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Veltins Arena, Gelsenkirchen, Germany
3rd August 2009
U2, Snow Patrol

The probably biggest Rock band of today brings the probably biggest and one of the most innovative stages on tour. U2 bring their “360° Tour” to the football stadiums and arenas of the world, and we checked their stop in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, to see what this huge stage called “The Claw” looks like, and how the Irish band sounds in 2009. U2 is the world’s biggest Rock act - that’s what the media tells you at least. And it might be true, especially when you’re too young to remember the Stones. However, seeing U2 live was a first for me, and the second chance to check out a huge stadium show in front of almost 70,000 people within a couple of weeks after seeing DEPECHE MODE on the “Tour Of The Universe” a few weeks ago.

Formed in 1976 in Dublin, Ireland, U2 gained more and more success in the first half of the 1980s, and the four Irishmen belong to the few international top acts at least since 1987’s massive album ‘The Joshua Tree’ and have sold more than 145 million albums worldwide to date. The band consists of Bono (vocals, guitar), The Edge (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Adam Clayton (bass guitar), and Larry Mullen, Jr. (drums); U2 still has the original line-up, which is quite astonishing 33 years into the career of the band. Some 25 years ago, U2 was a band as un-cool as you’d imagine, despite the already enormous success. U2 were unfashionable, un-cool, down to earth, they had a strong sense of mission and Bono was the self-proclaimed preacher against all things bad. Too hippy for the neo-liberal yuppies of the 1980s, too un-cool for all fashionistas, too old-fashioned for modernists.

But in the last decade of the cold war all the environmentalists and peace movement people loved U2 just as much as the average Joe in High school or the students at the institute of applied social studies. Ironically, a big part of U2’s success in the 1980s was that they didn’t appeal to just anyone, it was a case of love 'em or leave 'em. The 1990s saw the Irish band changing drastically - musically, but even more so image-wise. U2 flirted with sampling technology and Dance music, singer Bono created alter egos like “MacPhisto” or “The Fly” and the band embraced heavily high-tech and multimedia. While the latter is still true for U2’s shows today, they musically returned a bit more to their straight Rock roots with their 21st century outputs. After missing the four Irishmen live in concert way too many times, it was pretty overdue and high-time for me to check them out live.

Music & Performance
The first thing you experience when you enter the stadium for a U2 360° show is your jaw dropping to the floor in no time! Even if you were warned by seeing pictures and videos of it on the net you are not really prepared, it is simply a different thing to see it with your own eyes in its full glory. “The Claw” - probably the first stage which got a name in its own right - is impressive indeed! It looks like a weird, huge UFO which landed in the middle of the stadium. Actually it looked even too big for a huge football stadium like the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen. Unfortunately I missed the support band, SNOW PATROL, but from what I’ve heard they went down really well and got a great response from the U2 fans. That’s what a support band should do, warming up the audience for the main act. SNOW PATROL obviously did this job brilliantly and surely won over a few new fans. The roof of the stadium was by the way closed, which was probably rather an advantage for the light show during the first half of the show. Nothing ruins a great light show more than daylight!

With a big roar from the entire crowd the lights turned off and Bono, The Edge, Mullen and Clayton entered the stage. At first they presented a couple of songs from their new album ‘No Line on the Horizon’ including the title track and the first single ‘Get on your Boots’. The latter was much criticized by the fans; all over the net you could read that it were a bad song and a bad choice for a single. Surprisingly, ‘Get On Your Boots’ went down really well in Gelsenkirchen! A first highlight, but no hint at what was still to come. ‘Beautiful Day’ and ‘Elevation’ went down like a storm and rose the party level to unknown heights, the audience was singing unison with Bono and from the upper tiers the masses on the floor looked like an ongoing wave. ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ is a popular anthem but U2’s show lost a bit of the momentum with the subsequent series of slower songs. But that didn’t matter too much, the light show and video screens were still breathtaking and absolute eye-candy. The performance itself was good to solid - not really outstanding or overly virtuosic. Especially The Edge seemed to have a few problems here and there, perhaps just a bad day when he wasn’t as much as into it as on other nights. However, the performance was perhaps not perfect but emotional, and it was definitely fun to be part of the show. With ‘The unforgettable Fire’ the band was digging out an old classic which was overlooked for too long but things were really taking off again with the wonderful ‘City of blinding Lights’ (aptly accompanied by great, well, blinding lights!) and especially the hard-rocking ‘Vertigo’. Probably the finest moment of the show: U2 had to restart the song after a minute because The Edge had some technical issues with his amplifier. What sounds like a disaster was in fact a very charming moment! Bono commented “Thirty years in this band, and never, never The Edge was blowing his amplifier!” A technician solved the problem within a second and then again - “Uno! Dos! Tres! Catorce!”.

