointed to the uniqueness of the U2 community. “It’s just an amazing thing—whatever’s going on—it’s a phenomenon; equal, and better, to what’s going on on stage is what’s going on in the crowd, the U2 crowd, a very special people.” Those who have been to a U2 show will likely agree. And for that reason it’s a very special band.

Throughout the show, the rich symbolism of U2’s music was matched with equally inspiring and visually stunning imagery. If the band and company wanted to create a personal and engaging experience with the audience, they abundantly succeeded, even surpassing any expectations I had. Boldly combining the high-tech innovation of ZooTV with the warmth and intimacy of Elevation, this tour offers an evening of both innocence and experience, as U2 takes its community on a tribal journey that feels as much like spiritual ritual as it does rock concert.

 

Pages of Psalms, Dante and Alice In Wonderland fall during “Until The End Of The World”

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Amazing visuals throughout show, “With Or Without You”

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The Joshua Tree lives!

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