U2 began more than four decades ago as a band that could proudly fire up a crowd with only “three chords and the truth.” These days, they need a little more help, but only because they have grander ambitions.
The Irish quartet’s show at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum Saturday night featured tons of high-tech equipment, including “The Barricage” – a massive, 100-foot-long cage with screens on both sides that cut the arena in half – and augmented reality installations in the set that made icebergs seem to melt and created a giant singing Bono hologram for audience members who looked at them through a special smartphone app.
But that didn’t match the fire of the early one-two punch of “I Will Follow” and the “Boy”-era rarity “The Electric Co.” that had the crowd, already amped to see the band’s first Long Island show in 26 years, jumping and screaming from sheer joy and rage.
U2’s “Experience + Innocence” tour isn’t as straightforward as the previous “Innocence + Experience” tour, which focused more on the band’s “Songs of Innocence” album and introduced us to the stunning concept of “The Barricage.” (For those who missed that tour, the band reprised the gorgeous “Cedarwood Road,” where Bono walks through the cage and interacts with the nostalgic animation of the Dublin street of his childhood.) Now, things are more complex, with Bono trying to explain several times how after experience we can recover a bit of our innocence – both personally, and, in a broader sense, as a nation.
He revived his “Zoo TV”-era character MacPhisto to deliver an angry version of “Acrobat” and a rant about how his plans as the devil are at work today.
The two-hour-plus show’s pivot begins with “Staring at the Sun,” where Bono and The Edge, on acoustic guitar, sing about watching your fragile safety shatter, as videos of white supremacists marching at Charlottesville played on the giant screens. The shift to the defiant classic “Pride (In the Name of Love),” teamed with videos of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights marches through the years, makes a powerful statement about how change comes only when we are innocent enough to believe in something bigger than ourselves and use our experience to fight. They reinforce that message with the band’s love letters to America – “American Soul” and “City of Blinding Lights.”
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U2 – which plays an invitation-only concert for SiriusXM subscribers at the Apollo Theater on Monday and returns to the area to play three shows at Madison Square Garden starting June 25 – didn’t want anyone to miss the point so Bono walked the crowd through it repeatedly. That time may have been better spent on playing even more songs from the great “Songs of Experience” album, such as the absent “Red Flag Day.” Maybe more experience on the current tour will streamline the process.
SETLIST: Love Is All We Have Left / The Blackout / Lights of Home / I Will Follow / The Electric Co. > Send in the Clowns / Beautiful Day / The Ocean / Iris (Hold Me Close) / Cedarwood Road / Sunday Bloody Sunday / Until the End of the World / Elevation / Vertigo > Rebel, Rebel / Desire / Acrobat / You're the Best Thing About Me / Staring at the Sun / Pride (In the Name of Love) / Get Out of Your Own Way / American Soul / City of Blinding Lights // ENCORE: One / Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way / 13 (There Is a Light) > Song for Someone