FOXBOROUGH — We may be near Boston, but there was still only one place on Sunday to pass twelve taps of Guinness followed by a “Free Burma” booth. Get out your Irish flags, your sunglasses and a charitable heart, because U2 wants to get closer to you than they ever have before.
U2’s 360 Tour, their first tour since Vertigo in 2006, is named for the round set design that allows fans to encircle the stage. The tour supports U2’s latest album, “No Line on the Horizon,” which was released worldwide in March. The gig brought the band back to Massachusetts on Sunday to kick-off two nights of shows at Gillette Stadium.
Snow Patrol was the opening act for Sunday’s show. The opener’s highlight was an impromptu sing along. When vocalist Gary Lightbody called it “humiliating” when a previous crowd declined to sing with him, Gillette Stadium was instantly filled with the a capella voices of thousands. “Shut your eyes and sing to me,” the crowd sang”"a line from the band’s “Eyes Open” album. As Irish flags waved in the upper tiers, the support for the Irish and Scottish band members was palpable. The band’s 30-minute set also included their radio hits “Chasing Cars” and “Hands Open.”
When thanking U2 on stage, Lightbody told the audience to get prepared. “It’s the best gig I’ve ever been to,” he said, “and I’ve been to it seventeen times. It’s gonna blow your freakin’ minds.”
The futuristic stage was mind-blowing on its own, towering over the field with a 360-degree screen and a smoking center structure that resembled a rocket. Bono called the set a cross between a “space station” and a “rock-and-roll laboratory” during Sunday’s show. “Great to be back home in Boston,” he said to the crowd of over 60,000 fans. “Are you ready for the ride?”
The set list covered most of U2’s hits, with an intensity that mounted like a countdown to blastoff. The 360-degree screen gave the illusion of spinning faster and faster as the band performed “Vertigo.” By “Elevation,” the crowd on the field was worked into a frenzy as band members crossed moving bridges on the set to get closer to the audience. Guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, and percussionist Larry Mullen, Jr. all had solo moments on the bridges near the fans.
The show was made better by the sound quality, which was clear from the top levels to the field. The additional lighting helped transport the audience to another planet, coaxed there by a non-stop intensity from the band and the energized (and notably Irish) crowd.
The only indication that Gillette Stadium was still on the ground came in the last quarter of the show, which was dedicated to the band’s political activism. An Irish lullaby was dedicated to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, who has been under house arrest since she won the Burmese election in 1990. Bono asked the crowd to hold up her picture or put on masks of her face, which were handed out before the show. “Let her face be your face,” Bono told the crowd. “Tonight we walk on for her.”
As part of the political message, certain sections of the floor were designated for those with (RED) Zone tickets, which were auctioned off to the highest bidders. Part of the proceeds will benefit Product (RED), an initiative that raises money to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The crowd grew solemn after this section of the set, leaving the call for an encore quiet and anticlimactic.
Despite the added weight of the message, most the audience stayed throughout the encore. Cell phones were lifted throughout the stadium and the lights were dimmed, creating the illusion of being in space, surrounded by thousands of illuminated stars. Bono finished the show by thanking the audience. “Thank you for giving us a great life,” he said.
The show offered up a sample of what the future might offer us, both musically and politically, and the crowd was mesmerized for the whole ride. If the future needs a big kiss, it tastes pretty damn good.
Photography and video by Allison Hughes for Blast