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Review: U2 Bring Nostalgia and ‘Innocence’ to SAP Center

In Music
Photos by Brian Kirksey

Photos by Brian Kirksey

It is only appropriate that U2 kicked off the first U.S. date of its latest North American tour with a sold-out crowd of devotees at SAP Center on Monday, including members of the San Francisco Giants, the Rev. Cecil Williams from Glide Church and big names in tech.

No other band is more closely aligned with Silicon Valley tech giants and U2’s inspirational songs from over three decades are undoubtedly good enough to make the unofficial reverend outfielder Hunter Pence jump in praise (that, he did, with Giants manager Bruce Bochy and teammate Ryan Vogelsong standing nearby). Count on a few new Bono-inspired startup slogans jotted on after party napkins, too.

But even with that social cachet, U2 continues to push the limits of arena-sized performances, this time doing its best to make the 17,000-capacity SAP Center feel like an intimate music venue. On Monday, it felt like a club gig compared to the band’s last Bay Area outing, the massive, record-breaking U2 360° Tour at Oakland Coliseum back in 2011.

PHOTO GALLERY: U2 At SAP Center

In San Jose, the band utilized an innovative setup for more than two hours with a large stage at the north end of the arena floor that was linked with a runway to a smaller stage at the south end. Above the mid-section, giant LED boards projected massive video and animation visuals.

Alternating from each stage throughout the night, fans on opposing ends of the stadium were offered a unique perspective, although it seems somewhere near half court is probably best for this show. The sequences with the LED screen were stunning, especially when Bono and the Edge climbed a platform behind the images, allowing Bono to interact with an animated streetscape and later hold the Edge in his giant hand.

The Edge. Photo by Brian Kirksey.

The Edge. Photo by Brian Kirksey.

Musically, it was a night of nostalgia on multiple levels, first with an emphasis on songs from the band’s 2014 album Songs of Innocence, which was inspired by the band’s formative years. They started with the first single from that album, “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” and then an unexpected pick, U2’s first single ever “Out of Control,” before Bono introduced bassist Adam Clayton, drummer Larry Mullen and the Edge by their Dublin neighborhoods.

Bono set the tone in the first break, riffing on the tour’s iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE theme and asking the crowd: “Can you still experience innocence after all of these years?”

That’s not always an easy question with U2. At this point, multiple generations can claim U2 origin stories; the musical bookmarks from their past that brought them out on a Monday night to sing along in near-religious fervor to the group’s biggest hits.

At the same time, the band had the audience questioning: Where is our innocence after Ferguson and during the AIDS crisis? What have we learned from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the conflict in Ireland? Can we become global citizens? What is magic and what is a trick?

Perhaps, that’s what U2 does best. In the wake of thousands of glowing cell phones and selfie attempts, it’s a band that can still insert a little humanity, charity and mystery into the rock ’n’ roll juggernaut. On Monday, it was nostalgic and refreshing—and it felt a little innocent—all at once.

U2 performs again on May 19 at SAP Center before continuing its North American tour.

Matt Crawford is the Director of Digital Media for Metro Newspapers. Follow him @Metro_Matt.

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