U2 rolled into town on Wednesday, for the first of two nights on their ePERIENCE & iNNOCENCE tour, a loosely autobiographical show based on their last two albums “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience”. Using the same stage as their 2015 companion tour, this show is stronger, mostly due to the much better material on “Songs of Experience”. Having toured last year for the 30th anniversary of “The Joshua Tree“, playing in its entirety what is arguably their greatest album, it was completely absent from the setlist this time around. For cities like Montreal, who were not on that tour’s itinerary, this bold move is probably a little harder to swallow, but the band compensated by digging deep in its catalog, offering songs like “Acrobat” from “Achtung Baby”, a song that had never been played live before this tour, or the seldom played “Gloria”, which got a fantastic treatment.
The show started with the musicians inside the huge middle screen that splits the arena in two. It wasn’t used as extensively as in the previous tour, but its effect remains grandiose and breathtaking. The most powerful segment using the screen is certainly “Cedarwood Road”, where Bono appears to be walking down a road filled with memories of growing up. The sides were also used for conventional projections, with animated sequences, political statements or closeup of the band appearing at various moments.
It’s a testament to U2’s amazing catalog that I’d have been hard pressed to sacrifice one song played to make room for “Joshua Tree” material. Even the newer material fit in perfectly, and it was spaced out with enough classics to offer enough familiarity. Concert staples like “Beautiful Day”, “Elevation”, “Vertigo” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” energized the crowd, but even the lesser known tracks had the fans singing along.
Bono of course used his platform for political statements. With the G7 meetings happening soon, he re-iterated the role that Canada can play in being a leader of common sense in the world, especially considering the current state of our southern neighbours. A lot of his commentary came at the beginning of the second act, with his Macphisto character coming back, energized by the political chaos in the world. That segment also saw Bono with a rare moment of humility, as the autobiographical part of the show hit the “Rattle & Hum” era. “We’re coming to the part where being famous went to our heads. Well, not our heads. My head.” Well said, Mr Bono.
The main part of the show concluded with “City of Blinding Lights”. The band quickly came back on stage for “One” and “Love is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way”, before ending the night in a mellow mood with “13 (There Is a Light)”. Two hours and fifteen minutes that flew by like an instant, rocked by one of the few larger than life bands we have left. Message to U2: Don’t wait until the 30th anniversary of “Achtung Baby” to tour it. 27th anniversaries need love too.