U2's 360° Tour Is the Super Bowl of Rock Spectacles!
U2's 360° Tour
With Florence and the Machine
Sun Life Stadium
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Better Than: The Black Eyed Peas at the 45th battle for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
On February 3, 2002, U2 played the Super Bowl XXXVI halftime show at the Superdome in New Orleans. It had been less than five months since a gang of insane terrorists had taken down the Twin Towers with a pair of hijacked passenger planes and the Irish rockers performed a warm communal pop-rock set -- "Beautiful Day," "MLK," and "Where The Streets Have No Name" -- in tribute to the victims of 9/11.
As Crossfade correspondent Paul Torres wrote earlier this year in his definitive Five Super Bowl Halftime Moments That Didn't Suck: "If this one doesn't give you goosebumps, there might be something wrong with you."
Last night, though, wandering through Sun Life Stadium's parking lot before U2's 360° Tour gig, I wasn't really thinking about communal pop-rock or goosebumps. I had hotdogs and beer on my mind. And yeah, the long-running U2 phenomenon.
Photo by Sayre Berman
It's now been ten years since the tragedy at Ground Zero -- not to mention Bono and company's Superdome show. And with a little distance, that moment in our country's collective emotional/cultural/sporting memory seemed to epitomize two very particular things about U2: (1) Its brand of lightly poetic, vaguely spiritual, always inspirational epic rock is a supremely mutable sonic salve that's equally capable of selling iPods, entertaining an arena full of average American football fans, and reassuring a nation recently traumatized by a rogue act of total war; and (2) Every U2 concert is like a trip to the Super Bowl!
Indeed, a night with Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Mr. Mullen, and their uplifting tuneage is a massive super-mega-spectacle designed for only the largest possible audiences. And earlier in the day, Live Nation confirmed this fact by issuing a special traffic advisory:
MIAMI (Wednesday, June 29, 2011) - A record crowd is expected to attend tonight's U2 360 Tour at Sun Life Stadium as more than 73,000 tickets have been sold. Fans are being asked to arrive early and carpool if possible ... "Unlike a football game when fans arrive early to tailgate, concert goers usually arrive close to show time. In order to avoid long traffic delays and ensure parking availability on our stadium lots, we're encouraging fans to try to get here before 6:30 p.m.," said Todd Boyan, Sr. Vice President of Operations for Sun Life Stadium.
Photo by Sayre Berman
Now it hadn't been a "Beautiful Day." The sky was grey, ugly, and intermittent drizzling SoFla with rain. But for the most part, the mob listened to Mr. Boyan's plea for early arrival. And by 6 p.m., the parking lot was packed with thousands upon thousands of pickup trucks, Honda Civics, and SUVs -- not to mention U2Charist-style devotees who'd shown up in the middle of the afternoon to (surprise!) tailgate alongside those 73,000 fellow believers.
The radio and TV presence was also hot and heavy. There were booths from BIG 105.9 Miami's Classic Rock, and 97.3 The Coast, 97.9 WRMF, plus a ton of other FM stations. And there were camera crews and production trucks repping almost every local news crew, including Local 10 News, Univision 23, WSVN, and CBS 4.
Meanwhile, the merch tables were being swarmed by every kind of fan -- Bono look-alikes, middle-aged rocker chicks, old hippies, moms, dads, and tweens. The will call windows were under constant attack. The stadium gates were clogged with a crazily excited crush of bodies. And inside, the concession stands were cranking out concert snacks -- footlong hot dogs ($9), boneless chicken wings with sweet chili sauce ($9), Bud Lights ($8) -- for a hundred hungry humans every minute.
Photo by S. Pajot
Taking my seat in Section 101, it was impossible to ignore U2's now-famous (and for sale!) tour set. Certain journos refer to this 390-ton beast as The Claw. But honestly, with its synthetic green skin studded with weird orange Frisbees and stretched over a steel skeleton, this $30 million freakshow looked like some monster-sized extraterrestrial spider looming over center field, equipped with a 300-foot spire and a panoramic 411,782-pixel jumbotron.
At exactly 7:45 p.m., Florence and the Machine skipped out onto this odd, alien stage. It wasn't quite nightfall. And with her long red hair being blown by the wind, Ms. Welch was a melodramatic art-pop daydream. She was wearing a loose flowing yellow gown and a wreath of ruffled green around her throat while fake flowers climbed the shaft of her mike stand.
Often, under duress of a little sunlight (plus the shitty sound treatment that "special guests" usually get on megatours), opening acts will wither and die and suck. But that wasn't the case with Florence and the Machine.
