"Enough of the folk mass!" Bono declared during U2's historic Rose Bowl performance on Sunday (October 25), before 96,000 fans. Some are already calling it the
biggest rock show of all time -- at least as measured by the size of the tour's infrastructure and cost -- with the people who attended the show and millions more watching it live on YouTube. It may, in fact, have been the largest live-streamed event yet.
The concert featured an expanding LED video screen, a 360-degree stage, lasers, and more, was certainly the largest event ever held at the Rose Bowl. Consider the staging: a four-legged circular stage rig known as the Claw or the Space Station.
Designed to bring the stadium audience closer to the band, it cuts holes in the fourth wall between star and fan, creating a feeling of immersion and communal connection that's startling in such a huge venue.
"I was born to lift you up," Bono sang in "Magnificent," one of many songs performed from the band's latest album, No Line on the Horizon. Those joyfully shouted group choruses, to older songs like "One" and "With or Without You" but also to newer ones like "Magnificent" and "Unknown Caller" (the latter aided by lyrics splayed across the Space Station's screen), offered the clearest route to union.
U2's time-honored approach to spiritual enlightenment worked its magic too, when Bono prefaced the old favorite "Where the Streets Have No Name" with some verses of "Amazing Grace," or when he interjected phrases from crowd-pleasing oldies like "Stand by Me," or simply shouted "Soul! Soul! Soul!" (His funniest interjection, though, was when he compared himself to Dennis Hopper and then did a bit of that actor's heavy breathing from the film Blue Velvet.)
After three decades as an important band, U2 is long past simple uplift. Its music is as much about emotional entanglement (as in "Ultraviolet") and disorientation ("Vertigo"). Ultimately, it is a meditation on space: the majestic natural landscapes that the Edge's guitar playing often describes; the crowded dance floors or train platforms Clayton and Mullen's rhythms evoke; the inches between a whispering mouth and a lover's ear, or the infinite journey of a prayer hurled into the air.
"God will put a wind at our back and a rising road ahead, if we work together as one," said Archbishop Desmond Tutu in an on-screen message late in the concert. That vision of nations and individuals opening up to one another is at the core of U2's mission. This extravagant tour gave the band another way to enact it and made for a whole new concert experience in the process. Incidentally, Pasadena police reported no major problems with the 96,000 U2 fans, in or out of the venue.
Wanna see the show again? Head over to this U2 @ The Rose Bowl link.