By Aidin Vaziri: It was massive. It was relentless. And, above all else, it was heartbreaking. But enough about the gnarly traffic jam outside Oakland’s Overstock.com Coliseum on Tuesday, which turned a typically easy commute to the ballpark into a panic-laced three-hour ordeal dotted with beaming red lights and a robust chorus of car horns.
The real action took place inside the stadium, where nearly 70,000 fans slowly filtered into their seats to finally catch a glimpse of U2’s big-budget 360° world tour, rescheduled from last year after the group’s front man, Bono, injured his back during rehearsals.
The singer, wearing his ever-present sunglasses in the middle of the evening, made up for the nightmare commute with a little flattery and a lot of passion.
“You guys invented the 21st century, didn’t you?” he said, surveying an eclectic audience that boasted lifelong fans, kids, unwitting contest winners, Silicon Valley glitterati and even a few real-life rock stars (Lou Reed was reportedly in the house).
Bono regaled the audience with details of a dinner the night before at San Francisco’s A16 with members of local platinum-shifters Metallica and Green Day. “Music shaped the Bay Area,” he said. “And the Bay Area shaped the world.”
Or as guitarist the Edge put it, “We talked about the most important issues of the day - the best Tequila available.”
U2, meanwhile, put on a formidable live show, with the singer breathing new life into some of the band’s most well-worn hits. Bono bellowed his way through decades-old songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” as if he were singing them for the first time.
With the Edge at his side, the front man delivered a stunning, full-throated acoustic version of “Stay (Faraway, So Close!).” He even convincingly filled in for Pavarotti on the understated operatic duet “Miss Sarajevo.”
The concert, built around a circular stage and enormous four-legged 400-ton structure known as “the Claw,” initially launched two years ago in support of the group’s indifferently received 12th studio album, “No Line on the Horizon.”
Going by the fervent reception that greeted the band at Tuesday’s concert, though, U2 didn’t lose any of its momentum during the time off, even though it failed to finish a promised follow-up release and has spent a good deal of time trying to untangle the problems with the Broadway production of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” (finally set to open next week).
In fact, the politically charged concert was part of what has officially become the highest grossing tour of all time (and most expensive to produce thanks to the 500,000-pixel video screen).
“Thank-you for your patience,” Bono said. “Some of you were two years younger when you bought those tickets.”
Despite the focus on the special effects at the outset of the evening, the band was never swallowed up by the technology - even when they were completely enveloped by it during “Zooropa.” The Claw came to life a few times during the 2.5-hour show, spouting green smoke and shooting red lights high into the sky, but it never felt like the main attraction.
Some people in the crowd grumbled that the giant screens made it feel like watching a DVD at home - especially from the back rows. But no amount of high-definition engineering could wring out the kind of emotion the group - rounded out by bass player Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. - summoned during its mesmerizing run through “One.” That took real soul.