Angels Smiling on Anaheim

By BEN WENER: We can split hairs over whether U2’s first show at Angel Stadium this past weekend was fully awesome — a perfectly paced concert as moving and meaningful as their Rose Bowl blast just before Halloween 2009 — or whether it was simply as impeccable as the Irishmen’s performances always are. I’m apparently a cynical, narcissistic, arrogant jerk for suggesting in my admittedly overlong first review that some indefinable spark — some touch of magic — was missing.

I rambled through 2,300 words trying to make up my mind if it really ranked with the inspired and inspiring encounters I’ve had with this band over the years. Days later it still doesn’t feel like a truly marvelous one — only a warm-up to the fiercer, fleeter, far more galvanizing set that seemed to seize the 50,000-plus fans on hand in Anaheim Saturday night, zapping them full of infectious excitement and deep emotional resonance, and never allowing either feeling to let up.

This much is indisputable: The second show was better. Way better. Dare I say: magical.

“I know this is Angels territory and miracles abound,” Bono said after four songs, including terrific takes on “Even Better Than the Real Thing” and “Until the End of the World” that were much more torrential than the night before, plus a funkier “Mysterious Ways” that had the singer shouting out “James Brown!” (like in the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love”) as well as the explosive tour debut of “The Fly.” From further up Katella Avenue Friday afternoon I heard them sound-check that last one, along with another welcome Achtung Baby tune that snuck into Saturday’s show, “Ultra Violet (Light My Way).” (That one replaced “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” as the encore-launching piece that Bono vocalizes into a red-glowing ring as big as his head.)

It was already a bold opening, the band attacking the material, the frontman in his trademark leather and shades lurching at the audience. But that wasn’t enough: “There’s a magic trick we’d like to do tonight. We’re gonna try to shrink the stadium. We want to feel right up close to you in the top tier.” I’d never dream they noticed my earlier review, let alone took any of it to heart — why should they care? And still it felt as though they were trying to disprove my notion, that the enormous scope of such shows makes it immensely difficult to leave everyone within earshot feeling overwhelmed.

Rather than rely on the often jaw-dropping sight of this 360 Tour production — which inside the Big A looked less like a giant claw than some strange interstellar craft that had touched down around second base — U2 instead used two of its mightiest weapons of love and hope and peace to achieve that seemingly impossible intimacy. Stunningly, the group yanked forward the back-to-back wow of what until now had been its opening encore: the universal anthem “One” and the ever-thrilling rush of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” here joined together by a verse of “Amazing Grace,” the lights turned stark on Bono and the screens faded to black.