U2

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author PP date 29/09/18 venue Royal Arena, Copenhagen, DEN

I gotta admit, I was skeptical ahead of the U2 concert at Royal Arena. Never a huge fan of their music in the first place, the hippie-esque perception of Bono and his save-the-world spirit has always felt a tad pretentious for my taste. Plus they're like a gazillion years old, so surely they're washed up rock stars at this point, right? Well, consider my mind changed - massively so.

Tonight's sold-out show - tickets for which disappeared in mere seconds from going on sale - is dubbed the "eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE" tour, and for good reason: it's a wonderful encapsulation of what U2 is about as a band: a beyond-the-music type of an out-of-body experience where the evils of the world disappear as the band slowly but meticulously weave you into their world of love, spirituality, and positivity through a storybook format of fictional heroes - depicting U2 themselves - traversing the world and its perilous seas. Together with a unique stage production, calling tonight an experience rather than a concert is an understatement, and a rare instance where those seated down may actually have had a better overall experience.

All photos courtesy of Stefan Thor Straten

Let's start with the setup because it's quite an unusual one. Smack down in the middle of the floor is a giant, see-through metallic structure cutting the crowd in approximately half. It starts off the main part of the regular scene and pierces through the floor leading to a circular mini-stage, a spotlight if you will, towards the end of the floor. It turns out it's an extraordinary video screen setup that is one of the most innovative I've seen at any show to date (the "e+i screen" or "The Barricage". Not only does it offer impressive 3D imagery and video, but it also allows the band to perform literally inside of it, which is how they begin the concert. We catch glimpses of the band rocking out to "The Blackout" whilst spectacular light effects engulf Royal Arena in gasps of awe as the crowd absorbs the enormous production and its capabilities.

Immediately after, the screen all but disappears and turns into a long, uphill path to the stars during "Lights Of Home". Bono asks us to light up the venue with our phones, which the crowd promptly does, and starts slowly walking upwards while performing the show. It's a breathtaking sight and one that perfectly fits the mood and the atmosphere in the song, finishing up with Bono landing on the circular mini-stage in the middle of the crowd for the last part.

So far, the effects have been incredible to the extent we've barely noticed that we're actually watching a U2 concert rather than being in the middle of a Hollywood style movie set. That's why it's a fantastic artistic decision to give us an occasional breather from the production, such as during "I Will Follow", where the band is just playing without any additional props on the main stage: the crowd is jumping and we're back to regular concert rhythm in no time. The seamless transition is brilliant, as is the Danish fan club's tribute which has all seated audience members holding A3-size coloured banners above our heads to depict a Danish flag on one side, and an Irish flag on the other side of the arena for "Beautiful Day". Bono thanks us in a genuine fashion, which is the first of many occasions where we hear his softly spoken, calm, but powerful in-between song stage banter, which we'll get back to a little later.

"Cedarwood Road" sees the return of the massive video screen in the middle with an absolutely mesmerizing feature: below it on the catwalk, the band members are free to walk up and down, and above them - inside the screen, you have Bono slowly walking from one end of the screen to another in a crazy three-dimensional, animated depiction of the street in Dublin. I have absolutely no idea how that's possible, but an astonishing effect doesn't even begin to describe it.

"Sunday Bloody Sunday" is equally impressive. First, Bono tells us how they barely missed the bombs in Dublin during the reign of IRA terror, and then the screens turn into a journey through the animated imagery of Dublin's many walls and pro/anti-war slogans from the time. It's powerful and touching at the same time because it doesn't go overtly political rather than allowing us to reflect ourselves on the meaninglessness of war and conflict.

Immediately after, the effects continue for "Until The End Of The World", where giant waves begin racing across the screens. The 3-D effect is so realistic you feel like you're in the middle of the cinematography and it's hard to fathom how such a vivid effect is even possible. It says a lot that the crowd cheers after each song aren't all that loud, simply because everyone's jaws are firmly glued to the ground; it's easy to forget you're actually in a concert, that's how well built the whole experience is.

And that's only the first half of the show. It turns out that the little circular stage in the middle of the audience is also a screen. This is where the band spends a good six songs playing "Elevation", which earns the biggest sing-along tonight in what is a back-chilling celebratory mood. "I AM FUCKING BONO, AND THIS IS EDGE, AND WE ARE THE GREATEST ROCK AND ROLL BAND NORTH OF DUBLIN", Bono proclaims from the small stage and based on what we're seeing all that self-hype is completely justified. The best part? At no point of the show has it felt like the band are pretentious, full of themselves, or any of that bad rap many associated the band with (yours truly included, before this concert). Instead, it's a highly professional, rich in detail, and depth-laden construction of constant crescendo: not in terms of volume but in terms of how good and convincing the show feels like.

But where the show moves from great to unforgettable is when Bono talks to a small camera which transforms his face into a demon or a devil, depending on interpretation. He then assumes that character and mentions the Burka ban, confiscation of jewelry off of refugees, finishing us off with a "Bravo, Denmark. I'm proud of you", before taking scathingly sarcastic stabs at Hungary's Orban, France's Le Pen, and sending off a Nazi salute to Sweden's Jimmy Åkesson. The whole spectacle transitions into music where the Barricage screen turns back on, and the demon's statements are contrasted by a lengthy video showing dire images of refugee travels and suffering, leading straight into pictures and videos of right-wing protests, Nazi salutes, and signs like "You will NOT make Europe your home!".

"THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE", Bono screams repeatedly through a megaphone in a back-chilling fashion, until the screen transitions to the equally powerful imagery of counter-protesters and refugees welcome signs. "THIS IS WHO WE ARE", he continues, in a moment that feels as important as ever during today's political climate.

Did I mention the band is expertly traversing through their songs during this whole thing? The experience is unbelievably seamless and fitting, and it's just getting better and better. We then get a slowly constructed EU flag where the stars form pictures of famous landmarks in different cities, featuring even aerial drone footage of Copenhagen. "Blessed is the blue Europe.... don't let the stars fall on us", Bono eggs us on, and the picture is complete. It's an eerie vibe of love, positivity and pro-Europeanism reminding us of the core values that this continent was built on, powerful enough to raise the hairs on even the most hardened right-wing activists, only if you let it.

For a moment, the state of the world is forgotten and you find yourself engulfed in love-charged optimism and hope for a better future. It's beautiful, it's honest, and it's convincing in its simple glory. And so when we reach "13 (There Is A Light)", the final song of the evening, it's only fitting to see Bono slowly traverse the length of the video screen from the stage to the middle of the crowd, only to take a lightbulb out of a small house constructed in the middle of it, before walking through the crowd and leaving the venue through a fire exit door. Ladies and gentlemen, Bono has exited the building. Spectacular.

9

Setlist:

  • 1. The Blackout
  • 2. Lights of Home (St. Peter's String Version)
  • 3. I Will Follow
  • 4. All Because Of You
  • 5. Beautiful Day
  • 6. The Ocean
  • 7. Iris (Hold Me Close)
  • 8. Cedarwood Road
  • 9. Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • 10. Until The End Of The World
  • 11. Elevation
  • 12. Vertigo
  • 13. Even Better Than The Real Thing
  • 14. Acrobat
  • 15. You're The Best Thing About Me
  • 16. Summer of Love
  • 17. Pride (In the Name of Love)
  • 18. Get Out of Your Own Way
  • 19. New Year's Day
  • 20. City of Blinding Lights

--Encore--

  • 21. One
  • 22. Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way
  • 23. 13 (There Is a Light)

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