Spaceship Rides Aren’t Cheap, But They’re Worth It: U2 at The Rose Bowl

October 25, 2009
U2 360 Tour
The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA

Bono – you’ve made some mistakes, but all is forgiven.

U2 – with The 360 Tour, you reminded us why you’re #1 (you were facing some competition there for a while).

The Claw: this is what $750,000/day buys you

The Claw: this is what $750,000/day buys you

Some amazing new music has been released and several extraordinary live shows have been experienced this year.  I questioned whether U2’s “Claw” was worth a $750,000 per day operations budget (the cost, regardless of if the band is playing a show or has a day off) and 200 trucks to transport it. I was so conflicted about this show (the band’s largest ever)  in particular that I wrote about it in advance of the event (see: The Pilgrimage of U2).

When I go to a U2 show, I go to see U2. I don’t need the spectacle. I’m not disappointed if they conserve some electricity, tone down the light show and just play their songs. One of my favorite U2 concerts was shortly following 9-11, when U2 performed without an elaborate stage set-up. The set was simple, just a few screens that displayed the names of 9-11 victims in memoriam. That show moved most of the audience to tears.  A band like U2 doesn’t need to go above and beyond with their production.  In fact, they’re often criticized when they do.

Until last week, I didn’t care one way or another about the elaborate stage set-up for U2’s 360 Tour.  I would have gone to the show without the big production.  However, I did consider that U2 could save money and the environment if “The Claw” truly didn’t add much to the experience and, therefore, ceased to be part of the show. At the same time, I was happy to hear that 333 people are employed to assemble the stage during this tour. If nothing else, U2’s 360 Tour is  stimulating jobs.


Astronomy lessons with U2

Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, it was only fitting that this weekend began with an Astronomy lesson on the streets of Pasadena.  In addition to celebrating the largest U2 concert of all time, Pasadena was paying homage to Galileo and the 400 year anniversary of  the telescope.  As we were walking to dinner Saturday night, 4 Astrophysics PhD students stopped us and asked if we’d like to “see Jupiter’s moons.”  “How much does that cost?” we asked.  After they assured us it was free, we took turns peering through the large telescope the students had set up at a busy intersection of Downtown Pasadena.  It was a magnificent sight, if you really thought about what you were witnessing (and we did).  With the assistance of the powerful telescope, one could clearly see Jupiter and four of its moons in perfect alignment.  This sparked numerous questions which the graduate students were kind enough to answer during an impromptu astronomy lesson on the street corner.  We discussed galaxies, the universe, and the recent blasting of the moon in great detail. Later, when we sat down to dinner, we noticed an informational film about Astronomy was playing on the large movie screen in the main courtyard, outside the restaurant.  This was either a lucky coincidence or a masterfully planned stunt by U2 as they descended upon Pasadena in their spaceship (aka “The Claw”).


A space creature introduces "Ultraviolet"

The show was entirely “space” themed, with Bono often referring to the stage as a spaceship.  In fact, it did feel as if we were traveling through the universe (see video footage below).  Bowie’s “Space Oddity” filled the stadium just prior to U2’s entrance.  The Claw lit up; bridges and arms of the stage spun around; light shot into the sky from all directions, intersecting above the needle of the “spaceship.”  We were greeted by an alien who introduced “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).”  We viewed images of the Earth from above as we shot further through space. The last verse of “In A Little While” was spoken by an astronaut in the International Space Station.  Bono replaced the line “you turn me on” with “space travel turns me on” during the same song.


The Claw as Space Station

“Are you ready for lift off?” Bono asked the crowd just prior to launching into “Elevation.”  Bono himself seemed to defy gravity as he drifted above the stage, swinging from a large illuminated microphone, during “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).” U2 and nearly 100,000 fans visually “created a galaxy” at The Rose Bowl during “Moment of Surrender.”


