Saturday, October 15, 2005

U2 Live @ MSG

Yesterday I saw U2 live at Madison Square Garden. I've been a fan of the band for a while, but was never able to see them live, and considering their reputation as one of the best live acts around, I was very excited to get to see them. It took me five hours to make it from Middletown to Madison Square Garden, starting with an hour long bus delay, an hour wait for the train at New Haven and a trip along the entire New Haven line. Anyway, I got there about five minutes before U2 went on, so it was perfect timing, though I'd have preferred to have gotten there a bit earlier, so I wouldn't have to hurry so much.

This was the first concert I've been to where I wasn't in the GA section, and that was a change. I'm used to being in the mess of people, whereas here I was in a seat, near people, but not really caught up in that group mentality. I got the cheapest tickets (still rather expensive at $55), so my seats weren't the best. I was pretty close to the action, only slightly off the floor and not that far back, but I was behind the stage. So, I saw the backs of everyone as they performed, which was a bit odd. It put me at a distance from things.

But that doesn't mean that the show wasn't great. The level of charisma that they had far surpasses any other band I've seen live, there was such energy and assuredness in the way they played. The songs were all tight, but with enough variation to make the live show unique from the recorded version.

The way they had the stage set up worked great. It's a big circle, with the stage at once end, and a whole bunch of people in the middle, and the band members would walk around the circle at points during the show. The circle had all kinds of lights on it and they did some very cool effects throughout, with the lights setting a different mood for each song. They had a bunch of spotlights right in front of where I was, and it was interesting to see that they had a whole team of people sitting on these lighting structures suspended from the roof, operating the spotlights. That's got to be an annoying job, not one where you'd want a fear of heights.

Music wise, I was a bit disappointed in the song selection. There are songs that are essential to play, like Pride Where the Streets Have No Name, and songs from the new album they're definitely going to play, which leaves only a few spots for some of the less popular stuff. So, most of the variant songs here were from their early albums, with Electric Co. and Gloria, songs that aren't bad, but I'm not that big a fan of. There was only one song from Achtung Baby, one from Zooropa and none from Pop.

Even though the crowd was really into it throughout, this was clearly a group that knew the hits more than a thorough knowledge of the entire back catalog. When they went to a less popular song, like Miss Sarajevo or a lot of the stuff off the new album, the crowd just wasn't that into it, whereas on Sunday, Bloody Sunday or I Still Haven't Found what I'm Looking For, you could barely hear Bono because the crowd was so loud. On 'Still,' he stopped singing and the crowd did an entire verse on their own, which was very cool to hear. So, even though I'm not as a big a fan of those songs, hearing the crowd reaction to them, it's clear why they need to be played at the show. I think the new songs are actually better than most of the classics, but the crowd really wasn't giving much on them, or at least that's what it was in the area I was at. The crowd in the ellipse seemed to be a lot more into every song.

I was really impressed with the musical skill throughout. The guitar lines were great and there were a bunch of cool things, like having a seperate drum on 'Love And Peace Or Else,' that was probably the best song they did. That was another one that used the circle well.

Most of the songs in the encores were better than the stuff in the actual show. First Time was great, and the acoustic version of 'Stuck in a Moment' was even better than the album version, particularly when the bass and drum came in after nearly two songs dormant. And the combination of Yahweh and an amped up version of Vertigo to end the show was great.

On the whole, it's an astonishing thing to watch 19,000 people completely get caught up in this show, and the performance was that good. Seeing U2 from inside the circle would probably be the best show in the world, and even from behind the stage it was phenomenal. I'm thinking about trying to get tickets to their November show because I really want to see them again.

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