The 35-minute sprint was a brief but thrilling thing, thanks to Welch's ungodly strong vocal ability and her band's clean, precise work on the electric axe, standing harp, drums, chimes, tambourine, etc. And clutching a golden microphone, Florence flew through banshee screams, full-throated howls, sweet peaks, and a set-ending version of "Dog Days Are Over."
Next, there was an almost hour-long intermission. The sky went black. Half-hidden audience members lit their marijuana cigarettes. And the giant LED screen flashed a non-stop scrolling stream of random statistics -- including "military expenditure by governments today," "U2 songs performed on 360° tour: 52," and "number of touring personel: 436" -- for the overall amusement of the mob.
But then, when the clock hit 9:17 p.m., David Bowie's "Space Oddity" came booming through the speakers, smoke poured and puffed from the tour set's spire, and the U2 crew appeared at twelve-times life size on the jumbotron.
Photo by Sayre Berman
Bono, The Edge, and the rest made their way to the stage, swaggering and striding through the stadium's bowels and emerged on the sci-fi stage as Bowie's song segued into a screeching apocalyptic alarm. It was the kind of thing you'd call an "all-pro entrance."
Kicking off the show, the band launched into a trio of tracks off 1991's Achtung Baby -- beginning with "Even Better Than the Real Thing," "The Fly," and then bleeding into "Mysterious Ways" -- as pseudo-nude models writhed in provocatively psychedelic patterns on the LED screen and Bono urged us all to "Put your hands in the air!"
For a second as the singer crooned the lyrics, "It's no secret that a liar won't believe anyone else," I was hit by a twinge of paranoia, wondering if old Bono had somehow read last week's New Times music feature, jokingly titled Achtung, Grandpa!, that detailed U2's basic life expectancy, general age-driven decline, and status as the biggest band on the planet.
Photo by S. Pajot
Anyway, Bono was smiling mischieviously. He was wearing the costume that I'd made fun of -- wraparound sunglasses (at night), black leather jacket and matching pants, black tee, and biker boots. And he seemed to be looking at me.
But those are just crazy thoughts, right? Yes, I told myself. And undoubtedly, Bono's got better things to do than leaf through local alt-weekly blurbage in the hundreds of towns his band tours each year. He's extremely busy. And every night, he's putting on the Super Bowl of pop spectacles.
But later, after asking for "love and peace and freedom, to dance tonight in Miami heat" and playing U2 faves like "I Will Follow" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," Bono said something else that creeped me out and stoked those twinges of paranoia again. "What did I want to tell you?," he asked, rhetorically. "Oh ... We're not ready to retire. That's what I wanted to tell you!" I felt like blurting: Uh, what? Who? Me? Sorry, Bono. But thankfully, the paranoia subsided before I embarrassed myself.
Jumping forward a few decades and slowing this trip to half-speed, U2's singer introduced the next song with a mini-monologue: "This is a song we've played a few times in Europe. But this is the first time we've played it in America. It's in a little movie called Transformers. It's a love song to the universe of song. It's called 'Northstar.'"
Photo by Sayre Berman
From that point, the band skipped through new-ish tracks while cloaking them in space-themed theatrical tricks. For one, "Beautiful Day" was dedicated to wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and accompanied by a special pre-recorded outer-space video message from the congresswoman's husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, before being brought with a brief Bono riff on the same song that opened the show, Bowie's "Space Oddity." It was a nice moment, even though -- as stated multiple times in Achtung, Grandpa! -- I hate that song.
There were other times, however, throughout U2's grandiose gig when the band's performance veered too deep into gratuitous, touchy-feely sentimentalism. Example: During "Miss Sarajevo," the jumbotron broadcasted an uncomfortably cutesy animation made up of kid drawings depicting murder victims, planes in flames, and a scribbly heart marked by the words "ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?"
But still, like the Super Bowl, it's impossible to resist U2. To quote Crossfade's Five Super Bowl Halftime Moments That Didn't Suck againg: If you don't at least mouth the words to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" when Bono begins pumping his fist for world peace, "there might be something wrong with you."
Who other can resist a 73,000-person sing-along? Or an encore-closing rendition of "Moment of Surrender" paying tribute to Clarence "Big Man" Clemons?
Certainly not this sarcastic, slightly cynical, hotdog-eating blogger.
Florence and the Machine's Setlist:
-"My Boy Builds Coffins"
-"Strangness and Charm"
-"You've got the Love"
-"Rabbit heart (Raise it Up)"
-"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"
-"Pride (In the Name of Love)"
-"City of Blinding Lights"
"I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight"
-"Sunday Bloody Sunday"
-"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" (Shirelles cover)
-"Where the Streets Have No Name"
-"Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me"
-"With or Without You"
-"Moment of Surrender"