Mixed Media On The Road— Evening of Burning Heat, U2 Live at the New Meadowlands

“I was born, I was born to sing for you
I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up”
-“Magnificent”

The U2 360 tour of 2011, which began with a handful of dates in the early part of the year outside the U.S. and had only three shows remaining on its North American peaked on a hot night in New Jersey at the New Meadowlands on July 20th. Much of the tour, including this show was the result of rescheduling after U2 had to cancel the 2010 dates because Bono had hurt his back during rehearsals in Europe. The emotional, technically imaginative and career-spanning 2 ½-hour performance was as long a concert as the group has ever done and by most accounts a vast improvement over the still excellent 2009 stop in the states.

The band began the show with a heavy dose of songs from the now 20-year-old Achtung Baby album. Nearly dwarfed by the giant “claw” overhead, which looked like a cross between huge spider legs and a space-age tower, the foursome blasted out an endless barrage of stadium-sized guitar rock that mixed queasy futuristic despair with mostly heartfelt hope and the search for possibilities in a time of limitations. There was also a general futuristic space-age feel to the show, including trippy outer-space animation. The two songs that bracketed the band’s performance were “Space Oddity” from David Bowie and immediately after the last encore, “Rocket Man” from Elton John. Also, “Beautiful Day” was introduced by astronaut Mark Kelly, via a clip recorded from the space shuttle back in early June.

Some of the high points included an anthemic “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and impassioned vocals from Bono on “Miss Sarajevo.” A techno reworking of “I Still Go Crazy” did not improve on the wonderful original and a thundering “Beautiful Day” was a little ragged. These are minor quibbles though, as the band diligently worked hard to prove its place in the pantheon of rock. The group never simply relied on its old hits, nor did it appear remote or aloof, despite playing in such a cavernous setting. As usual, the group performed songs with heart, as was particularly evident on “Magnificent,” “Beautiful Day,” Pride,” “City of Blinding Light,” “Walk On” and “One.” There was also no overt promoting of the Spider Man Turn Off the Dark play or CD, both of which, now that the false starts have ended, have rightfully been well received. Bono acknowledged the recent passing of Clarence Clemons of the E-Street Band and with Bruce Springsteen and his wife Patti in attendance, dedicated “Moment of Surrender” to the big man and added a little of Bruce’s “Promised Land” to the song.

In an age when every musical genre seems to be encroaching on not only rock’s former dominance but its actual relevancy, U2 is a reminder of the power of the simple four-piece, guitar -based rock band. Like that of The Who before it, the music is both cathartic and a key to truth and freedom. While the members of The Who often brought a stinging anger to their music, U2 prefers to plead for hope and forgiveness. In many respects the band is the last great rock band.