Rogers Centre, Toronto
Wednesday, September 16
“It was the band’s call,” a representative from LiveNation confided, referring to who exactly was responsible for opening the retractable roof of the Rogers Centre for Wednesday night’s U2 concert.
After all, they don’t open the roof for just anyone. The last time - the first time - was for Bruce Springsteen, back in 2003. Not for The Stones, or AC/DC, nor U2 under-studies Coldplay, who played the same venue just a month prior. However, U2 is not just any band. From the Blackberry hawkers and Amnesty International and One Campaign booths greeting fans outside they gate, to the massive stage inside, they are a spectacle. Further, they are the world’s biggest rock and roll band, and they proved it once again on the first night of a two night Toronto run.
Let’s begin with the stage, because, well, it’s impossible to ignore. The centrepiece of the Irish band’s “360 Tour”, it is a stage so massive and interactive it had its own fact sheet, distributed to the various media covering the event. Nicknamed, “The Claw”, the steel structure stands 90 feet tall, and can support 180 tons. It takes four days to build and 48 hours to tear down.
After an opening set by Scots band Snow Patrol, the audience got a sense of what that stage could do. However, it was clear that there was more in store from it once U2 would take over. After the speakers were turned up with David Bowie’s Space Oddity - reinforcing the idea that stage was meant to be a spaceship - smoke escaped from the top, and the band - led by drummer Larry Mullen Jr, then his partner in rhythm Adam Clayton, and followed by the showmen, The Edge and, finally, Bono - opened the show with Breathe.
The hometown references began early, and in earnest, as Bono altered the line from the opening song: “walk out into a sunburnt street’ to “walk out into a Toronto street”. The name dropping continued: Yonge Street, Rogers Centre, the TTC and Union Station, followed by the band’s mission statement: “We’ve got old songs, new songs, songs we can barely play. We got a spaceship, but we’re not going to lift of without you.” Although he might have included something about helping the world, but that would come later.
As impressive as the stage was, the world’s most popular crusader for the impoverished had to at least acknowledge the opulence of it. And he did. As the band made it’s way through Magnificent, one of the strongest tracks from their most recent album, No Line On The Horizon, Bono smiled and he belted out the line : “This foolishness can leave a heart black and blue”, emphasizing the words “this foolishness” with a ringmasters wave around The Claw.
New songs aside, the band got the greatest reaction from their classics. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, had the greatest crowd reaction early on, and was followed by a soul-filled version of Ben E King’s Stand By Me. Until The End of the World featured Bono sprinting the entire radius of the stage, and followed by the 49-year old singer laying down (dramatic effect, or needed rest?) to start a stirring rendition of Stay (Faraway, So Close!).
Using the video screen, which extended to the floor of the stage, and retracted, throughout the night, the band had several guest stars join the show. First was International Space Station astronaut Frank De Winne, reading out a verse of the welcome and rare set-list add Your Blue Room (technically not even a U2 song, but one from little known side project with Brian Eno, Passengers).
The screen was most active during the “message” part of the show, the part of the evening where the band made it clear that they politics remain at the heart of what they do. Starting with a green-covered montage of images from Iran, the band playing an impassioned version of Sunday Bloody Sunday, with The Edge shining in his solos, followed by Walk On, dedicated to Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest.
The first encore featured a message from the charismatic Desmond Tutu, talking about the ONE Campaign, which was followed of course, by the band’s One, then a cover of Amazing Grace, and concluded with Where The Streets Have No Name, which would have raised the roof, had there been one
The second encore featured a more measured light show, with disco ball lights and red laser beams and a hanging mic, that Bono swung about on while singing With Or Without You. With the roof open, the ongoing CN Tower light display seemed to be playing along with the band’s light show.
Before launching into the last song of the night, Bono made sure to thank the corporation which brought them: RIM, or specifically its Blackberry division, which helped with the costs of the tour.
Ever the campaigner, Bono acknowledged he was a “pain in the arse” to Steven Harper, but thanked the Canadian Prime Minister “for increasing aid”.
“The world needs more Canadas”, he said, to obvious cheers.
As Bono thanked the crowd for “giving us a great life”, he also made sure it was clear that they band was “just getting going now.” And as they closed the night with a spot-on, soulful rendering of Moment of Surrender, it definitely seemed so.