Concert Review | U2 at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis

Photo by Chris Lay

Growing up with my older brother had its highs and lows. He would bully me, whip me in basketball; he even hit me in the face once. I remember the days when he would wake up early in the morning and blast his cassette tapes while we all got ready for school. He played Springsteen, Billy Joel, The Doors. And yes, he really liked U2.

I distinctively recall a time when I was listening to “With or Without You” in our basement, right after our parents had separated. I was with my brother, sister, and cousins — we had just bought our first stereo system with a CD player, and my brother was elated that he had made his first purchase, a copy of The Joshua Tree. We all sat there not saying a word, just listening to a song that made perfect sense to all of us. It was a strange time, but I really believe that was when I first figured out my true love in life: listening to music with loved ones.

I also remember watching the video for “One” on MTV with my brother. We thought it was the best thing we had ever heard — I even swore that it had to be a cover, because it sounded so classic. It wasn’t, of course; it was just one of those songs that had the ability to speak loud and clear, to define a generation.

But then, something happened. I started listening to Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam, and by the time U2’s Zooropa was released, I had moved on. Looking back, I probably didn’t give Zooropa much time because it sounded nothing like the U2 that had left a mark on my life. A few years later, when they released Pop, I simply gave up. They were no longer a band I could identify with; their records sounded too calculated and fake.

But, as they say, great music can always take you back to a time in your life you remember so vividly. And that happened last night.

In many ways, it’s a shame that I couldn’t enjoy my first U2 concert with my brother. When the first notes of “Where the Streets Have No Name” hit the air inside Busch Stadium, I’d be lying to say that I didn’t long for my youth just a bit. I looked around me, and here’s what I saw: A man, probably in his 50s, sporting a soaked towel around his neck, eyes closed, arms in the air; a middle aged woman, mouth agape, practically hugging herself; a young couple jumping up and down, holding each other. I want to believe this had everything to do with the sound of The Edge’s guitar, and nothing to do with the overzealous stage called “The Claw.”

Let’s talk about “The Claw” for a bit. Sure, when you walk in, it’s a sight to see — it’s huge, it’s cool, whatever. And when it operates, it’s a well-oiled machine, providing lights, amazing video, and rotating bridges where The Edge and Bono make appearances closer to different parts of the audience. But, it’s just a spectacle, a grand gimmick. I did not once find myself thinking, “Wow, “The Claw” really kicked ass on that song.” Perhaps during “Elevation,” “Zooropa,” or “Vertigo,” the night was more enjoyable, only because those songs, to me, lack substance. So, at its best, “The Claw” was a nice distraction to cover up weaker songs in U2’s catalog. God, I sound old.

Photo by Katie Guymon

What I’ll mostly take away from the show are two simple things: The Edge is truly a once-in-a-lifetime guitarist (Bono called him “the best guitarist of his generation” when introducing him), and whether you like him or not, Bono is a rock star who definitely still has it, even if he gives us too much bravado at times.

The Edge, in my opinion, was the star of the show, providing lift-off for songs like the opening “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” “Mysterious Ways,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and the dramatic “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Is it just me, or is there not a more definable guitar sound out there? It’s so clean, yet piercing and powerful. There is no grunge effect in The Edge’s guitar work, and it’s a wonder how such a cool and collected character on stage can produce such energy with an instrument.

Bono, on the other hand, is a much different personality, and was a mixed bag throughout the night. He cleverly produced U2’s setlist from their first show in St. Louis, an appearance at the Graham Chapel at Washington University in 1981, digging it out of his pocket, admitting that they played a couple of the same songs twice due to lack of material. His talk about Gabby Giffords before “Beautiful Day” and shout out to the Joplin tornado victims was also a nice touch. But during the second encore, during “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” he completely lost me with his antics that included swinging from some type of steering-wheel microphone, and sporting a God-awful jacket that lit up like the 4th of July.

This pretentious rock star moment came during the beginning of the three-song second encore, which was the only real disappointment of the evening. To me, it didn’t feel like the same show — even “With or Without You” felt rushed and uninspired. And the show’s closer, “Moment of Surrender,” was a real head-scratching thud, even if it was dedicated to the good people of Joplin. It surely didn’t hold up against the first brilliant encore, which featured “One,” a snippet of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” The show should have ended there, with 50,000-plus buzzing, feeling great about life.

Still, though, U2 proved more than relevant, even if their best moments were during songs that didn’t need lights, lasers, or guest appearances by people in space. I guess that’s the beauty of a huge production, though — we’ll all take the parts we loved best and live with them forever.

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