Monday 21 October 2019

U2's opening night of eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour in Tulsa review: 'One of the bravest, most powerful and even angriest performances U2 have ever done'

Opening night of U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour in Tulsa. PIC Danny North
Opening night of U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour in Tulsa. PIC Danny North
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Move over, World. U2 are back on the road again with a new tour, eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE, which opened last night at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

It was anything but an exercise in phoniness and corporate blandness. The much-maligned, and ageing, quartet nailed their colours to the mast from the get-go in what was perhaps one of the bravest, most powerful - and even angriest - performances U2 have ever done.  There was no let up.

Bono wasn't the messianic, self-important bore he can so easily be. Nor was he particularly preachy. He was, in fact, raging.

From the Unforgettable Fire album all the way back in 1984, Pride (In The Name Of Love) was a defining moment of the night. U2 had the courage to use images of braindead white nationalists with their tiki torches lighting up Charlottesville last August, their faces burning with hatred; as well as other images of equally brain-expired neo-nazis and KKK supporters fighting on the streets of America. U2's message was clear: hate is wrong, love is better. Later U2 used slogans in a similar way to the Zoo TV Tour of the early 1990s – this time the mantras on the big screen rang true in a post Harvey Weinstein, Me-Too era in America and beyond...

Empowered Women.

Empower Women.

Women of the world take over.

We can make history. Herstory.

Brothers and Sisters — stand up for each-other.

Respect resistance, or expect resistance.

None of us is equal until all of us are equal.

AIDS is sexist.

Racism is not Patriotism.

Refugees welcome.

It takes 20 cents to save a life.

90 minutes earlier they opened the show with Love Is All We Have Left from last year's Songs Of Experience album, with Bono singing a mantra to the crowd "Nothing to stop this being the best day ever” on a sci-fi and state-of-the-art walkway. Bono appeared out of the screen then disappeared into it again. U2 then performed two more tracks from Songs of Experience, The Blackout ("When the lights go out, throw yourself about" sang Bono doing just that) and Lights Of Home ("Oh Jesus if I'm still your friend/What the hell you got for me?") before U2 blasted off into Beautiful Day - performed with house lights on - from 2000's All You Can't Leave Behind album.

Opening night of U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour in Tulsa. PIC Danny North
Opening night of U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour in Tulsa. PIC Danny North

They followed this up with All Because Of You from 2004's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. I Will Follow from U2's 1980 Boy album got one of biggest reactions of the night from the 19,000 in the audience. Everyone was up on their feet singing the words back to Bono:

"I was on the outside when you said

You said you needed me...”

Opening night of U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour in Tulsa. PIC Danny North
Opening night of U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour in Tulsa. PIC Danny North

This was followed up with another track from that era, The Ocean, also from the Boy album. U2 then moved to the ultra emotional territory of Iris, from 2014's Songs Of Innocence album, with Bono singing his pain, singing about the mother he lost when he was 14: "The ache in my heart is so much a part of who I am." Up on the giant floating screen that ran down the middle of the in-door hockey stadium we were treated to Iris’s wedding day home movie. We also saw a home movie of Bono as a kid running about on the beach. Cedarwood Road came next and was just as autobiographical, with young Bono on his bed playing his guitar and talking about giving guitar lessons to a young girl called Alison (“the charge would be the rest of her life”) with images of Guggi on horseback and Ziggy Stardust waving at us flashing across the screen. Introducing the song Bono talked about fond memories of seeing his mother in the ocean swimming. This was followed by Song For Someone. After three tracks in a row from Songs Of Innocence, U2 then went into one of their true timeless classics, Sunday Bloody Sunday from 1983's War album.

"I can't believe the news today," sang Bono as 19,000 fans were once again up on their feet singing the words about a country far away and a time long ago. "Oh, I can't close my eyes. And make it go away. How long? How long must we sing this song?" sang Bono who has been singing this song for over three decades now. Then it was back to 2014's Songs Of Innocence again with Raised By Wolves. They then jumped back over decades to The End Of The World from U2's 1991 album Achtung Baby and then Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me from 1995. Elevation, from 2000's All You Can't Leave Behind, Vertigo from 2004's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and Desire from Rattle and Hum all the way back to 1988 then follow.

Bono brilliantly revisited the horned character of MacPhisto with a chilling speech on the nature of evil, before going into Acrobat from Achtung Baby, complete with Bono singing: “If you just close your eyes/You can feel the enemy."

Then we were transported back to You're The Best Thing - which was performed acoustically - from Songs Of Experience before we got an acoustic Staring At The Sun from 1997, followed by the aforesaid white supremacist-nailing Pride (In The Name Of Love.)

Four fellas from the Northside of Dublin - with one of the greatest back-catalogues of songs from any band in the world - held middle America in thrall for almost three hours last night. In the darkness of the vast arena Bono was their - our - personal Jesus.

Get Out Of Your Own Way, from Songs Of Experience, was next alongside a blistering version of American Soul from the same album, before this part of U2's set closed with a dazzling rendition of How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb's City Of Blinding Lights.

Opening night of U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour in Tulsa. PIC Danny North
Opening night of U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour in Tulsa. PIC Danny North

And yet Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry Mullen junior (who was expressionless throughout as the rest of the group were full of facial energy) were not done yet. There was still the encore to come. The crowd lost their minds when the opening chords of Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses (from Achtung Baby) spilled out of the sound system. Then the spiritual beauty of One (also from Achtung Baby) rang out across the ice skate venue, and Bono asked the song's famous question: "Is it getting better?" U2 are getting better with age. The version of One comes very close to Bono seeming in a place of rapture.

Next up it is Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way (from Songs Of Experience) with the lead singer of U2 singing:

"The door is open to go through

If I could I would come, too

But the path is made by you

As you're walking start singing and stop talking."

The night finished - though 19,000 people and even U2, after a gruelling set, don't want it to - with one of most emotive and moving songs from Songs Of Experience: There Is A Light.

Read more: U2's The Edge comes out in support of repealing the Eighth Amendment: 'For me, it's the smart thing to do'

When Bono sings the words, the ghost of William Blake (who inspired the titles, and the work perhaps, of the last two U2 albums) would have been happy with he heard...

“If there is a light

We can't always see

If there is a world

We can't always be

If there is a dark

Now we shouldn't doubt

And there is a light

Don't let it go out.”

When the song ended, Bono simply strolled down the giant walkway to the other small stage at the end of the venue and was gone.

Read more: Search for the Joshua Tree

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