U2 left fans awestruck on Friday night as they kicked off their two-night stand at US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix. To say the iNNOCENT+eXPERIENCE tour was a spectacle would be an understatement, as the world's biggest band brought a visual and sonic freight train that hit the Valley in what are likely to be the most talked about shows of 2015.
What Bono and company did best during their lengthy 26-song set was navigate around the entire arena with a massive stage that included a long catwalk that stretched across the general admission area with a much smaller circular stage at the end which surprisingly made the show seem somewhat intimate. Bono then walked above the catwalk into a video screen that hung from the ceiling and brought Ireland to Phoenix with visuals of the band's hometown on "Cedarwood Road" and "Song For Somebody."
Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. walked down the catwalk carrying a snare drum and started a stripped down version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" before being joined by the rest of the band. The song ended with dialogue samples from the news and Mullen Jr. pounding away on the snare drum the same way he started the song. During "Until The End Of The World" guitarist The Edge played inside the video screen as video of a much larger Bono reached for him in, attempting to cup the guitarist in the palm of his hand in what looked like a game of cat and mouse. Just when you thought it couldn't get any cooler, there was a video of a lightbulb breaking that turned into waves with that covered the screen, and confetti fell from the sky as The Edge played the outro. It was not just sensory overload but it was a thing of aesthetic beauty.
After a quick intermission with images of Johnny Cash on the video screen, the band returned and played "Invisible" and "Even Better Than The Real Thing." Bono brought three female fans on the much smaller circular stage at the end of the catwalk and handed one of them a smart phone, and the fan-shot video appeared on the video screens for "Desire." It was truly amazing how much interaction the band, especially Bono, had with the crowd. He brought another very excited fan onstage to play acoustic guitar on "In God's Country." The nervous fan did a fine just performing the tune and even hammed it up quite a bit. Before he exited the stage he go down and kissed the band members hands, except Mullen, who was behind his drum kit.
Things didn't go so smoothly during "Sweetest Thing," as Bono flubbed the song and the band members were clearly not on the same page. Bono joked, "Sorry about that last song I guess it's time for the professionals." His voice was in tip-top shape during "Every Breaking Wave."
The band ripped through a heavy rendition of "Bullet The Blue Sky," with The Edge's ripping guitar work and onstage theatrics from Bono at the end of the song as he ran down the catwalk with his hands in the air saying "Don't Shoot I'm American." This was the part of the show that Bono went from playful to making statements. During "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" he said, "This is a moment where we get to talk about peace as an action, not wishful thinking, to be given as well as received." He went on to say "Now we turn this into a prayer, if you don't believe in prayer think positive thoughts because no one won in Ireland and that's why everybody won in Ireland."
"Bad" was full of passion and conviction and sounded just as important as it did on 1984's Unforgettable Fire, and it was the only time Bono removed his glasses. The band left the stage after "With Or Without You" before returning for a four-song encore. Before returning to the stage the band's crew propped up white light beams around much of the stage and some from the ceiling which made "City Of Blinding Lights" all the more stunning. They closed the evening with fan favorites "Where The Streets Have No Name" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
It was a show that was very human and made you feel as though you were apart of something bigger, something special. As someone who has never owned a U2 record other than their latest Songs Of Innocence that they put on my phone without my consent, I found myself looking for tickets on Craigslist and Stubhub for Saturday night's show to go see a band that I'd always thought was overrated. While we don't have to agree with all of Bono's politics we should embrace his passion and artistry because their aren't many out there like him.
Who: U2 at US Airways Center.
Crowd: Fans of all ages pack the sold-out venue.
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Overheard: "That might be the best show I've ever seen."
Personal Bias: I really liked the early stuff growing up but never considered myself a fan.