From the first chords of “City of Blinding Lights” Monday night, U2 had the rabid crowd at the Palace of Auburn Hills eating out of their hands. The four lads from Dublin rocked through hits both old and new while offering an incredibly entertaining and elaborate stage show. Lead singer Bono summed up the electric atmosphere best when he said, “Well this feels not at all like a Monday night, but a Saturday night.”
The show opened with guitarist The Edge and bassist Adam Clayton standing front and center with drummer Larry Mullen right behind them. They began to play the aforementioned cut from their latest album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. And suddenly a lone spotlight shone on an outer oval-shaped stage, which surrounded the main platform, and lead singer Bono appeared, hands raised in triumph as the crowd roared and confetti dropped. The colorful lasers and screens then began to light up full tilt and it appeared as though it was raining colors behind the band, and the audience ate it all up.
U2 quickly followed the upbeat opener with a couple of similarly up-tempo tracks “Vertigo” and “Elevation.” The latter song marked the first of many times in which Bono led the audience in a game of call-and-response.
The band didn’t forget to play its back catalog either, busting out “I Will Follow” along with two other songs from their debut album Boy. Longtime fans appreciated the jamming and free-flowing spins on old favorites, and The Edge even took the opportunity to solo at the front of the elliptical outer stage.
Bono, a rock star in the purest sense of the term, could do no wrong by the audience. He owned the stage and the arena. Even when he launched into an incredibly bizarre narrative prior to “Miracle Drugs,” he never seemed all that ridiculous because of his larger-than-life status. “Edge is from the future; he’s a spaceman,” Bono said in all sincerity. “I asked him what it’s like. He said, ‘It’s better.’ “
Though the band managed to play through nearly 45 minutes of material before Bono began waxing poetic about peace and hunger, it never bogged down the show. The moment of change occurred in the middle of the classic anthem “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” as Bono began to talk about coexistence and sang lyrics about religious unity while the band continued to play.
These political sentiments continued throughout the rest of the show as the band pulled out hits including “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Beautiful Day.” All of these songs featured elaborate and unique lighting displays, such as the red light that engulfed the arena during “Bullet the Blue Sky” or the African flags that flashed by on the lighting displays during “Where the Streets Have No Name.” At one point, the video screens even began displaying the text from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Regardless of politics, U2 was at the Palace to play music. Old favorites peppered the show, but the set list was definitely focused on their latest album and 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Most of their ’90s efforts were completely omitted, save for the closer “One.” Bono asked for fans to make the arena look like the “Milky Way” and the lights dimmed, leaving only the glow of thousands of cell phones to illuminate the stage.
The band returned for an encore, featuring acoustic versions of “Walk On” and “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” Neither of these songs lifted the audience to the heights of the main show, but the finale, “With Or Without You” definitely lived up to the night’s potential. Bono grabbed a fan out of the audience and held her close during the entire song, as the crowd sang along to every word.
U2 may not be the same band they once were, but they know how to put on a show. Bono’s charisma and the group’s musical talent are so strong that they don’t even need the theatricality that they employ. They truly are part of the rock elite. If The Rolling Stones ever do stop touring, U2 stands ready to pick up the torch and run with it.