U2 singer BonoU2 singer BonoBy Arturo Mora, Kansas City Star Midwest Voices columnist 2009
Before the concert started, with all the hassles of lines and traffic, I was thinking, “I’m getting too old for this.” Once U2 started playing, and after two hours of dancing and screaming and singing right along with the kids, I was joyfully reminded that, if it’s still in your heart, you’re never too old to rock n’ roll.
U2 rocked a crowd of 60,000 at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium Sunday night as part of their 360-degree Tour. It’s a shame they didn’t play Kansas City, but the six hour drive and the robber baron ticket prices* were well worth it. (*Including having to join U2’s fan club to even have a shot at tickets.)
From beginning till end, after a third encore, the Irish rockers never let up and made it a memorable experience for fans new and old. It was fun watching college age kids jump around and pump their fists in the air to songs like Sunday, Blood Sunday, from an album (tape actually) I purchased when most of them weren’t born yet, back in 1983.
U2 bracketed the new songs, from this year’s release No Line on the Horizon, around their classics. The new tunes played well enough (they opened with the title track and ended the show with Moment of Surrender), but it was only when The Edge picked the first funky chords of Mysterious Ways that the crowd went truly wild and began the sing-a-long.
The arachnid spaceship contraption that served as their stage was impressive, with ramps and a 360-degree walkway that the band, especially Bono and The Edge, utilized to give fans a full in-the-round experience. Huge TV screens at the top of an electronic “core” of this spaceship gave everyone who forgot their binoculars a front-seat view, when it wasn’t used for light shows or shooting lasers into the sky.
U2 has always been strong on the showmanship, but if you think their music is all about fluff you don’t know this band well. The night alternated between out-and-out rockers such as Elevation, and very spiritual, introspective rock n’ roll hymns like I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (sung mostly by the audience).
If you think spiritual rock n’ roll is an oxymoron, you’re not paying full attention to the potential of the genre. The term might seem like a formula for utter boredom, born of puffed up righteousness, but Bono, who is somewhat of a Catholic mystic, takes this music to a higher level while never forgetting what his job is, rock n’ roller.
When you can get an audience this large singing along to Amazing Grace, more or less in unison, and then get them to care—even if for a moment—about what’s going in Burma and Africa and Iran, all the while dancing and singing and having fun, you’ve got a valuable spiriitual skill.
U2 began their career as earnest young preachers, letting us know what they thought about apartheid and racism in songs such as Pride (I was amazed they failed to play their signature anthem), in a way that seemed a little self-conscious. The songs still worked, and the concert moments of thousands of lighters in the air (replaced Sunday by thousands of lighted cell phones held aloft) were truly spiritual experiences. But it all seemed a little self-important.
They’ve matured as a rock band and learned that it always comes back to the music. If you can’t make ‘em dance, they’re not really going to listen.
The tail end of the concert, before the encores, segued into the political. But it wasn’t done in a pushy way. No statements about political parties, no criticisms, just positive tributes to those working for peace, freedom, and to feed the hungry. The most moving was an intense Sunday, Bloody Sunday, sung for the martyrs of Iran, with the spaceship fully bathed in green and pictures of the protestors on the screen.
The band is unparalleled for its longevity as a relevant voice in rock n’ roll. The Rolling Stones have been continuously playing much longer, but they stopped creating serious rock music about 30 years ago. Most of the audience seemed to be under 30, mixed with a fair amount of us grayhairs. While U2 may no longer be in their prime, they continue to work hard to search for new expressions and reach new hearts.
In addition, Bono, who might have been a more deserving winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize than President Obama, has run a school on how to skillfully use a celebrity platform to work for real change, instead of working just to burnish your image .
PS…I found some good pictures of the concert at this web site.