U2 landed its massive spaceship/stage comfortably inside the even more massive Cowboys Stadium on Monday night for a show that will be remembered as much for its sights as for its sounds. First, the sights.
Past tours have featured everything from a giant lemon (Popmart) to a curtain of beaded lights that functioned as a video screen (Vertigo). The talk of the current 360 Tour has been the four-pronged stage setup that looks like one of Gaudi’s rejected designs for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. But the truly memorable set piece was the round center video screen that could not only tilt on its axis but also stretch out, Slinky style, to three times its original height. Very cool.
A presence this big requires a massive sound behind it, and for the bulk of the show, that’s what the crowd got. Stadium-filling rockers “Elevation,” “Vertigo” and especially the newish “Get On Your Boots” used the loud-soft-loud dynamic to maximum effect. And when Bono had an opportunity to sustain a note, as in the chorus of “Breathe,” his urgent tenor filled the house.
That fullness and strength of voice is a quality that has eluded the singer at times on the last two tours. The difference between then and now can likely be chalked up to reduced stress on the ol’ vocal chords because of a lighter schedule. Playing stadiums allows for one concert per city in most cases instead of three and sometimes four arena shows in a week. The short breaks between shows (the last one before Monday was a gig in Tampa last Friday) also seems to be allowing the band to recharge its batteries. The night ended with “Moment of Surrender” off No Line on the Horizon, and when the foursome gathered center stage to take their bows, there was a tangible sense that Bono at least wished they could squeeze in one more number.
But even he couldn’t make that happen. When you have an operation this large and orchestrated, you’ve got to stick with the game plan. Of the five U2 shows I’ve seen, this was by far the most well-rehearsed. But polish can be the enemy of spontaneity, and if there was a downside to the presentation, it’s that it felt almost too precise. The last couple of trips through North Texas, the audience got what felt like pretty off-the-cuff renditions of “In God’s Country” and “Desire” (which was so of the moment that Bono had to ask a stagehand to fetch him a harmonica). On Monday, everyone knew his cue and where to be at the assigned time.
So, yes, that meant that some of those little moments that can happen in a big rock show didn’t. But they were more than made up for by an evening that blended spectacular visuals with fierce, full-on rock ‘n’ roll.
Check back in later Tuesday for a few more observations from the night, including a few out of left field local references made by the night’s host.