FOXBORO-What weighs more than 54 tons, glitters like crazy, and swings? If you’re thinking Aretha Franklin in Vegas singing “Since You’ve Been Gone,” you’re not far off the mark.
It’s U2’s current tour, and it lands at Gillette Stadium for two shows Sunday and Monday. “Land” being the operative word: Bono refers to the stage for this tour as “the spaceship,” and for once the outspoken frontman is demonstrating some modesty. Put another way, if only Tom Brady could cover the field at Gillette like this 90-foot tall, steel structure that will reach to every corner of the field, the Pats would have won by three touchdowns Monday night.
Think Zoo TV, the band’s 1992-93 tour, on steroids.
The tonnage is to help mark the band’s first stadium tour in a decade, and its never-ending quest to take the spectacle and somehow find the intimate amid it all.
Proving you wrong
And, if you think you know U2, the band is hoping to prove you wrong. After two late-career masterpieces, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” and “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” the band decided to toss up a few curveballs. Its latest CD, “No Line on the Horizon,” is not loaded with obvious hits that jump out off the speakers and grab you by ears and drag you to the dance floor, like “Vertigo” or “Beautiful Day,” nor drop-dead gorgeous ballads like “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own.” Its charms are a bit deeper. Too deep, some critics and fans seemed to think, as the album was not - relatively speaking - as well received as its immediate predecessors.
But give U2 some props for still believing in the idea of The Album, with songs laid out like a roadmap that don’t give up their power in tiny bites or when downloaded one track at a time. Working with producers like Brian Eno, who the members of U2 knew would push them outside the Top 40, and traveling to Morocco to find new sounds to pour into their music, they weren’t afraid to turn their backs on the platinum blueprint. Sure, in interviews this soul searching sounded pretentious and self-indulgent. But if not them, who? Are you hoping Maroon 5 or Lady GaGa decide on their next records to push outside their and our comfort zones? I thought not.
U2, like Neil Young, is unafraid. Bruce, Joni, these artists had or have the cache to avoid the easy path, it’s true. But they also have more to lose by heading out for uncharted territory.
Of course, the primal elements of any U2 record remain on “No Line on the Horizon”: great melodies, the Edge’s amazing fretwork, and Bono’s vocals, always intense enough to move even the dead. In short, when “Get On Your Boots” blasts from the stage this weekend, shake your booty. There’s a reason a review in The New Yorker a few weeks ago made the claim that U2 was that rare band whose new material was as popular and relevant as its seminal hits of yesteryear.
Reviews from the North American leg of tour, which kicked off in Chicago a week ago, indicate the band has taken the groove-heavy aspects of some of “No Line” and incorporated it into the live show. Even chestnuts like “Where the Streets Have No Name,” have a new rhythmic feel with a percolating Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton. Subsequently, Bono’s vocals are more syncopated than they’ve ever been. Some of the songs, especially those off the new CD (recent setlists indicate about seven of these tracks will be played each night), retain their atmospheric nature in concert, as U2 finds the ghosts in its music.
It’s all part of the journey.
Some things will remain. Fans can expect Bono and company to use the huge stage to deliver high-tech histrionics one moment, and lighter-lifting intimacy the next. U2’s penchant for highlighting different causes will also be on display, always a fine complement to the band’s uplifting numbers. Then there’s the band’s awesome sense of theater: Bono’s never been within a mile of a stage he didn’t own.