A Pasadena yogurt shop welcomes U2 fans

The “360” in U2’s 360 Tour seems to refer to more than just the stage set up.  The experience itself surrounds you from every angle.  Preparation for last night’s show included arriving in Pasadena early (in some cases, days early) to avoid traffic and secure parking and transportation.  A Pasadena frozen yogurt shop welcomed the band and fans with “U2 Vanilla Bean” ice cream. It became the focus of local news media, as if all of Los Angeles truly were boarding a spaceship and shooting into space.  Not only did U2 take over The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, and YouTube (the concert was broadcast globally via live stream), they managed to capture three of Twitter’s Trending Topic positions throughout the show.

The live stream of the concert on YouTube effectively allowed U2 to cover the globe from all angles.  Rocco, one of the 333 people responsible for assembling The Claw each night, kicked off the evening with a statement that summarized the magnitude of this event: “This time, when you raise your voices, you won’t only be heard here, but all around the world.”  He further elaborated, “Tonight’s show is the biggest global concert ever.”  In that vein, historically, U2’s show at The Rose Bowl might rank among one of the most spectacular live events.

The voices of the audience quickly overtook Bono’s voice as the band played “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” until Bono held the mic behind his back and turned the vocals over to the crowd.  The amplification of nearly 100,000 voices singing the chorus in unison made it sound as if perhaps Bono was still on the microphone.  I’ve witnessed plenty of audience sing-a-longs at U2 concerts, but this one was the most phenomenal. Watch the video here (more after the jump):

The entire audience waved their hands in the sky, from left to right during “Mysterious Ways.”  Moments like these illustrated that the visual spectacle at U2’s 360 Tour is not solely a result of The Claw.  As with the thousands of voices singing “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” in unison, seeing tens of thousands of people waving their hands in the air was magnificent as well.  Watch below  (more after the jump):

The Edge strummed his acoustic guitar during a stripped down version of “Stuck In A Moment” and Bono’s voice sounded phenomenal and better than ever throughout the 2 hour 20 minute concert. Larry Mullen, Jr. added more soul and fire to “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” banging passionately on a bongo drum.  Adam Clayton’s bass line also sounded more pronounced in this energetic live version of the song. And that’s just the music – which is what I thought I came for. . .

When I first saw The Claw, just prior to The Black Eyed Peas opening set, I wasn’t all that impressed.  At 164 feet tall, the sheer size of The Claw could not be ignored.  The massive racks of speakers suspended around the top of the contraption were also worth paying attention to.  But other than that, illuminated by the stadium lights, The Claw just looked like an over-sized mechanical hand that picks up stuffed animals in an arcade game.


The Claw, powered up

Considering the cost of The Claw (both environmentally and financially), I’d come to expect that it would actually pick us up and transport us through space.  With the help of spectacular visual effects and lighting, a cylindrical screen that moved vertically throughout the show, the light of the moon shining over the stadium, and the audience’s incessant jumping during “Elevation,” it felt as though we indeed did launch a spaceship.


Blast off

It was visually overstimulating as smoke shot up from the set, beams of light shone hundreds of feet into the sky, the needle of the spaceship illuminated and morphed into various colors, lights flashed throughout the stadium seating, and the arms (or fingers) of The Claw itself lit up.


Images are projected 360 degrees

At the same time, the screen moved up and down during the songs.  In its simplest form, we were able to follow footage of the band playing on screen.  Animated characters and pulsing light shows were also projected on screen.  “Reality” became blurred as live video of the band was inter-cut with canned footage of the band and then layered with visual effects.  Check out the use of the screen during “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” (more after the jump):

The visual impact of “City of Blinding Lights” was also extraordinary and helped further bring the spaceship experience to life (more after the jump):

As the band began playing “Moment of Surrender,” Bono suggested that fans raise their cell phones into the sky.  The majority of lights dimmed, while the glow of mobile phones and flickering blue and white lights pulsed throughout the stadium so that it looked like we were surrounded by a mass of stars.  As Bono promised, the effect of this coordinated effort was the creation of a virtual galaxy.  Watch the transition here (more after the jump)

While introducing “Moment of Surrender” (at 6:41) Bono instructs the crowd to raise their cell phones into the sky and “create the Milky Way”:

The virtual galaxy continues to unfold throughout “Moment of Surrender”

Halfway through the show, the man standing to my left leaned over and said, “I think the stage is worth it.”  I’d have to agree.


