STUCK IN A SETLIST YOU CAN’T GET OUT OF: U2 ‘Rocks’ New Jersey, Albeit Professionally And Predictably (With Bonus Video Footage!)

Keep smiling, Bono
Keep smiling, Bono

[Photo by Tim Griffin; more here]

By Arye Dworken

U2 is unarguably the biggest band in the world. And as the biggest band in the world, you can do whatever you want, even if it means taking advantage of your fans. I say this on behalf of his fans, or at least the ones taken advantage of. We know who we are. All seven trillion of us.

After having seen the Irish rock stars perform a number of times over the last decade, the hard truth revealed itself last week at New Jersey’s Giants Stadium. Bono, the Edge, Larry and Adam are no longer interested in trying. They are simply cruising. And they are cruising on our dime.

But first, I am getting ahead of myself. As hard as it is to admit this publicly, and as uncool as it is to proclaim this now, I have always been a U2 geek. Ever since The Unforgettable Fire, I have purchased every album the day it came out. I will even go as far as defending the merits of Pop. This year, I even sunk as low as joining the U2 fan club, just so I could have the opportunity to buy pre-sale tickets. (The irony here is that despite months of planning, one of self-titled‘s staff members got way better seats for free the day before the show. Lord).

Anyway, I snagged those pre-sale tickets…and they were located in-between clouds and low-flying planes. And that 360° tour they’re touting? We sat in front of a tentacle-like pillar, part of their over-indulgent lighting setup. I never saw bassist Adam Clayton or guitarist the Edge. I can only assume they were there. Who knows. I’ve seen photos, yes, but they could be doctored.

Bono was underwhelming; audible to say the least, but not much more. He ran around the stage a handful of times, but in his defense, he is nearing 50–he should have an intern do that for him. And as disappointing as the last record, No Line On The Horizon, sounded to those truly anticipating it, the new songs sounded even more underwhelming live. U2 inexplicably performed 8 of the 11 tracks, including the lyrically awkward “Unknown Caller,” which inadvertently became a stadium-wide bathroom break. Moreover, they reinterpreted the charming “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” into a drum ‘n’ bass jam that gave me a headache and whipped drunk New Jersey housewives into a frenzy.

Many of last week’s reviews praised the band for its rock star-ness, yet I can’t help but feel that the whole evening was too professional. You want “Where the Streets Have No Name?” We will give it to you. And we will give it to you fresh and warm out of the oven. You want “With Or Without You?” Sure, we can do that too. Hey, what about that obscure gem “Beautiful Day?” Special delivery, coming right up!

The only slight curveball U2 threw our way was “The Unforgettable Fire” (somewhat appreciated) and “Ultraviolet” (very appreciated), but otherwise, the setlist was a lukewarm cup of Irish milk: safe, predictable, pleasant, and worst of all for me, obstructed. Does this sound like a rock band to you?

Hypothetically, if I was in fact asked how to make this tour better, I would make the following suggestions. And I’m doing this only because I care.

  • Lose the 360 angle. No matter how many seats you sell, people will inevitably be looking at the band’s backsides for most of the night. This happened to a friend of mine who spent two hours admiring drummer Larry Mullen Jr.’s “strong shoulders.”
  • For a band with such a wonderful back catalog, why are these setlists so heavy on the back end? Surprise us with a rendition of “The Fly,” or even “So Cruel.” What happened to “In God’s Country,” now appropriated as the Morning Joe song on MSNBC. Or “Bad,” or “Two Hearts Beat As One,” or “Kite?” Mix it up, guys. Setlists are almost identical night to night.
  • Get a real designer to handle those T-shirts. What embarrassing merch.
  • Just because David Fricke gives your album five stars doesn’t mean he wasn’t on drugs at the time, or that Jann personally asked him to do so. The album is–let’s just admit it to ourselves–features three or four songs worth playing live (“Magnificent,” “Moment of Surrender,” and, sure, “Get On Your Boots”). Trim down the new material and move on. Don’t get stuck in a setlist you can’t get out of.
  • And most importantly, it’s important not to take advantage of the people who actually like you. The Blackberry sponsorship with its banners everywhere (“Blackberry Loves U2.” Ugh.) should compensate the band somewhat. There’s no need to charge $100 a person for terrible seats.

U2 @ Giants Stadium, 9.24.09:
Get On Your Boots
Mysterious Ways
Beautiful Day/Blackbird
No Line On The Horizon
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For/Stand By Me
Unknown Caller
Until the End of the World
Stay (Faraway, So Close)
The Unforgettable Fire
City of Blinding Lights
Vertigo/It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll
I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight (live remix)
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On/You’ll Never Walk Alone

Amazing Grace
Where the Streets Have No Name
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender