June 7, 2011
@ O.co Coliseum [The venue formerly known as the Oakland Coliseum]
Better than: Watching a U2 concert DVD with the volume really high while standing outside with 70,000 other people. (But actually, that's exactly what it was like, except with an apocalyptic traffic jam before and after.)
"Some of you were two years younger when you bought these tickets," Bono allowed at the start of one of his many sermons last night. He was alluding to the fact that a back problem last year forced the band to postpone this and other stops of its massively spectacularific 360° tour, and thanking U2 fans -- some of whom traveled here from Poland and Mexico -- for being patient. He didn't need to. The place where the A's play was packed last night with the burbling enthusiasm of what felt like 20 million people, even if was only about 69,000 -- or enough to fill 58 sold-out Fillmores. Armed with a setlist that included many of U2's most famous songs ("I Will Follow," "Mysterious Ways," "Beautiful Day," "With or Without You," etc.), an Amnesty International advertisement, a shout-out to Lou Reed (who was apparently in the audience), and a funny story about going drinking on Monday night with the boys from Metallica and Green Day, it's safe to say the band in rock dazzled and moved most of them.
It did not move us, jaded U2 skeptics that we are. Given yesterday's admission, that's hardly surprising, but even we were a little upset at how predictable and unaffecting this titanic spectacle was.
First, there was the 360° Tour's much-vaunted stage setup, which looked to me like a mutant four-legged spider trying to shit out a tiny rock band. Given its proportion to the huge coliseum, it felt like the spider -- with its colored lights, flashing tower, fog-illuminating spotlights, insectoid fabric covering, and a giant LCD screen in the abdomen -- was actually giving the show. Anyway, I spent more time looking at the spider and its screen than watching the actual figures on the stage -- and I was decently close. But then, imagining that a supersize musical alien arachnid was farting out "Vertigo" was way more amusing than the actual reality.
Then there was the band's performance, which was scripted-feeling, precise, crisp -- and yet unremarkable, at least to these ears. All but the most iconic points of U2's catalog flowed over me like a warm sonic bath -- the impression left was not altogether unpleasant, but not memorable, either. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" began awkwardly, but righted itself into one of the highlights of the night. "Pride" soared as it should. But "One" failed to reach the moving heights it needed to. And this nonfan yawned through all those other midtempo U2 songs that rose into some vague, effects-assisted zenith only to dissipate with Bono frozen somewhere in an action-hero pose.