U2 is on one of its most ambitious late-career tours. While its current Experience + Innocence Tour 2018 is not intended as a farewell tour by any means, it does have the feel of looking back at the group’s history, origins and evolution.
The bulk of the material comes from the group’s last two albums, Songs of Innocence, released in 2014, and Songs of Experience, released in 2018. Those recordings are dominated by songs that have a very reflective lyrical feel. Throughout the nearly two-and-a-half-hour show, Bono told stories about the people who have supported the group through the years and who were key to its success and its ability to maintain some semblance of reality amidst the clamor of stadium-rock mega success. The two albums were very influenced by Bono’s near-death bicycle accident in 2010 and take their titles from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience poem cycles published in 1901.
Along with songs from the group’s last two albums, the group pulled out such obscurities or rarely performed oddities as “Acrobat,” “The Electric Co.” and “American Soul.” U2 did not perform any material from The Joshua Tree album, as its 2017 tour featured the album, while marking the 50th anniversary of its release.
Highlights included “Beautiful Day,” “City of Blinding Lights,” “One,” and the show-stopping “Pride (In The Name of Love).” The song was preceded by Bono’s reviving of his character MacPhisto from the Zoo-TV tour. The devilish character took on the persona of a racist demagogue president of a supposed democratic country, which was followed by images of the 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist protest.
The group’s last two albums do, however, show the group maintaining its relevance as artists and not merely resting on its past laurels and impressive album and song catalog. It’s safe to say that of all the groups who came after the first flush of the 60’s/70’s rock explosion, no other group has been more artistically and commercially consistent, while also keeping the same lineup intact from day one.
For all the stunning visuals, including a “Barricage” (a 100-foot-long video screen and double-decker catwalk that took up nearly the entire middle of the orchestra seating) the group kept reminding the audience and themselves that they were just four punk kids from Dublin, Ireland. Bono talked about his mother, father, sister, wife and children as not only his constant inspiration, but as people who have always had his back. He also spoke of his band mates in the same way. It was a genuine, heartfelt look beyond the prancing, wild rock star front man. U2 is the essence of a great rock band, but its members never flinch from thanking luck and hard work for getting them to where they are.
The group’s spirited salvation rock in concert may only be overshadowed in rock history by The Who in its prime and Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band when they first broke through.