Opening Act(s): No Doubt
Elevation, Beautiful Day, Until The End Of The World, New Year’s Day, I Will Follow, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, Slow Dancing, Angel Of Harlem, A Sort Of Homecoming, Please, All I Want Is You, Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For-Three Little Birds, Pride (In The Name Of Love). Encore: Bullet The Blue Sky, What’s Going On, New York, One-Molly Malone, Walk On.
Bono brings fan Scott Perretta on stage to play guitar and he begins ‘A Sort Of Homecoming’ before Bono and The Edge realize what he’s playing. They soon join in and play a spirited version, even though Bono doesn’t remember many lyrics. Bono also brings a female fan on stage during ‘Until The End Of The World’ and she takes part in the ‘duel’ with The Edge. Gwen Stefani once again sings during ‘What’s Going On.’ Bono reads some of the victims’ names that scroll behind the band during ‘One.’
It’s difficult for me to write an unbiased review of a U2 show. As something of a U2 devotee, I’d probably revel in the genius of U2’s ironic deconstruction if they were to come out dressed in pink spandex pants and white mesh tops with four cans of Aquanet holding up their newly reacquired mullets, all the while knocking out a cover of Every Rose Has Its Thorns.
That said, what’s probably more telling is the juxtaposition of No Doubt and U2, openers and headliners. No Doubt is a great live band. They have catchy tunes that, as a result of ubiquitous airplay, have nearly become figments of the cultural lexicon. They have an incredibly talented, high-energy frontwoman and a band that has honed itself into an admirably tight unit over the course of more than a decade touring together. In short, they rock. And rock they did as the opening act with a set that was remarkably full of familiar radio staples, considering only two of their albums have enjoyed widespread, commercial success. They managed to keep the Heart, and most of the floor for that matter, pounding througout their entire set. Then U2 came out and showed them how the big boys do it.
In short, U2’s performance at the Oakland Coliseum Arena on November 16, 2001 was, bar none, the greatest rock concert that I have had the privilege of experiencing. Uncanny musicianship, earnest emotion, grand theatrics, heart pounding exhiliration and a genuine sense of community are all, as individual elements, difficult pieces of a live puzzle that rock bands struggle to master. U2 nailed all five.
As is established custom for the band at this point, they sauntered confidently onto the stage with the lights still up, briefly waved to the croud, then crashed into Elevation. And with that inspired opening, the show was off and running. From the first notes of Elevation, to the house lights going down, to the opening notes of Beautiful Day straight through to the end of the fourth song, New Year’s Day, the tidal wave of emotional energy throughout the venue was unrelenting. It wasn’t until the seventh song, the more mid-tempo Stuck in a Moment, that most everyone had their feet back in contact with terra firma. Elevation indeed.
Act two was a more intimate affair. Kicking off with the aforementioned Stuck in a Moment, the band flipped off the arena rock switch and turned on their intimate club gig mode. At this point, they might have just been showing off their skill and cohesion as a band, but it was not unappreciated. In a rare moment of spontaneity, Bono and the Edge pulled out a beautiful rendition of their 1998 B-side, Slow Dancing. That was quickly followed by an equally lovely version of Kite which Bono dedicated to his recently deceased father. A song later, the band was upstaged by a fan, an apparent rising superstar going only by the name of Scott. Playing on the band’s tradition of bringing a fan onstage and leading him through a tune or two, Scott clambered up and started knocking out A Sort of Homecoming. The band, unaccustomed to having the fan pick the tune, scratched their heads for a bit before gamely playing along. As it turns out, Scott was far better versed in the 1984 tune and had to replay the opening bars a few times before Bono succumbed by filling in his forgotten lyrics with a melodic tale about fellow Irish rocker Van Morrison. And for a brief moment, U2 became a five piece.
Following the now haunting and prophetic Please, U2 segued back into their arena rock gear with All I Want Is You and the 1987 classic Where the Streets Have No Name. The latter’s cathedral-filling guitar crescendo built out of the end of the former as Bono prepped the crowd for his big messianic, megalomaniacal moment. As the music reached critical mass, the stage lights exploded and illuminated the arena driving the crowd into a frenzy. Bono, ever the showman, played off of this, sprinting around the Heart commanding the crowd in a manner probably not seen anywhere this side of Axl Rose delivering his metal disciples with Paradise City circa 1989. After knocking out 1980s standards and crowd pleasers I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and Pride, U2 closed out the main set.
They reemerged for the obligatory encore with Bullet the Blue Sky, a brave choice considering recent events and the current national fervor. For Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On, Gwen Stefani of opening act No Doubt emerged to duet with Bono. Again, another brave choice given the political climate. U2 made sure to clarify their stance, though, with the closing trio of songs. With New York, Bono reaffirmed his love for the hobbled Big Apple. With One, the band brought the arena’s collective humanity together, and reminded us all that the victims of September 11th were not numbers but rather mothers and sons and fathers and daughters by scrolling the names of the victims on a screen behind the band. While it is near to impossible to express the outpouring of emotion and tears in a moment like that, it can be compared to the sort of communal high that one usually approaches only with artifical inducement. And by closing with the defiant Walk On, U2 provided a sort of musical catharsis for the assembled masses. If only we, as a people, could build an enormo-dome to house humanity for two-hours of U2…perhaps we could imagine John Lennon’s wildly idealistic and impossible dream…
All images are © Julie Burton