When The Psalms Came Down
May 16, 2015 · Print This Article
Until Thursday, May 14, 2015 in western Canada, it’s been a decade since U2 did a predominately indoor tour, alternating as they have been between football stadiums and basketball arenas since the Joshua Tree days. While some folks speculated whether the vast shimmering audacity of the stadium-seasoned Claw could ever be rivaled, U2’s designer Willie Williams had been working behind the scenes. The Elevation tour’s “heart” has been cut in half by a cross-like stage that crosses the entire mainfloor of the venues that seem tiny compared to the grandeur of the 360-tour jaunt in 2009-2011.
Fans in the General Admission standing-only section have been split into the “North” and “South” sections that represent parts of Dublin. The setlist has been severed at the middle by an intermission that brackets innocence and experience, but there is nothing inanely “innocent” about the teenage fury of a set prefaced by vintage tracks by the Clash and the Ramones and snippeted with the likes of Johnny Rotten’s “God Save The Queen” sneaking into “Vertigo.”
Brought from the invasive iTunes download of 2014 to an even more in-your-face tour theatric, this is a radically reflective midlife crisis that goes beyond the hopeful chimes of Boy onto the barricades of a religious battleground. From youthful disillusion and despair, Bono and the boys answer like the romantic William Blake from whom they stole the album and tour titles. U2 respond to the unspeakable by speaking the only language they can conjure: a punk rock prophetic and apocalyptic ecstasy, the spiritual vision quest that must pass through nihilism and terrorism to seek redemption and release.
On Friday, the death of blues icon B.B. King brought “When Love Comes To Town” into the set. Leaving very little trace of No Line On The Horizon in the show leaves room for Rattle and Hum and the vibes that recently went busking with Jimmy Fallon into the New York subways. Creatively squeezing more than three decades of creative output into less than three hours means some flexible switching and slippage in the setlist from night-to-night; this will be especially welcome to the hardcore fans as the tour later lands for extended residencies in cities like Chicago and New York.
U2 have always claimed to be more punk than hippy, more blues than gospel, and it’s from a devotional fascination with the Psalms that Bono derives so much lyrical power. Surely spirit moved in mysterious ways as the band plotted the dramatic arc of the first half setlist, finishing strong with an emotionally potent trio of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” > “Raised By Wolves” > “Until The End Of The World.”
A heartbreaking and slow acoustic “Sunday Bloody Sunday” stops for the audio-video assault that recalls the 1974 Dublin bombings that prompted the words for “Raised By Wolves.” This is one spoiler fans might be grateful to be able to emotionally prepare for—but the reality that requires the realism of this song is an aspect of violent human folly that we’re all still wrestling with.
The biblical language of last suppers and epic betrayals sitting atop crunchy guitars and effects that makes “Until The End Of The World” a live U2 staple after all these years takes on an even deeper effect after what precedes it here. The times we live in today are no less apocalyptic than those that inspired the fiery poems of Blake or the flammable bombast of punk. The world is always ending for someone somewhere. It’s only the first half of this show closing, but suddenly it’s raining paper, like the chaotic debris after the Dublin bombs, yet it gets called confetti on Twitter. Pages ripped from Alice in Wonderland, Dante, and Eugene Peterson’s Psalms. Fans can take these shards of fantastic wisdom with them. From the fallout of terror and ultimate human error, God’s blessings are still falling from the sky.
U2 are much more comfortable than they were in the late 1970s, but that doesn’t stop them from making us all uncomfortable with our mere mortality and political complicity and complacent spirituality. Bono had to take us back to his adolescent bedroom on Cedarwood Road to show us the cauldron where his poetic pyromania first sparked. And then, he had the mad idea to transform that bedroom into a traveling punk-rock tent revival that he could take on the road to rouse middle-aged rock fans from their workaday slumber. From what the world witnessed in Vancouver (and thanks to the instant gratification of Twitter, fan forums, and YouTube, we really witnessed this, albeit remotely), this is a mad idea worth nurturing and a revival worth partaking in when it comes to your town. With psalms raining down, with love it is coming to town.
—words by Andrew William Smith @teacheronradio
Photos of pages, collected from the first Vancouver show, by Beth Nabi (@bethandbono on Twitter)