Published Jun 06, 2018Legend has it, 42 years ago in Dublin, a group of teenagers responded to a note on their high school notice board looking for musicians, and starting out by jamming in someone's kitchen, and on that day a new band was born. Since then, life has changed rather drastically for four of those kids. Fourteen studio albums later, 175 million in sales, they are now world renowned rock royalty, the iconic U2. The kids brought their gargantuan "eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE" tour to the Bell Centre in Montreal Tuesday for the first night of a back-to-back stop in the city. A significant theme running throughout the stunning performance, was that of memories, and the band had an awful lot to draw from.
As 21,000 fans filed into the arena and mingled, people were already captivated by the production in place. A massive 20-ton wall of mesh and lighting ran almost the entire length of the arena floor, flickering and aglow with blue and white lighting; when fans viewed it through the augmented reality app on their cell phones, instead they would see gushing waves and waterfalls towering over the arena. It was a mind-boggling, surreal technology that was utilized in a stunning fashion throughout much of the show.
So as the ambient house music flickered away, the giant "screen" lifted, suspended into the air, to reveal lead singer Bono on the lengthy walkway below, emoting the opening vocals of "Love Is All We Have Left" from the band's 2017 release Songs of Experience, into the howling crowd surrounding him on every side. As the rest of the instruments kicked in, silhouettes of the band members pressing to get out from inside the screen towered over the crowd, before finally bursting out to reveal the entire band playing inside of the screen. Yes it was that massive.
And with that, the concert was in full swing, an action-packed two-and-a-half-hour performance, divided only by two brief intermissions that elapsed so fast that many fans may not have noticed them. Vintage U2 was meticulously woven throughout the set, including mesmerizing performances of "Elevation," "I Will Follow," "Beautiful Day" and a wonderful acoustic performance of "Staring at the Sun" by Bono and U2 guitarist the Edge.
An epic performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" saw Bono sing at the very end of the enormous walkway, as drummer Larry Mullen Jr. walked with his snare drum, leading the other members in a march over the crowd. While political messaging was often strewn visually throughout the entire performance, visuals here of "Collusion is not an illusion" and "remember the victims" really hit home, amplifying the emotional magnitude of the song.
A larger-than-life performance of "Until the End of the World" was especially immersive, at one time with a massive virtual Bono spraying water from his mouth, down onto the Edge playing on the walkway below, and at the song's conclusion, pages of torn literature, from tomes like the Bible and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland rained down from the rafters.
At one point Bono paused to peer around at the crowd surrounding him, looking amazed at the love and energy. "So this is a Tuesday in Montreal?" he asked, while the crowd erupted into frenzied howls. It was quite the party atmosphere.
Despite the enormity of it all, perhaps what the band executed the best was their ability to shrink down the world inside of the arena, and collapse this massive sonic and visual landscape down into intimate little moments. Acoustic sessions, the band gathered on a tiny little stage with the sweltering crowd around them, the Edge and bassist Adam Clayton venturing out to perform from little platforms in the crowd, it was these moments of contrast and intimacy that seemed to connect the fans to the band, and the music the most.
At the onset of the encore, Bono got talking a bit of politics, but kept it succinct. A key piece of his message was a shout-out to Canada for "being a light that the whole world is looking to, in this dark time for democracy." And with that the band leapt into the final three songs of the night, including a standout performance of "One" from 1991's Achtung Baby, that had the crowd singing, swaying and seeming to float in a sea of a million lit cellphones.