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Concert Reviews:
U2 schools 'em with stadium show in East Lansing
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

EAST LANSING -- The members of U2, frontman Bono told the crowd at Michigan State's Spartan Stadium, "never made it to University ourselves...U2 became our university, and Rolling Stone (magazine) was our textbook.

"And we're still students."

On Sunday night (June 26), however, Bono and his mates were, in fact, teachers, presenting a master class in how to do stadium-sized rock shows.

Outdoor spectacle is nothing new in the rock 'n' roll world, of course; Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and many others have fused music and staging over the years. But U2's 360 Tour, with its massive, 167-foot-high, 29,000-square-foot, four-legged superstructure known as The Claw, is another matter entirely -- not just the biggest show ever on the road, but also the most fan- and user-friendly, allowing the Irish quartet to play to give every nook and cranny of the stadium access to its galvanizing performance.

It's also, by the way, the most successful rock tour ever, with the 65,000-plus at Spartan Stadium (including Bob Seger, who gave the show a resounding thumbs-up as he departed) joining an expected seven million fans by the time the two-year-plus tour wraps at the end of July.

The 360 Tour, and Sunday's performance, which came just two days after U2 was in the U.K. playing the Glastonbury Festival, has also proven the band learns its lessons well. After being dwarfed by its props-laden previous stadium treks -- 1992's Zoo TV Outside Broadcast and the PopMart Tour of 1997-98 -- the band itself is unquestionably the start of this show. The Claw has plenty of tricks of its own -- particularly a conical high-definition video screen that expanded and contracted for different looks throughout the 23-song, two-hour-and-15-minute concert -- but everything was designed to focus attention on the band and its music.

And that, of course, played well to U2's standard performing sensibility, particularly Bono's penchant for being up-close and personal. All four band members, including drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. spent a generous amount of time working the circumference the stage, crossing from one circular area to another via two movable bridges. Large-scale intimacy may seem an oxymoron, but U2 figured out how to effectively recreate the same connection it's become so masterful at in arenas.

Bono made sure to bring it home with some local references, too, chanting "Go green! Go White!" at the beginning of the show, complimenting the "magical landscape" of the Michigan State campus and Michigan as "a beautiful state," and name-checking the local landmark Dooley's, where U2 played a basement set in December of 1981.

The repertoire, meanwhile, has tmorphed considerably since the tour launched in June of 2009 -- and was originally supposed to play Spartan Stadium a year ago, until that leg of the tour was postponed after Bono suffered a back injury. The then-current "No Line on the Horizon" album is old news now, with only three songs included in Sunday's set -- including the single "Get On Your Boots" and a playfully remixed version of "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," which U2 fused with its 1997 single "Discotheque" and snippets of Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime" and "Psycho Killer."

The emphasis on Sunday instead was on "Achtung Baby," the transitional album that's celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Following a strong opening set by Florence & the Machine, U2 even started the show with a four-song blast from the album -- "Even Better Than the Real Thing," "The Fly," "Mysterious Ways" and "Until the End of the World" -- and opening its encores with the anthem "One." The rest of the show spanned the group's career from "I Will Follow" and including charged renditions of enduring favorites such as "Beautiful Day," "Elevation," "Pride (In the Name of Love)," "City of Blinding Lights," "Vertigo" and "where the Streets Have No Name." Bono also slipped a bit of the early track "Rejoice" into "Walk On" and a reference to Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" into "Until the End of the World."

and he paid tribute to the late Clarence Clemons twice during the night -- quoting a bit of Bruce Springteen's "The Promised Land" in "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and reciting the final verse of "Jungleland" at the end of the final song, "Moment of Surrender."

There was socio-political content, too -- what would a U2 show be without that, after all? Bono lauded Amnesty International and the Peace Corps from the stage, saluted America as "a beautiful idea, not just a country" and university campuses, including MSU, as sources of new activism. Space shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly recited a bit of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" during "Beautiful Day," which Bono dedicated to his wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu delivered a sermon prior to "One."

"Walk On," meanwhile, celebrated the release of its subject, once imprisoned Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, by having Amnesty International and student volunteers ring the stage with special luminaria.

Clearly, this was not a modest enterprise, but U2 has never been a modest band -- creatively, at least. "We'll keep taking risks if you give us permission to," Bono told the crowd at one point, and as far as Spartan Stadium's 65,000 were concerned, he didn't even need to ask.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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