The next time the Ravens win a game at M&T Bank Stadium, they should be so lucky to get the kind of response four 50-something Irish guys got there Wednesday night.
Thousands of fans - the stadium estimated some 80,000 - welcomed U2 for their first regional show in two years like Bono and company had just ended the N.F.L lockout.
Billed as the record-setting spectacular to beat all concert spectaculars, U2’s 360-degree tour employs the latest advancements in live entertainment, including a moving, four-legged stage that looked ripped from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
It’s been joked that for a band as bombastic as this one, a stage that big was needed to contain all of their egos, mostly Bono’s. But the spacious arena, as big as a small club, allowed for maximum showboating, and for the band members to pull off pyrotechnics that would have been difficult at 1st Mariner Arena, where they played the last time they were in Baltimore in 2001.
Over two hours, The Edge got to sing directly above fans, thanks to the moving stage; other band members strolled the circular stage within reaching distance of the spastic crowd, got the stadium to sing along several times - most memorably on “I Will Follow” - and Bono got to show off some favorite Bono-isms, grunting, wearing a glow-in-the-dark jacket, and plugging his favorite political causes.
An ambitious show to say the least, it also featured cameos from, incongruously, Desmond Tutu and Gabrielle Giffords’ husband. Now on its second year, the 360-degree tour confirmed why U2 is still among the few headliners that can sell out stadiums.
The setlist stayed close to what the band’s been playing at other recent concerts, straying only at a few key moments. Over all they played some 24 songs, with all but a couple of their albums represented, going as far back as “Boy” and up to their most recent outing, “No Line on the Horizon.” “Achtung Baby,” “The Joshua Tree,” and “No Line” had the most numbers in the show. The British band Florence and the Machine opened the show.
The band walked on stage at 8:56 p.m. to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” strutting out from underneath the stadium like a bunch of gladiators in tight jeans. Though they looked huge on the video screens, from where I was sitting on row 11, section 151, they looked like bendable action figures. At least one woman near me brought binoculars.
As everyone pulled out their phones to take pictures, a clad-in-black Bono barreled through “Even Better than the Real Thing,” from 1991’s “Achtung Baby.” He kept going with six more songs that were each over 20 years old. Undercutting the solemnity of the first few songs was a helicopter flying overhead advertising strip club Scores.
Bono strapped on a guitar on a muscularly remade “The Fly,” which also featured some of The Edge’s shredding and vocal accompaniment. At that point, it was hard not to be envious of the crowd directly in front of the the stage, who looked ecstatic.
The rest of the stadium only nodded along politely, but they started to move on “Mysterious Ways,” a love song that was blown up here into a stadium anthem, and where Bono and The Edge took their first stroll around the circular stage and walked over the moving bridges.
By fifth song “I Will Follow,” it was already nightfall and the enormous stage was the only source of light in the stadium, surrounded like a supernova by the thousands of flickers of light from peoples’ cell phones. On “Get Your Boots On,” Bono showed how, despite his self-serious star-with-a-conscience public persona, he knows how to play the role of rock star with all the panache it demands. He never did take off his tinted sunglasses at all.
Bono introduced the next song by saying The Edge would be channeling Frank Sinatra, which suggested perhaps they’d do Bono’s remake of “That’s Life.” But instead they sang “Stay” as a slow, almost acoustic song. The band got Mark E. Kelly to introduce “Beautiful Day,” which, tailor-made for this kind of setting, sounded excellent.
“Elevation” had the crowd near the front practically moshing. “Miss Sarajevo” showed off another genre where U2 is unassailable, the heartfelt power ballad.
The concert hit its stride around 10 p.m., when the band played “Vertigo,” maybe because it’s one of their most recognizable recent songs and maybe because the alcohol from the afternoon tailgaiting was finally making a difference. “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” was certainly the night’s emotional peak, milked here for all its possible relevance by being played over news images of the Arab Spring.
The Bono-isms started to rear their ugly head by then. He dedicated “Scarlet” to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese political dissident, a gesture that was only politely applauded for the crowd. Maybe they didn’t know who she was? Not to worry. U2 helpfully provided an introductory blurb. “One” was introduced by Desmond Tutu. During the encore Bono both sang “Amazing Grace” and later thanked another kind of god, Live Nation, for organizing the show. Fifty-year-old Bono also sprayed the audience with water and wore a jacket that shot off lasers on “Ultraviolet.”
But there were great moments to compensate for those that were cringe-worthy. “Moment of Surrender,” dedicated to Clarence Clemons, was moving and “Where the Streets Have No Name” was undeniably beautiful; without a doubt, the concert’s highlight.
Bono’s stated goal was to shrink the stadium and turn it into a little club, a difficult rask when your singing from a metal, 200-ton arachnid. But for the Baltimore crowd, a majority of whom had likely not seen them in years, a stadium packed with thousands of like-minded fan did just fine.