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Review: U2 in Chicago, 360 Tour (ReviewSTL)

Adam Clayton and Bono of U2 perform on a stage shrouded in fog.

Concert recap, ReviewSTL, July 13, 2011

Photo by Stephanie Young Merzel via Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve finally forgiven Bono one year after he threw his back out and canceled my 2010 Chicago show. And all it took was U2 playing a rare song live and completely blowing my mind.

U2 is known for adoring Chicago – the band often waxes poetic about their early shows there, and the city kicked off the whole “360 Tour” with two dates back in 2009. During the band's July 5 show at Soldier Field, Singer Bono practically wrote love letters to the Chicago audience after every song. But none so sweet as “One Tree Hill.”

U2 fans will know that Bono wrote “One Tree Hill” after the death of his assistant Greg Carroll in 1986. After U2’s “Lovetown" tour, the song only has been performed in recent years in Chile, Japan and Carroll’s native New Zealand. So during Chicago's final encore, after Bono shared that he was thinking about his former assistant on the 25th anniversary of Carroll’s death, he was persuaded by the audience to “check with the professor” (guitarist The Edge) to see if the band still had the balls to play it.

Play it they did, and audience members knew they were getting something pretty damn special (I can’t tell you how many times I screamed “OMFG!”).

Ok, so beyond that early Christmas gift of an encore, was the show still good?

Um, yeah.

Calling the monstrous “claw” structure around the stage their “spaceship,” U2 kicked off the show with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” first pumping along with the original song and then fading into the band taking over. They morphed that into “Breathe” from 2009’s No Line on the Horizon before Bono shared that the band has been having fun recently playing songs from Achtung, Baby, recorded in Berlin 20 years ago. U2 used that as an opportunity to showcase three Achtung songs: “The Fly,” Mysterious Ways” and “Until the End of the World,” all of which were changed from the original 1991 recordings and sexed up with funkier guitar and rhythms.

Bono loves telling people that “Out of Control” was U2’s first single, and he did it yet again as the band launched into a blistering version of the song that predates even the Boy album. The band let the audience take the lead on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” before Bono chimed in and took everyone to church. His voice continued to soar as The Edge plucked out the intro to “Stay (Faraway, So Close!),” one of U2’s most hauntingly beautiful songs. Once Larry Mullen Jr’s high hat made its final crash, the audience went nuts, providing the perfect jump-up-and-down segue into “Beautiful Day.”

“Elevation” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” were the low points in the next segment, failing to work the mega-magic they did on previous tours. And even though “Miss Sarajevo” was gorgeous and meaningful, not even Bono’s boombastic Italian solo could rouse the crowd during this slow number. Things picked back up with the energetic “City of Blinding Lights” from 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and Bono offered more Chicago love with a snippet of Frank Sinatra’s “My Kind of Town” thrown in.

The band brought out their remixed “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” that debuted at the start of the tour, which led into the still-powerful “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” They wrapped up the main set with an emotional “Walk On,” still dedicated to Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

U2 had two encores up its sleeve. The first featured songs that are part of most shows: “One” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” In the second encore, tunes spanning three decades made their appearances. First, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” from 1995’s Batman Forever soundtrack was a delight for the audience. The band then headed back to the 80s for a touching “With or Without You,” which featured Bono swinging on a steering-wheel-shaped microphone that dangled from the rafters as Adam Clayton plucked out his heartbeat of a bassline. Finally, U2 performed its standard “360 Tour” closer of “Moment of Surrender” from 2009’s No Line. Bono worked a tiny, tiny snippet of “One Tree Hill” into the song, and that’s when all hell broke loose and the band was compelled to perform the Carroll tribute in its entirety.

With a tightly choreographed tour like “360” and setlists posting to Twitter in realtime, it’s not often that fans are surprised at U2 shows these days. But Bono sings “The future needs a big kiss” in “Get on Your Boots,” and he and the boys slapped a doozy of one on us by surprising concertgoers with the emotional "One Tree Hill."

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