FOXBORO - U2 didn’t so much play Gillette Stadium on Sunday night as it landed there, in a spaceship no less.
The Irish rockers brought their 360 Tour to Foxboro for the first of two concerts (the second being tonight), and while they’re touring in support of an album that hasn’t exactly torn up the charts, this tour has blockbuster written all over it with its dazzling displays of lights, fog, imagery and sheer size.
The band got a late start, not taking the stage until almost 9 p.m. after being ushered in by the sound system blaring David Bowie’s classic “Space Oddity.” Immediately, they ripped into four numbers from their latest CD, “No Line on the Horizon.” Bono started out with “Breathe,” then went into the CD’s title track, the toe-tapping “Get on Your Boots,” and finally “Magnificent.”
“We’ve got new songs, we’ve got old songs, we’ve got songs we can hardly play, and we’ve got a spaceship,” Bono declared to the crowd before launching into “Mysterious Ways” and “Beautiful Day.”
The “spaceship” Bono referred to resembled a giant canopy with green legs stretching over the round stage and catwalk, much like a giant bug, and a soaring steeple topping it all off. Hovering above the stage was a giant cylindrical projection screen that ascended and descended throughout the show and displayed the band in a gargantuan form just right for a stadium show.
The band followed “Beautiful Day” broke into a ripping version of “Elevation” with Bono sweating profusely in the chilly night and the crowd frenzied for the first time, fists pumping wildly.
“I think you’ll feel right at home in our traveling rock and roll laboratory,” Bono said in introducing his band mates, The Edge, Larry Mullen, and Adam Clayton, referring to them as Experiments 1, 2 and 3.
From there, they broke into “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and let the 60,000 or so assembled sing the first few stanzas.
And it seemed as though no one was at a loss for the lyrics.
Then Bono transitioned into a heartfelt few choruses of “Stand By Me,” again with the masses providing the sing-along. Then it was back to the “No Line on the Horizon” CD with the inspirational rocker “Rise Up.”
The band dipped back into the vault with a stirring “New Year’s Day” with Clayton crossing one of the stage’s two bridges to the catwalk to play before the fans and the Edge playing to the thousands who were watching the show from the rear.
The Edge grabbed an acoustic guitar for a poignant version of “Stuck in a Moment,” and also provided an effective falsetto at the end of the song.
At one point the giant circular projection screen extended almost to the floor and resembled a multicolored honeycomb with Bono and the band standing about ten stories tall over the audience.
For “City of Blinding Lights,” Bono plucked a young girl who looked about 12 out of the audience, though she didn’t seem to know quite what to do up there.
The concert struck a nice blend of rockers and rock ballads, with tunes like “Vertigo” picking up the crowd when needed.
One of the more inventive moments of the evening was an incredibly throbbing, rhythmic rendition of “I Know I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.” “Sing for your sanity, Boston,” Bono implored as black and white images of the band members’ faces flashed rapidly on the screen.
Bono ended the song on his knees begging for “freedom on the streets of Iran,” then the band broke into “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as the images of Iranian reform protestors flashed on the screen.
Dozens of audience members walked out onto the ring in support of a woman named Aung Aun Syung Sun Kyi imprisoned in Burma for her opposition to the government.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered a message that “God will put a wind at our back if we work with each other as one,” after which Bono broke into a heartfeld rendition of “One.” For the uplifting number “Where the Streets Have No Name,” Bono went into after singing a few bars of “Amazing Grace.”
The encore was ushered in by a poem by Maya Angelou while the video screen showed the solar system with floating apples, car keys other objects.
Snow Patrol, also from Ireland, warmed up the crowd in fine fashion after the inner circle of fans enthusiastically participated in a sing-along, something that hasn’t always been the case for the band in their role as U2’s opening act. Fans reacted enthusiastically to “Light Up” and, especially, “Chasing Cars,” and “All that I Have.”