Edmonton — It was a beautiful day for an outdoor rock spectacle, with an estimated 65,000 fans revelling in another magnificent U2 set — filled with jangly guitars, booming bass lines and Bono’s heartfelt tales of peace, love and Gilbert Brule.
Under a partly cloudy Wednesday sky, and a 50-metre alien crustacean known as the claw or spaceship, Bono and his boys took fans to new heights of excess, excitement and hockey hysteria at Commonwealth Stadium — 14 years after the band’s last visit to Edmonton.
(Truth be told, the excess started hours before their 9:09 p.m. start time — with a police escort from the airport to the venue for a quick sound check.)
If you’ve been keeping track of the U2’s current 360 tour, you’ll know the first few songs didn’t differ much from their usual set list — starting with Even Better Than The Real Thing, I Will Follow, Get On Your Boots, Magnificent and Mysterious Ways — five songs from three different decades of their career.
In a way, watching the Irish rockers on their giant screen was almost better than trying to see the real things on a puny stage in the middle of a huge football stadium, especially for those fans standing on the field. Bono and his bandmates looked larger than life on their circular screen, and so did the entire scope of the show, thanks to camera angles which incorporated the breadth of the almost sold-out stadium.
“Welcome to the 325 tour,” Bono quipped, making a dig at Commonwealth’s seatless south end.
Late morning, May 21, 2010, word shot around the world of his emergency back surgery and U2’s need to postpone a series of shows, including a stop in Edmonton.
Bono reportedly came close to losing the ability to walk, but his recovery looks complete — as he crouched under his microphone, shimmied, and swaggered around the stage, which featured an outer circular rim and two moving bridges. After hurling a bunch of white roses into the crowd during Until The End of The World, he treated fans to a story about hitchhiking in Vancouver and getting a lift from none other than Oiler Gilbert Brule and his girlfriend. The tale then prompted Bono to compare each one of his bandmates as to a former Oiler.
The Edge, or “Wayne Gretzky” on guitar, stickhandled his way through explosive anthems (Elevation, Beautiful Day) and touching ballads (All I Want Is You). Stoic bassist Adam Clayton, or “the Grant Fuhr of the band,” backstopped with steady and sensual bass lines, while drummer Larry Mullen Jr., or “the Mark Messier” of U2, was suave yet feisty behind his kit.
Unlike the band’s show in Winnipeg, where the city’s name was spelled with only n (and Manitoba was referred to as a state) on the band’s giant screen, there were no such gaffes in Ed- or rather Edge-monton. Instead, fans were treated to such happy pre-show facts as the number of suicides this year (422,982) and the number of days until the end of oil (15,535).
U2, of course, need a lot of the liquid to power their beast of a tour, yet the Irish rockers try to compensate for their materialistic ways by supporting social and political campaigns, such as Amnesty International, Make Poverty History and Product RED AIDS.
Fans celebrated the latter two efforts by bringing red and white balloons to the show, which provided a bit of distraction for a few minutes after the opening act, The Fray, left the stage.
As expected, Bono dedicated the last song of the night, Moment of Surrender, to the survivors of the Slave Lake fire, as thousands of cellphones lit the stadium in a warm glow.
“I have some people here from Slave Lake I’d like to dedicate my song to,” he said. “Whoever it is you want to hold in your hearts, hold them in your heart.”