The band launched The eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE Tour Wednesday night with a visually and sonically stunning performance in front of a capacity crowd at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Cathleen Falsani was at the show for U2.com.
It was an evening rich in spectacle and surprises with the live debut of songs from band's new album Songs of Experience, classics from the its epic oeuvre, and a few deep cuts that absolutely thrilled longtime fans.
The new tour continues a conversation they began with the world during the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour, and at first blush the setting is familiar: the stage and “barricage”—the 100-foot-long, double-sided video screen that runs the length of the arena—used during the 2015 tour have returned. And yet, as Bono says, nothing has changed, everthing's changed.
From the first notes of 'Love Is All We Have Left'—the opening track of Songs of Experience and the song that opened the show—it was obvious we were in store for something entirely different when the new super-high-resolution LED screen (with nine times the resolution of the 2015 screen) came to life and an Augmented Reality version of Bono climbed out of it while the real Bono appeared motionless inside the barricage.
Audience members who had downloaded the U2 AR eXPERIENCE App before the show could see the spectral blue-crystal AR Bono singing and moving through the screen of their smartphones, while simultaneously watching the real singer inside the actual screen—one eye on reality, one on an augmented version of it.
It was the first of many joyful disruptions of the traditional live-performance narrative. The AR experience concluded when the rest of the band joined Bono onstage for a fiery, raucous rendition of 'The Blackout', followed by 'Lights of Home': the screen ascends and the platform below (with video images of rain drops falling projected onto its sides) appears to rise and tilt as the singer stalks from one end of it to the other.
Throughout the nearly two and a half hour show, the band is on the screen, inside the screen, beneath the screen—transcending both screen and stage, blurring the lines between video and live performance in ways an audience never before has experienced. It's a spectacle that's disorienting in the best of ways: Can we believe what we see?
'Beautiful Day' and 'All Because of You' came next, before the band took us back to their boyhood and Cedarwood Road on Dublin's north side—where their story and the music began. 'I Will Follow' and 'The Ocean' from 1980's Boy introduced the five-song Innocence portion of the evening, accompanied by stories, videos, photos, and even pieces of paper (pages torn from the biblical book of Psalms fell from the ceiling) from their formative years as teenagers: 'Iris (Hold Me Close)', 'Cedarwood Road', 'Song for Someone', 'Sunday Bloody Sunday', and 'Raised By Wolves.'
'Until the End of the World' closed the show's first act and Gavin Friday's haunting version of 'Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me' played over the PA as a semi-autobiographical comic-book-style video chronicling the band's rise to and through fame (complete with angels, strangers, heroes, and villains) appeared on the massive screen while the band themselves ducked off stage for a quick-change break.
They returned with explosive renditions of 'Vertigo', 'Desire', and the devilish ghost of tours past: Mr. MacPhisto from Zoo TV. Wearing white make-up and Mad Hatter-esque top hat, he greeted the audience with a creepily familiar growl:
'I haven't seen this guy in quite a while,' Bono-as-MacPhisto said. 'I've been a busy little devil, oh yes. But you've made it all so much easier for me these days… The truth is dead and the KKK are out on the streets of Charlottesville without their silly costumes! Haha, who'd have thought? Tulsa, when you don't believe that I exist, that's when I do my best work.'
'Don't believe what you hear, don't believe what you see. If you just close your eyes you can feel the enemy!' he roared and the audience cheered in response when many realized the band were launching into 'Acrobat'—the only song from Achtung Baby they'd never performed in concert. It was a moment of delight and well worth the wait for persistent fans (including yours truly) who have lobbied them for years to play the deep cut live.
A winsome nearly-acoustic version of 'You're The Best Thing About Me' (featuring Larry Mullen Jr. on bongos) was followed by a politically powerful suite of classic and brand-new songs—'Staring At The Sun', 'Pride (In The Name Of Love)', 'Get Out Of Your Own Way', 'American Soul', and 'City of Blinding Lights'—that drove the second act to an emotional and energetic crescendo.
Throughout the show, the multimedia visuals enthralled, disturbed, and inspired, whether they were images of neo-Nazis marching with tiki torches in North Carolina, Dr. King marching for Civil Rights in the 1960s, the sectarian murals of a divided Belfast, or a video of American children wearing Army green combat helmets as they go about their daily lives—brushing their teeth, catching the school bus, ballet class, saying grace at a meal. The band continues to explore medium and message, how one shapes the other and us.
They returned for an encore that began with another fan-favorite: 'Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses' (its first performance in a dozen years), followed by an elegiac rendition of 'One' that Bono dedicated to 'all families.'
Two songs from Experience closed the evening, the hopeful anthem 'Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way' and '13 (A Song For Someone)', as the same light bulb that launched the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour three years ago rose from the open roof of a doll-house model of Bono's childhood home sat atop the B stage.
It was a pitch perfect finale to an evening none of us wanted to end or ever will forget.