By Barbara Chai
U2 at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
There was a rumor that Bruce Springsteen would make a special appearance at the latest stop on U2’s 360º tour, New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., but it didn’t happen. No matter. U2 electrified the massive, sold-out venue on its own.
But frontman Bono did thank “The Boss” for loaning them the New Jersey stadium, and during the encore, he paid tribute to Springsteen’s late saxophonist, Clarence Clemons, who passed away in late June after suffering a stroke.
With a set list of many of U2’s greatest hits – and nearly identical to the group’s set list from last week’s concert in Philadelphia – Bono dedicated songs to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (whose husband, NASA Commander Mark Kelly, sent a video message from Space) and human rights leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He also paid tribute to Amnesty International, his native Ireland (“If you’re Irish, this is really hot,” he said of the 80-degree temperatures), and the state of New Jersey.
U2 has played in East Rutherford 24 times, Bono reminded everyone. He also noted that they first performed in the state 30 years ago, at the now defunct Fastlane in Asbury Park. He read a set list from that tour (adding, “This won’t take long”) that included the songs “11 o’clock,” “I Will Follow,” and “The Ocean.”
From our perspective in the stands, the sight of a packed audience of nearly 100,000 under stadium lights was something to behold, especially in an age of declining album sales and dwindling musical expectations. Few bands these days can sell out an entire arena like U2, and in April, the 360º tour surpassed The Rolling Stones’s “Bigger Bang” to become the highest-grossing tour.
While we waited for Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. to make their entrance, we stared at the quadrupedal “claw” – the stage constructed to be surrounded on all sides by audience, with an extendable video screen in the center that at turns resembles a beehive, a pineapple, a cylinder, and a disco ball. A circular ramp surrounds the stage and is connected to it by rotating bridges. Bono himself poked fun at the massive scale of the 360º tour, saying he’s a man of simple needs — he just needs 200 trucks, 400 tons of equipment and 95,000 people, and he’s happy.
The structure is certainly elaborate, and one can argue impressive, but we couldn’t stop comparing it to a yellow Transformer that might morph into a spaceship designed to carry out clandestine missions on the dark of Moon. (Commander Mark Kelly, is that what you’re really doing up there?)
But strip away the technology, fog and lights, and at the heart of the concert is still the music. Tonight, U2 hardly paused from beginning to end, with an entrance to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and their first song, “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” bringing the crowd to its feet. They continued with favorites such as “Mysterious Ways,” “Stay” (first recorded 20 years ago, and performed tonight by Bono and the Edge on acoustic guitar), “In the Name of Love” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” We appreciated not only the range of their albums, but how long U2 has been around.
Throughout the concert, Bono and the Edge crossed the bridges multiple times to stride along the ramps surrounded by fans. Whenever the Edge struck a dulcet melody, all eyes fell on him (or his projection on the video screen). Bono sang straight into the camera and doffed his sunglasses. During “Miss Sarajevo,” he broke out into Italian song. He drank from water bottles and splashed the rest onto the audience. He lay down wherever he was – a ramp, a moving bridge, the stage – and writhed as if his body were sorting out a bodily ache or global hunger, and worked the crowds up into a lather. He leapt onto a dangling microphone and swung like Tarzan. He knew to hang back and let the audience sing the chorus to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Larry played the bongos and Adam – well, Adam stayed chill.
There were digitized political remarks and calls to action on the video screen, and an Amnesty International moment involving lots of lanterns. But all the messages didn’t drown out the music. Bono also seemed genuinely awed by the venue, at one point crying out, “Magnificent stadium! How very posh of you, Jersey.” Toward the very end, when Bono sang the last words to “With or Without You,” he bid the crowd “good night,” and quietly turned around to take in the entire arena. The song’s chords kept time with the flashes of the disco ball, and Bono seemed to be taking in the sparkling, singing masses. It was a moment as pure as any, one of mutual admiration.
Set List – New Meadowlands Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Even Better Than The Real Thing
Until The End Of The World
I Will Follow
Get On Your Boots
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
Beautiful Day / Space Oddity (snippet)
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
City Of Blinding Lights
I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight [with Discothèque (snippet) / Psycho Killer (snippet) / Life During Wartime (snippet)]
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Where The Streets Have No Name
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
With Or Without You
Moment of Surrender
Out Of Control