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u2 intro D4S8177 kleinLanxess Arena, Cologne, Germany
4th September 2018
U2 - “eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE” Tour 2018

If there is one band on this planet which does not need any introduction, it would be the quartet of four Irishmen, formed more than four decades ago. U2 have always been known for ground-breaking, experimental live shows. And U2 would not be U2, if they would not try to push the limits further each time in terms of augmenting the live experience.

It all started back in 1976, when Bono (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), the Edge (lead guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals), Adam Clayton (bass guitar), and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums and percussion) met as teenagers attending the same school. Within four years they were able to secure a record contract and issued their debut album ‘Boy’ in 1980. From there, the trajectory was simply stellar, and 13 albums later, U2 are definitely one of the best-selling artists of the world, having sold over 170 million records over the past four decades. To find out more about the band, go to www.u2.com / https://www.facebook.com/u2.

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Music & Performance
Obviously, in the league of superstar bands like U2 there is no place for warm-up acts. And another good thing is that you do not have to be on time, as around the scheduled start at 8pm there was still no sign of the band. This gave the approx. 18,000 fans a little more time to entertain themselves by engaging in Brazilian Wave formations in the arena, or simply marvel at the stage layout, which was a further evolved version of the 2015 iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour. The floor area of the Lanxess arena was effectively split in two by a giant screen wall, measuring over 30m in length and 8.5m in height, fittingly dubbed “the Barricade”. At each end of the wall there was a stage area, which had the people with access to the ground area guessing where their idols would appear.

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Around half past 8pm, the lighting was dimmed, the Noel Gallagher song ‘It's a Beautiful World’ started playing, and the giant screens came to life with a video projection of a mash-up of scenes from Charlie Chaplin’s iconic film ‘The Great Dictator’, interlaced with pictures of real and would-be dictators (think Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump), destroyed cities all over Europe in the aftermath of WWII, and demonstrating youths bearing “Refugees welcome” banners. Then the barricade itself was illuminated and U2 started playing the song ‘The Blackout’ from the 2017 ‘Songs of Experience’ album from inside the barricade, of which the main upper part was slowly lifted towards the ceiling. What became immediately clear is that the sound engineers had done a tremendous job. Wherever you were inside the huge arena, you were truly immersed into the soundscape of the concert without losing a sense of direction where the music originated, and all instruments and Bono’s distinct vocals came across in a perfectly clear way.

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U2 continued their set from the main stage with another song from their newest album, before they took a bit step back in history to play ‘I will follow’ from their debut. Generally, the setlist relied very much on the newer works of the band (‘Experience’: 9, ‘Achtung Baby’: 4 and ‘Innocence’: 2), while throwing in a few gems from the past. Conspicuously absent were the iconic songs from the 1987 album ‘Joshua Tree’, which had been featured extensively during the 30th anniversary tour of that album last year. The crowd absolutely did not seem to mind, as they greeted each song with deafening cheers. However, someone needs to tell these 40-to 50-somethings that their concert photos and videos taken by their cell phone are not really improved by the use of the tiny cell flash, and that other viewers might find being blinded by the bright light rather annoying.

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The song ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ saw Bono and his band members marching on the barricade towards the other stage. The stage transition was also marked by an abrupt change in looks, as Bono donned a black coat, a top-hat, and a ton of make-up to mark his metamorphosis into a Mephistopheles -like character. This was augmented by the screen projection on the giant barricade, which positioned a devilish mask onto Bono’s face, while he was singing songs like ‘Elevation’ and ‘Vertigo’. However, the projection’s algorithm at times seemed to be a bit glitchy, which made the whole thing look like a pixelated image from an 80s arcade game from time to time, so the supposedly harrowing effect was largely lost. Maybe the tour’s creative director Willie Williams can work up some contacts at Snapchat to see how they do it with the supposedly cute bunny ear filters for next time.

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In the meantime, Bono’s alter ego referred to the #wirsindmehr movement in Chemnitz, and some guy called Bambino from a band named DIE TOTE HOSEN, all while mentioning that the devil’s work is done best when no one believes in his existence any more. The band created a truly emotional moment when Bono and the Edge played the song ‘Summer of Love’, during which Bono recounted a wonderful summer the band members had in France together with their families, all while the giant screen projected soothing pictures of a calm blue ocean. All this then was suddenly ripped apart, when the projection showed tiny rubber dinghies with people desperate to escape the ruins of their home towns, only to be met with the ugly faces of neo-fascists rioting all over Europe. This paved the way for the song ‘Pride’, which over five decades after the assassination of Martin Luther King has lost nothing in terms of relevance, and the projection displayed the more positive message to “meet their madness with reason”.

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Before the song ‘Get Out of Your Own Way’ U2 made their way back to the main stage, all while a giant European flag was raised behind the stage and played another legacy hit ‘New Year’s Day’ from the band’s third album ‘War’. The end of the main part was marked by ballad ‘City of Blinding Lights’, during which the lights were dimmed, and the stadium was turned into a galaxy of shining lights by people holding up their smartphones. Fortunately, the evening did not end there just yet. After a short while of frenetic cheering and clapping in near darkness, the barricade started flickering again to display an empowering message for equality, honouring the work of organizations, such as ONE and RED, trying to end poverty and discrimination.

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U2 kicked off the encore with the Uber hit ‘One’ and then proceeded to play ‘Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way’ (another gem from their most recent album). After almost after a good 120 minutes playtime, the concert closed with the ballad ‘13 (There is a Light)’, sending a powerful message out to everyone in the auditorium as well as to future generations: “If there is a dark / Now we shouldn’t doubt / And there is a light / Don’t let it go out.” Clearly, this was not a glitzy “best-of” show of a bunch of saturated superstars. Say what you want about Bono’s supposedly ego-stroking demeanour in the media, but on that night U2 showed that they are truly committed to the good cause, and in troubled times like these, humanity needs every help it can get.

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Setlist
It’s a Beautiful World (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds song) TAPE
Love Is All We Have Left / Zooropa (Extended Intro with Charlie Chaplin speech from the Great Dictator) TAPE
Inside Screen
01. The Blackout
Main Stage
02. Lights of Home (St. Peter’s String Version)
03. I Will Follow
04. Red Flag Day
05. Beautiful Day
06. The Ocean
07. Iris (Hold Me Close)
08. Cedarwood Road
09. Sunday Bloody Sunday (i+e semi-acoustic version)
10. Until the End of the World (with "Lord of the Files" and "Introduction" snippets)
E-Stage
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me (Gavin Friday Remix) TAPE
11. Elevation (Influx Remix Intro)
12. Vertigo (with "Rebel Rebel" snippet)
13. Even Better Than the Real Thing (Fish Out of Water Remix; tour debut)
14. Acrobat
15. You’re the Best Thing About Me (full band acoustic)
16. Summer of Love (Bono and The Edge only; tour debut)
17. Pride (In the Name of Love)
18. Get Out of Your Own Way
19. New Year’s Day (reworked version, no final verse)
20. City of Blinding Lights (with "Ode to Joy" snippet)
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Women of the World (Jim O’Rourke song)
21. One
22. Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way
23. 13 (There Is a Light)
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) (Talking Heads song)

Rating
Music: 10
Performance: 10
Sound: 10
Light: 9
Total: 9.8 / 10

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All pictures by Daniela Vorndran (http://www.vorndranphotography.com / http://www.facebook.com/blackcatnet)

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