The crowd really went mental from this point on, from the floor up to the highest tiers in the stadium. A remix of ‘I'll go crazy if I don't go crazy tonight’ delivered a groovy vibe and finally saw the band using the circle catwalk a bit more. Even Larry Mullen left his drums - this job was now done by a drum machine after all - to walk around with some congas. Nice! ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ had the effect anyone would expect, with big sing-alongs and an audience at the palm of Bono’s hands. Some long-time fans might argue that U2 have played this song to death already, I for one was happy to hear it live finally. An old tradition for U2 is throwing in snippets of other artist’s songs they like, so they did with THE CLASH’s ‘Rock the Casbah’. A fitting choice as the visuals gave ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ a new meaning, rather aimed at the Muslim world and the so-called “war against terror” than Irish history. In the last part of the show, Bono increasingly took the chance to talk about political social issues and the “One” campaign. He dedicated ‘MLK’ to Burma's democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and there was even a speech by Desmond Tutu which merged into the glorious, magnificent ‘Where the Streets have no Name’. Glorious finale of the main set was the song ‘One’. Bono asked everyone to hold up their phone and camera displays so that the audience can create some sort of milky way in the darkened Veltins Arena. Quite a beautiful sight! Just as beautiful as the extended version of the song, even though Bono seemed to lose track a little. But with 70,000 fans stepping in to do his job no problem at all! The emotional highlight of the show!

U2 left the stage but soon returned to do a three-song encore. Bono wore now a coat with violet light bulbs, perfect for performing ‘Ultra Violet (Light my Way)’ from 1991’s ‘Achtung Baby’ album. Instead of normal microphone stand, Bono now used some kind of wheel hanging from the roof top with a mike in the middle. A bit weird but kinda cool. Bono should just take care that he doesn’t stumble when he fiddles around with it, which he almost did in Gelsenkirchen! U2 continued with another slow, epic song ‘With or Without You’. One of their most popular songs for sure but I have to admit that this was the only low-point of the night. Bono seemed to have lost it totally now and rather mumbling the lyrics than singing them. It sounded totally off but I hoped for another big stomper with great sing-alongs coming next. But the closer of the show was ‘Moment of Surrender’ from the new album, a most beautiful and touching song but not exactly the anthem all those who were still up for party mood probably have hoped for. But the rather mellow encore with three songs only, including a lacklustre performance of ‘With or Without You’, could not ruin the overall impression of this gig. U2 do know how to put on the best show of it’s time. Albeit musically only solid, the visual side of their show sets the landmark for all other big acts and U2 definitely have a following which is more than willing to feed from their hands and to join in every “oooh-oh-oh” sing-along they are offered. And the U2 back catalogue has many songs which invite stadium sing-alongs! I missed a few songs like ‘New Year’s day’ or ‘Mysterious Ways’ but hey, you can’t have everything, right?

The bottom line? The 360° Tour is visually for sure the best thing I’ve ever witnessed, and I say this with an experience of more than 500 live gigs behind me. Yeah, a shame that there’s only one U2 show among them! The 360° show sets new standards and shows what is possible with today’s technology when you give it some thought and add some creativity. “The Claw” makes the stage of the afore mentioned DEPECHE MODE, who played similar stadiums only weeks before U2, look like a shoe box with some fancy lights. And the winner is? Well, honestly, for me DEPECHE MODE. Their stage concept is put to shame by U2’s big machinery but the Essex lads have an audience at least as passionate as U2’s and they also have their own secret weapon: A front man who’s constantly on fire and in top form in 2009 - Dave Gahan! But perhaps the trick is to not compare these two acts. U2 are perfect for stadiums, DEPECHE MODE will come back this autumn to play the venues where they belong - indoor arenas - and word has it that U2 might be back in Europe in 2010. I’ll be there!!!

01. Breathe
02. No Line on the Horizon
03. Get on your Boots
04. Magnificent
05. Beautiful Day
06. Elevation
07. I still haven't found what I'm looking for / Movin' on up (Snippet)
08. Stuck in a Moment you can't get out of
09. Unknown Caller
10. The unforgettable Fire
11. City of blinding Lights
12. Vertigo
13. I'll go crazy if I don't go crazy tonight (Remix Version)
14. Sunday Bloody Sunday / Rock the Casbah (Snippet)
15. Pride (In the Name of Love)
16. MLK
17. Walk on / You'll never walk alone (Snippet)
[Desmond Tutu Speech]
18. Where the Streets have no Name
19. One / Mensch (Snippet)
20. Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
21. With or Without You
22. Moment of Surrender

Music: 9
Performance: 8
Sound: 8
Light: 10+
Total: 8.7 / 10

All pictures by Maik Palm
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