Along with an estimated 80,000 fans, I got to take in my first U2 show last night. Even with all the hype surrounding the event, the band's stop on their 360 Tour didn't disappoint. I got there around 7 p.m. and was amazed how smooth it was getting into the stadium. There was no line at the general admission entrance—we simply handed over our tickets, got wristbands, and walked down onto the field (which was covered in steel grates for the show).
When we got there, opening act Florence + The Machine had just started performing. Lead singer Florence Welch filled the stadium with her haunting, guttural voice while people milled about and found their seats. The band pretty much covered their entire Lungs discography and their set really picked up towards the end, with "You've Got The Love," "Rabbit Heart," and, lastly, "Dog Days Are Over." The soulful band had a very ethereal quality to it, a subtle way to start out the show that felt like the calm before the U2 storm.
In between bands, fans took notice of the giant stage set up (known on the 360 tour as "The Claw"). With an insect-like quality to it, The Claw had four arms that came down with various lights coming out from every direction. The stage and catwalks were underneath all of that and surrounded by a giant light screen that would move and contract throughout the performances. The entire thing was immensely impressive, and made it obvious there really was no bad seat in the house.
At 9 p.m., the giant screens showed Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. walking out of the tunnel. The crowd went nuts and the excitement was palpable. The band opened with "Even Better Than The Real Thing," a propulsive song to set the tone of the show—which was very heavy on Achtung Baby tracks (the next two songs were "The Fly" and "Mysterious Ways.")
Like only U2 can, the band incited a lot of emotion throughout their set, something first hinted at when Bono sung lyrics to "The Promised Land" (clearly paying tribute to the late E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons). Soon what followed was a video, from space, of Shuttle Commander Mark E. Kelly (husband of shooting victim Rep. Gabrielle Giffords) telling his wife he loves her. Seamlessly and poetically, U2 went into "Beautiful Day," one of the most powerful songs of the night.
The band's first set also included crowd favorites "Elevation," "I Will Follow," and a not-so-often-played "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Bono even sang some lyrics from The Talking Heads's "Psycho Killer." The set ended with a moving "Walk On."
The encore started out with "One" as political imagery flashed on the screen. Bono then sang the first verse of "Amazing Grace" before going into "Where the Streets Have No Name," which was my favorite performance of the night. With its epic build up, that song was just meant to be played in a giant stadium front of 80,000 people. The show ended with "With or Without You," "Moment of Surrender," and another tribute (where everyone held out their cellphones and lighters) to Clemons with "Jungleland."
In all, U2 played for a solid two hours in what really felt like a monumental Super Bowl halftime show. Between the incredible light show, the political and emotional messages, and the gravitas of all of their songs, it was a giant spectacle—one that Baltimore won't soon forget.
[Images: courtesy of me and Staci Lanham]