"Radio Tehran, can you hear us?"

As is the case with most U2 shows, messages of peace, empowerment, social movements, and positive change were highlighted.  “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was dedicated to Iran, “Walk On” was performed in honor of Aung San Suu Kyi, and video of Archbishop Desmond Tutu stating, “God will put a wind at our back and a rising road ahead, if we work together as one, ” served as the introduction to “One.” Bono also thanked fans for supporting (RED) and ONE.

“Don’t leave us now.  We hope this is not the end,” Bono said just before the band walked off stage for the evening.  Well, much to the dismay of thousands of people, they couldn’t leave even if they tried.  As could be expected, there was one more light show to be had – the lights of brakes on cars formed a steady, line leading to the nearest exits.  For those of us on foot, getting out of the Rose Bowl was was much more expedient, although as somebody exclaimed while climbing through a chain-linked fence, “this is like a human maze.”  We passed cars rapidly and followed the line of traffic up the hill.  In an attempt to take a short-cut, dozens of people then scaled a steep, grassy hill that was full of mole holes, climbed through two chain-linked fences, only to find themselves on the edge of a freeway.  People darted across the freeway exit, and then raced across the freeway entrance to the safety of a path that lead directly to Colorado Boulevard.  The final challenge was dodging rotating sprinklers while walking on the last stretch of sidewalk leading to Colorado Blvd. Of course, there’s always that one guy who has to get in the sprinklers.  Just as the adventure of this event began before the concert itself, the experience of U2’s 360 Tour did not end when the band walked off the stage.  To further punctuate that sentiment, within minutes of walking out of the stadium 2 emails arrived via my Blackberry – one from Live Nation and one from U2.  The message of each was the same: U2’s 360 Tour will continue into 2010, with more North American dates added next summer.

U2 Stand up to rockstars

At the band's request. . .

U2 – that show was impressive, one of the most spectacular events I’ve attended.  Individually and collectively you have done a lot of good in the world.  You’ve personally impacted the lives of millions and have empowered individuals with information and tools to make contributions to the greater good as well.  The results of your dedication and commitments to the world include helping people enjoy a longer life, providing clean water, food, and medication.  All of that is fantastic and nobody expects you to “do it all” or single handedly “save the world,” but one can only image that your carbon footprint from this tour is more massive than The Claw itself.  If you’re not already doing so, please consider taking additional steps or making a financial contribution to offset the carbon footprint of your 360 Tour.  If you are already doing so, please have your publicist let the world know because it’s not being recognized by the media nor your fans.

Important message from the space creature who introduced “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)”

Response to Spaceship Rides Aren’t Cheap, But They’re Worth It: U2 at The Rose Bowl

  1. Pingback: Spaceship Rides Aren’t Cheap, But They’re Worth It: U2 at The Rose Bowl | Best Bass Guitar

  2. This is an awesome review. I am a huge u2 fan. I wished they played your blue room live in LA but its cool. I strongly believe that they are the best band playing in a stadium. No band in the world can do it that well in front of 100000 and millions more.

  3. during the song One by U2, Bono dedicates the song to a kid named Laurence Carolin who was diagnosed with an inoperable malignant brain tumor and recently died. Laurence Carolin instead of going to the concert to meet bono, he donated the money to fight poverty in Africa, which prompted bono to want to meet him.

  4. Pingback: Broken Bells Record Release Laser Light Show Drive-In « Rock Is A Girl's Best Friend

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