03 May 2018 |Tanya Sweeney | The Irish Times
Sometimes, it’s almost hard to believe that U2 had similar childhoods to the rest of us, but during a powerful performance of Cedarwood Road in Tulsa on Wednesday night the evidence is up there on massive screens in glorious technicolour. Green “Telefón” boxes. Bovver boots. Posters of The Clash and Kraftwerk on the walls. Scramblers, ice-cream vans and Bowie.
Where 2015’s iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour showed the band doffing a cap to their formative years, its sequel tour, eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour follows in much the same vein.
Yet, there’s a glorious juxtaposition between the overblown and the intimate; the hulking arena extravaganza and a band stripping it all back to basics.
As the U2 juggernaut rolls into politically conservative Tulsa, men with megaphones extol the virtues of Jesus to queues of fans, many of whom have been queuing outside the venue since the previous Friday. It’s a mixed bag of international die-hards who have flown from Denmark or Mexico, and locals who can barely believe their luck that U2 are opening their world tour in their home town.
“(Dublin) was kind of like Tulsa,” Bono tells tonight’s 19,000-strong crowd. “Everyone knew each other… everyone liking each other was a whole other thing.”
In the three-hour, 27-song marathon, the stage set up will be familiar to fans who saw U2 during their 2015 tour. Again, the centrepiece of the production is a massive screen, sitting above the stages, running parallel over the ramp. It results in a lot of stage to stalk, and nimbly stalk it U2 very much do.
And yet the world, and America in particular is a much-changed place since 2015. U2 have never been short of a political message, and this tour carries on this fine tradition.
Tonight, their messaging, where visuals do much of the talking, run a gamut from feminism and Northern Irish politics to racial politics (incorporating rousing images from 2017’s Charlottesville white supremacy rally, the KKK and Martin Luther King). The slogans come thick and fast (“Respect existence or expect resistance” is just one), and yet somehow U2 manage to kibosh the sense that they’re merely picking off issue after issue.
Pulling from an extensive back catalogue (and overlooking tracks from The Joshua Tree, after last year’s lengthy tour), U2 open with the relatively gentle Love Is All We Have Left, from 2017’s Songs Of Experience. After two more energetic new tracks, The Blackout and Lights Of Home, the barnstormers come thick and fast.
Beautiful Day is followed by a particularly brisk All Because Of You. Hot on its heels comes a gutsy, no-bells version of I Will Follow.
There’s a palpable change of energy as U2 sing The Ocean, Iris and Cedarwood Road, where Bono is at his most touchingly confessional. He talks between songs about his mother who used to love swimming at the sea in Loughshinny, and his wife Ali – then a girl called Alison Stewart – who asked him for guitar lessons as a youngster. “I’m gonna charge her (for them),” Bono says. “It will cost her the rest of her life.”
The night’s arguable high points, buoyed by an ecstatic crowd, come from years past. Pride (In The Name of Love) and Sunday Bloody Sunday are predictable arms-around-the-world moments, but One, accompanied by a stark Anton Corbijn-directed film, is made all the more heart-swelling by the BOK Centre’s crowd holding aloft their iPhone torches. It’s about the one time – U2’s jazzy augmented reality app notwithstanding – that a sea of phones in the air has been a good thing.
Does the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour occasionally threaten to veer into The Bono Show territory? Perhaps. But there’s no doubting that a look back at their origin years has helped to galvanise this four-piece into an even more cohesive unit.
Tonight was proof positive that those youthful years of hunger and ebullience stay with you forever. It’s as true for U2 as for any of us.