Simply serving the same dish twice is not the U2 way. As they took to the Rogers Arena stage for the second night of their ‘iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE’ tour, and their last in Vancouver, it was soon obvious that if the ingredients would be substantially different from 24 hours earlier, the results would be the same: wall-to-wall audience approval.
For those experiencing the unique technological masterclass of the band’s new show for the first time, there was the same look of awe that was on many faces on opening night. For anyone also here the night before, there was the opportunity to experience again a production that is already bedding down into something historic, this time with a significantly remodeled set list. “Last night was truly great,” said Bono. “Tonight will truly be better.”
The strains of two Ramones discs confirmed that the opening ‘The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)’ had retained its slot. The bravery of getting back in the concert saddle with a new song was rewarded by further confirmation that this has the potential to join the long list of inspirational U2 crowd-pleasers. It’s already obvious just how much audiences love to roar the singalong chorus at the tops of their voices, and that’s after two live plays.
‘Vertigo’ moved up into second place in the listing, followed by another new album entry that didn’t make last night’s cut, ‘California (There Is No End To Love).’ The raw and formative ‘I Will Follow’ remained in this opening montage, in which a certain thematic innocence was portrayed with a stark and unadorned set, lit chiefly by a single giant lightbulb that swung down from the gods like a pendulum.
The personal transition of innocence to experience charted by the new album was again signified here by the emergence of the so-called “divider.” This is the giant screen construction, with a walkway corridor down its middle, onto which dramatic, often eye-popping images emerge, be they animated, moving picture or real life.
In its presence, U2 have an arena-grade secret weapon. It can host the stunning visuals that illustrate the lead singer’s trip back to ‘Cedarwood Road’; or it can carry the hard-hitting facts that explain ‘Raised By Wolves,’ with images of those who died in terrorist bombings in Ireland in 1974. “Justice for the forgotten,” demanded the closing narrative.
In the same vein, the divider lifted to allow the band to walk along the pathway at marching tempo, to the beat of Larry Mullen Jr’s single drum, for the unplugged ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday.’ The Edge’s solo still managed to spit flames, even on an acoustic guitar. Later, on the small b-stage at the other end of the walkway, Edge played tender piano to Bono’s gentle lead on ‘Every Breaking Wave.’
It’s testament to the overflowing riches of the band’s catalogue that major songs can come and go from one night to the next with no sense of diminution or deprivation. The previous night’s closer, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’ didn’t make the cut at all tonight, and ‘Desire’ was gone too.
But what towering replacements, for instance with ‘Angel Of Harlem’ and a tribute that many would have been wishing for. The sad news of B.B. King’s passing that broke just after the first show ended, made a b-stage revival of ‘When Love Comes To Town’ both necessary and rewarding. “The thrill will never be gone,” observed Bono appropriately.
‘Beautiful Day’ had the frontman spontaneously interpolating some ‘Sgt. Pepper’ lyrics (“where did that come from?!”, he asked himself) and as we edged to the end of the main set, ‘With Or Without You’ moved one couple into a slow dance. Revivals of ‘Miracle Drug’ and ‘Bad’ started an encore that had fans in fine voice for ‘Where The Streets Have No Name.’
Tonight’s closer, though, was an elegantly low-key ‘One,’ and as Bono thanked the audience for giving Vancouver to the band for five weeks of pre-production and two remarkable shows, there was a real sense that this city will live long in U2’s memory, and vice versa.