When U2 first came to America more then 25 years ago they came as an unknown band in a land that was equally unknown to them. Eager, idealistic, and intent on making some kind of name for themselves and their music, they quickly developed a cult like following based partly on the unique and interesting sound and style of their records, and partly based on the remarkable live act they were then, and to large extent still are today. U2 - Vertigo 2005, Live From Chicago is the latest DVD offering from a band that started releasing live video of thier shows 23 years ago, and in that time have evolved and changed as much as any band in rock history.
After a brief introduction peice the show kicks off with an overhead shot of guitarist Edge picking out the first few notes of "City Of Blinding Light" from the groups latest release "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb". As the music swells the rest of the band gradually join in and the concert is off and running. As well as the music, also on display are ceiling to floor "curtains" of light which surround the stage and project colors and images throughout the show, as well as a neon ringed circular catwalk that extends well into the audiance from the stage (which will be used to great effect), and in fact the entire stage and arena are wrapped in neon lighting, which serves well to connect the audiance member to the band, and also provides a nice sense of place and connection point for the viewer at home. After spending the 1980's on bare and underlit stages, it seems as if the boys learned a little something about presentation during the 90's, and they have brought that knowledge right into the 21ST Century with them. And they put it all to very good use.
After barnstorming through "Vertigo", another song from their latest album which ends with a brief snippet from "Stories For Boys" from their first album, the band kicks right into "Elevation" from 1999's "All That You Can't Leave Behind". With Edge leading the way laying down chunky power chords and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton providing a strong groove, Bono gets the audience involved early on here, leading them in a chourus of "woo-oohs" and shout outs of "L-A-VA-SHIN. It's a large arena, but U2 has always been the worlds biggest "alternative" arena rock band and are perfectly at home here. And with hundreds of fans trapped within that aformentioned circular catwalk, Bono is free to roam within inches of the adoring faithful and whip things into a fever pitch. Which being Bono he doesn't hesitate to do, of course. And the throngs of closed in fans happily follow suit.
The elaborate colored lights that accompany the first few songs give way to flashy but simple white ones and strobes for the next few. Taking a trip way back to thier very first album, the trio of "The Electric Co /An Cat Dubh / Into The Heart" get taken off the self and dusted off after a good 20 years, and the band rips, roars, and thunders through these tunes like they never stopped playing them. Energetic, vibrant, and focused, the band rocks hard and with purpose here. And when Bono pulls a young boy from the audience to close the trio of numbers and takes a walk with him around the catwalk while singing "Into the heart of a child/I can go back/I can stay awhile" his voice soaring and longing, it truly is a moving moment. U2 has always been a band of statement live, and this is the first real one of this show. And what could of easily been a cheesy moment in the hands of another performer comes off as sincere and true in the hands of this performer. It defies words, really, as describing a grown man crawling across a stage to greet a child as a child, on hands and knees, sounds about as corny as corny gets. But in this setting and with this band, it all makes sense. Which I suppose is also what seperates U2 from the U2 wannabes live. This is a live rock n roll band, and they know exactly what they can do. And they most likely wouldn't do it if they couldn't pull it off.
After a rousing "Beautiful Day" comes the very familiar "New Years Day", placed right in the set where it's been placed since the ZooTV tour. Perhaps because of it's familiarity, this is the first time you really notice the tightness of the players and great chemistry of this band. Bassist Adam Clayton owns this song, stumming his bass like a six string guitar and banging out a strong rythmn as Edge plays choppy guitar and piano behind him. Confident, certain, and almost relaxed, this performance of New Years Day gives a glimpse into a band that has been doing what they have been doing a very long time. And the payoff for the listener is substantial.
With "New Years Day" bringing things down a bit from the opening numbers, the band keeps the mid-tempo groove going for the next two songs with the plaintive and sorrowful "Miracle Drug" and mournful and moving "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own", both once again from the latest album, with Bono working his way to the front of the catwalk to meet the audience by the latter songs bridge. And while the show has had a personal feel up to this point, with Bono singing of childrens hearts and beautiful days and singing mournful goodbyes to his deceased father, the show takes a 180 degree turm on the next track to the social/political concerns that have always been a big part of this bands make-up.
With Bono and Larry Mullen Jr. taking a place at the front of the catwalk, "Love And Peace Or Else" is a musically dense and thunderous peice that serves to kick off the second half of the show, not considering encores. With the arena once again draped in a red orange glow, the band plows ahead with force as Bono shouts "We need love and peace" and Larry pounds out a steady beat on his single drum at the front of the catwalk. It's a rousing number that by it's end finds Bono donning a thick white headband emblazened with holy symbols of christianity, judaism, and islam across the front and pounding on Larry's lone drum himself, while the band plays from the stage. It's a rousing end to a strong performance and the audience is with the band 100%, which is conveyed nicely to the home veiwer.
Joining his bandmates back onstage the social commentary continues with an inspired version of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" from the "War" album, and finds Bono pointing to each symbol on his headband and saying the words "Jesus, Jew, Muhhamed, it's true" over and over again. And again, what can seem preachy or pretentious in the hands of another performer comes off with clarity and sincerity with this performer in his own enviornment. Which of course is the concert stage. And he makes no apologies for any of it, but rather pulls it all off with subtle skill and grace.
