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U2 360° at the Rose Bowl

[Three stars] Universal Directed by Tom Krueger/U2


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Three decades in, U2 has softened into a sensitive beast – a peace mascot, a political diplomat, a spiritual preacher – exhorting world unity.  The transition, from Eighties punk brash boys to a Bono-led meditation on world consciousness has been a smooth, almost imperceptible one for the music world’s most loved Irishmen. U2’s catalogue from Boy (1980) to No Line on the Horizon (2009) never let one single image linger for too long and constantly straying from the safe and narrow path in some way allowed this outfit to cover a vast spectrum of rock & roll. Though as exciting, prolific and inclusive U2’s songwriting career has been on record, the live experience is where the band’s present emphasises itself, slowly inching away from its legacy pre-Pop (1997).

Promoting their twelfth studio album, No Line on the Horizon, the U2 360° Tour  kicked off in June last year at Barcelona, Spain. The focal point of this massively ambitious tour was a claw-shaped stage that allowed a 360-degree, full circle interaction between the audience and the band, best realised in stadiums which was where this entire tour was held. Directed by Tom Krueger, this DVD captures the band’s concert at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California which took place on October 15, 2009.

Themed around a space voyage, the stage (architected by Mark Fisher) is constructed as a futuristic four legged space-ship, nicknamed “the claw.” But the massive construction aside, the stage setup is minimalistic, allowing the band plenty of space to move.

The show starts – a tad unexcitingly – ‘Get on Your Boots’ rom No Line on the Horizon but the next two hours more than make up for it with some purely electrifying U2 mania. Bono’s vocals ring sonorous with a deep sincerity, the Edge unflinchingly delivers with the crisp perfection of a veteran, bassist Adam Clayton plays the sophisticated butler while Larry Mullen Jr sits pretty behind that drum kit, and everything seems to be in order. But it lacks the kick that came from their earlier brash act that launched concerts like the high octane Popmart (1997-98) or the impudence of Zoo TV (1992-93). This concert’s time and space are reserved for eulogising and sympathising with Iran, Africa, Aung San Suu Kyi and working the whole socio-political mojo into song.

The set-list mostly features tracks from No Line on the Horizon but a few inclusions are made from U2’s essential collection, so nostalgia trippers are served their due. The take away number on this one would have to be ‘I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.’ Here, the band enthralls with a manic shindig – even Mullen is on his feet sporting a pair of bongos – and the U2 of old seems to resurface in flashes. The other high points of this concert are the energy-crazed, speedball ‘Elevation,’ riveting spinner ‘Vertigo,’ and the sum of a few cult classics ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday,’ ‘Mysterious Ways’ and ‘Where the Streets Have No Name.’ The goosebumps surface with Bono’s echoing rendition of ‘Stand by Me’ which is accompanied by a full throated singalong from the audience. But such moments are easy to come by in any U2 concert, rather, are expected. While this concert keeps the agenda of ‘world’s best rock band’ well in contention and feeds U2’s goodwill it falls a bit pale when compared with the heady demon days of U2 that gave us some of its best live experiences.

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