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Mark Brickley: U2 Rocks the (Entire) World

Rose Bowl/YouTube concert was a spectacle worthy of the band's proud legacy

The rock show of the decade took place Sunday night at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

U2’s concert was a transcendent experience not only for the 95,00 fans in the stadium but also for millions — including myself — who watched it streamed live for two hours on YouTube. The Twitter banner running opposite the live concert stream identified viewers from Gibraltar to Peru to the Philippines. It was a worldwide spectacle that spoke to the power a concert event of this magnitude can generate. If it’s possible to simultaneously link the world’s population together on the Internet, U2 proved it can be done. The concert’s set list was an airtight mix of the band’s greatest hits from its 13 albums. The show was stitched together with the political insights and passion Bono and the band are all about.

Here’s what U2 played, start to finish: U2’s founder, drummer Larry Mullen Jr., jogged on stage and began the groove for “Breath,” the first of seven songs the band would play from its 2009 CD. Bono hit the opening notes, singing, “The future needs a big kiss.” He then raced through “Get on Your Boots” with Edge playing a Stratocaster. Next was “Magnificent” with Bono altering the lyric to reflect the concert’s cosmic theme: “I was born to be with you in space and time.” The song’s incredible bottom synched the drums and bass, creating a Fleetwood Mac flow.

Next was the mega hit, “Mysterious Ways.” Bono danced and jived, masterfully reinterpreting the song’s elements on the spot. Edge played multiple guitars during the song, including a Rickenbacker. Next was the mega ballad “It’s a Beautiful Day,” (with added lines from “In God’s Country,” “God Only Knows” and “The Maker,” a song penned by U2 producer Daniel Lanois). With only bassist Adam Clayton, drummer Mullen and guitarist Edge on stage, where does U2’s layered wall of sound come from? Each of their songs are complex musical paintings.

Pausing between songs, Bono introduced the band, announcing that the concert was being shown live on seven continents. He acknowledged the legendary Los Angeles Times rock critic Robert Hilburn, who was in the audience along with celebrities that included Star Trek director J.J. Abrams. He thanked the Los Angeles-based band, Black-Eyed Peas, which had opened the Rose Bowl concert. The Peas had featured singer Fergie and Slash on a rendition of the Guns N’ Roses classic, “Sweet Child ò Mine.”

As U2 began again, Bono watched from the stage’s apron as the massive crowd sang in unison the first verse of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” It was followed by an unplugged version of “Stuck in the Moment.” Edge played an effects-driven acoustic steel string and sang falsetto harmony with Bono, “It’s just a moment ... This too shall pass.” Next came the title track, “No Line on the Horizon.” “Elevation” and “In a Little While” came next while Bono changed the lyric to say, “Space travel turns me on.” As the song finished, an astronaut from the International Space Station recited the final verse. Was it a live feed from space? Maybe. As U2’s music moved over you, reality seemed to blur.

The band then played “Unknown Caller” and “Until the End of the World.” For these songs, U2 was backed by a below-stage keyboards featuring an organ. Bono and Edge sang and played as they traversed two moving bridges that spanned the crowd. Within his frenetic solo, Edge willed the two bridges together. Edge and Bono almost touched hands but the bridges moved symbolically apart, physically resolving the song’s metaphor. Next was “The Unforgettable Fire.” Bono was suddenly running along the moving stage, circling the entire massive set. He sang, “You look so beautiful tonight, in the city of burning lights.” Edge doubled on electric piano with his Gibson strung over his shoulder.

A tight string of songs followed in rapid succession: The electric “Vertigo,” then “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t go Crazy Tonight” and mega hit “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” “MLK,” a tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was followed by “Walk On.” This song was dedicated to Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi. Amnesty International demonstrators slowly circled the stage wearing masks of her face. In just over two hours, U2 had torn through more than 20 songs, with only two short pauses to catch their breath.

Surely, most U2 fans would have left satisfied after two hours of continuous music, but the band returned for an incredible six-song encore. Bono emerged from the darkened stage with a neon-lit mike to sing “One.” It was followed by “Ultraviolet (Light My Way):” “It’s not over, light my way.” Next, the traditional “Amazing Grace” led into the U2 anthems, “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Within or Without You.” With Edge playing slide guitar, U2 finished its epic concert with the moving “Moment of Surrender.” The Rose Bowl crowd and online viewers alike had shared an amazing journey through U2’s universe. Together we had experienced rock history being written.

Noozhawk contributor Mark Brickley is a freelance writer in Carpinteria.

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