Literally blasting out the end of Sunday, Bloody Sunday before the song even closes comes "Bullet The Blue Sky" from "The Joshua Tree" album of 1987, completing the social /politcal 1-2-3 knockout punch before things quiet down once again for the gentle and reflective "Running To Stand Still", also from The Joshua Tree. Written as a quiet prayer for a heroin user, here Bono dedicates it to the "brave men and women of the United States armed forces stationed overseas", and the song takes on a whole new meaning. It's a suiting end to the anger and frustration of the previous trio of songs, and helps to set up the end of the show with warmth and feeling.
After a short video of a young asian girl reading off the Declaration Of Human Rights as the words scroll on screens all around the arena, the band kicks into an energetic version of the hit "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" with Bono once again leading the audience in a sing-a-long chorus and reminding us we are "all created equal under God" and by it's end speaking of "not just an american dream, or an asian dream, or a european dream, but also an african dream" And with that the always rousing, show stopping "Where The Streets Have No Name" takes flight with images of the various flags of the countries of Africa being portrayed on the curtain of lights that surround the stage. The performance is forceful and the music is uplifting as Bono and Adam come out to meet the crowd, and the number ends with the word Africa once again on the singers mind and in his thoughts. And so on ours, also.
After a somewhat lengthy talk about ending "extreme poverty" in the world and what we as Americans can do about it, the show ends with the hopeful and longing ballad of unity "One" from the "Achtung Baby" album of 1992. It's a low key end to the show that is suitable after the fire and brimstone and quiet prayers and pleas that have come before, and now only the encores are left to shore things up.
It pays to note here that whatever a person might think of U2 and what they do, they do what they do very well as a working rock n roll band. Putting aside the grand gestures and social / political commentary, Bono's sometimes smug attitude, and the bands limited technical ability, this is a true, tight, and thunderous live band who know how to deliver the goods better then most live outfits now and in the past. The sound of this band onstage is one of four experienced musicians and bandmates playing toward a common purpose and goal. And perhaps most importantly as musicians playing for each other and the audience, rather then falling into the trap of each individual onstage simply playing for themselves. This is music for you, I, and the band that performs it. And a U2 performance swirls and builds and goes outward to whoever would care to catch it. It's this personal and professional selflessness as musicians and bandmates that give this band in concert their edge over many other of their arena rock contemporaries.
After a brief intermission the band retake the stage to familiar sights and sounds from the ZooTV tour flashing across the video screens and blaring out of the P.A.'s, and launch into a trio of songs once again from Achtung Baby. And for the first time in the entire show things lose a bit of momentum. "Zoo Station" kicks things off well enough with Bono taking on a mini "Fly" persona as he and Edge slowly work there way down oppisite ends of the catwalk, lights and fog machines going full on. But the song never really takes flight. "The Fly" comes up next and it redeems the previous song well with it's high energy, screaming guitars, and propulsive beat. But following this is a fairly standard version of "Mysterious Ways" that even a game young woman can't bring up by joining Bono onstage for a little dance around the catwalk at the end. This marks the fourth song in a row (counting "One" from before the encore) that comes from Achtung Baby and for the first time on the DVD things smack a bit of nostalgia. Which left this reviewer wondering what a well placed couple of songs from the POP album and All That You Can't Leave Behind may of done in their place.
The band leaves the stage after this and fairs better on the next trio of numbers when returning for the final round of encores. Choosing three songs from the album this tour supports, things sound fresh once again with a good rockin' version of the straight forward rave up "All Because Of You", which leads into the grandiose and very "U2 like" Original Of The Species, which soars and dives and soars and dives with feeling and emotion. Bringing things down a notch for the next number with a quiet and reflective "Yahweh", the entire band come out on the catwalk and hook up with the audience for one final time before launching into the spiritual and plaintive "40" that closed all U2 shows in the early years of there first four albums. And so it all comes full circle.
U2 - Vertigo 2005, Live From Chicago is not a great U2 performance. For that you would be well advised to pick up "Live From Slane Castle" from the Elevation tour. It is a typically good performance from a band full of good performances. It has some highs and has some lows, just as most rock n roll shows. But it serves as good entertainment that might make you think a little, might make you shake your butt a little, and might make you look at this band a little differently then you have before. With each band member now in middle age and this show featuring a little bit of something from most every step of their career, it left this reviewer wondering just what might be next for one of rocks great rock n roll bands. Indeed this show feels not like a band at a new beginning, but at a new end once again. Just as they were at the end of the War album, the end of the eighties, and the end of the POP album before this. And it leaves me, and I would suppose any observer of this bands history, wondering just what the future may have in store.
As for the DVD itself, it is well shot with no crowd shots or irritating special effects. The sound is very good and the camera work is steady and professional. Everything is well lit, the camera angles are effective so far as conveying the drama of the show, and the direction is consistent. Their is no bonus material or extras available.
Recommended not just for fans of the band, but perhaps the curious as well, it's worth a purchase on sale (got mine for $15) or a download. Enjoy.