Review: After Glastonbury, U2 Rock The Heartland

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On Friday night, U2 headlined the Glastonbury Festival. On Saturday, they flew back to the U.S., taking all 500 members of their road crew with them. On Sunday, they shook off the jetlag and played a 75,000-capacity stadium in Lansing, Michigan.

Not bad for a band whose frontman suffered a slipped disc last year, postponing a number of American shows (including the Lansing gig) while he recovered from emergency spine surgery.

Most of the people who crowded into Spartan Stadium last night had purchased tickets in 2009, back when the 360° Tour had just started to rev its engines. They’d held onto their tickets through the summer of 2010, when Bono’s back injury brought the tour to an abrupt halt, and into the following summer, when U2’s monolithic spaceship of a stage – with its ramps, lights, smoke machines, and claw-like legs – finally touched down on MSU’s campus. There was anticipation in the air, not to mention a sense that U2 (who were, by now, twelve months late to their own party) had better bring it.

Well, consider it brought. U2 may be in danger of losing their foothold in the mainstream – No Line on the Horizon failed to produce a big single, a feat that even 1997’s much-maligned Pop was able to accomplish with “Discotheque” – but they’ve pretty much cornered the market on stadium spectacle. Opening up with four consecutive cuts from Achtung Baby, the guys blew through two hours and fifteen minutes of anthemic rock, dipping into the archives for the occasional curveball (the title track from Zooropa, the better-than-you-remember-it “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”) without glossing over their bigger songs and usual crowd favorites.

No Line on the Horizon is two years old by now. Once the cornerstone of this tour, its songs have been whittled down to three mainstays: “Get On Your Boots,” “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” (which was given the same dance-remix treatment it received during the 2009 leg, albeit with bits of “Discotheque” thrown into the second half), and the show-closing “Moment of Surrender.” Like many U2 songs, those three numbers all sound better in concert, having been poked and prodded into sturdy shape after more than 100 live performances.

In fact, almost everything sounded better last night. “Stay (Faraway, So Close)” was stripped down to a gorgeous, bare-boned ballad, performed beneath a single spotlight by Bono and the Edge. “Elevation” took on more sonic crunch than the studio version, and “Miss Sarajevo” brought some elegance to an otherwise flamboyant rock show, its opera interlude performed by Bono instead of the late Pavarotti. For those who just wanted to hear the hits, there were plenty of those, from the Joshua Tree chart-toppers to latter-day singles like “Beautiful Day” and “Walk On.”

This wasn’t the band’s first time in Lansing. Back in December 1981, U2 performed to a much smaller crowd at Dooleys, a local Irish pub that’s currently known more as a sports bar than a music venue. The show apparently went pretty well that night – well enough for Bono to reference it thirty years later, drawing laughs and applause from those at Spartan Stadium who understood the reference – and at least one song, “I Will Follow,” was played at both places. It sounded much bigger last night, of course. But it also retained the energy of the band’s early days, proof that at the heart of U2’s touring circus lies a healthy, beating heart.

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