U2 -- Concert Review

The recurring themes of U2's first local show in four years were space and time, and both were laid out right off the bat.

David Bowie's "Space Oddity," which turns 40 next month, played as the band readied to take the stage. The mammoth set that towered over the stage resembled a spacecraft -- a bit like a gigantic invader from the '80s arcade game Galaxian. And Bono name-checked cities in various time zones where people might be watching the YouTube broadcast of the show, including Hong Kong, Sydney, Dublin and Morocco.

The references continued throughout the night as a jam-packed Rose Bowl reveled in the most popular band of its generation. It was a lovefest of the highest order, with manic lighting and pristine, future-state-of-the-art sound plying the Bowl-record crowd of about 95,000.

But amid the revelry, something was different about this show: Bono was uncharacteristically quiet between songs for the first 90 minutes or so, leaving many in the far-far-away seats out of that community he forms and coalesces at the best U2 shows. Although the band's playing was typically superb -- and acknowledging the perhaps unfair higher standard to which U2 is held -- Sunday's show is unlikely to be remembered among its Southland best.

Part of the reason was the set list. Whereas the 2005 Vertigo tour reached back to the band's earliest days -- perhaps as a nod to the 25th anniversary of its first album -- the 360 degree tour focused on the recent past. Fourteen of the 24 songs were from this decade, with only one pre-1984. Seven came from this year's "No Line on the Horizon," one of the very few U2 albums without an instant anthem. The band opened with three from the new record, but none was particularly grabby. The show's energy sagged during many of the new songs, with the stadium throng hungry for arm-waving sing-alongs.

Bono's voice was in fine form, especially for so late in the tour. He varied some vocal melodies and peppered songs with snippets of others, including "God Only Knows," "Stand by Me," "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)" and U2's own "In God's Country." But he got gimmicky for the band intros, which embraced the Hollywood setting: Larry Mullen was compared to James Dean, Adam Clayton to Clark Gable, the Edge to sci-fi in general. Bono cryptically referred to himself as a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, with a little Dennis Hopper thrown in.

This tour lands somewhere between the multimedia overkill of Zoo TV's stadium excess and the relative simplicity of the arena-level Elevation jaunt. The set is enormous if not particularly elaborate, and the giant, 360 degree video screens gave everyone a good look. For such a huge setting, a surprising highlight was the gentle reading of "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," which featured only Bono and the Edge, the latter adding some sturdily bluesy falsetto harmony near the end. The new "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" saw the bandmates stroll around the oval ramp that encircled the stage, Mullen carrying a single bongo.

The space theme re-emerged during "In a Little While"; "space travel turns me on," Bono sang before the crowd got a video reading from an astronaut at the International Space Station.

Bono kept his politics -- and most other comments -- to himself until near the end. The political rally began with him asking, "Radio Tehran, can you hear us," before the band ripped into "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which shrugs off eras and borders. With its martial drums and call-to-attention guitar, it remains among the band's most affecting songs in concert or otherwise.

Many began to flee as the encore began, hoping to beat the school-night Bowl traffic. Afterward, few grumbles were heard in the parking lots, save for some grousing about song selection. So it was another successful U2 concert -- not the most moving or rousing they've given but certainly much more than just a time and space filler.

Venue: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena (Sunday, Oct. 25)

SET LIST:
"Breathe"
"Get on Your Boots"
"Magnificent"
"Mysterious Ways"
"Beautiful Day"
"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
"Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of"
"No Line on the Horizon"
"Elevation"
"In a Little While"
"Unknown Caller"
"Until the End of the World"
"The Unforgettable Fire"
"City of Blinding Lights"
"Vertigo"
"I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight"
"Sunday Bloody Sunday"
"MLK"
"Walk On"

ENCORE:
"One"
"Amazing Grace/Where the Streets Have No Name"
"Ultraviolet (Light My Way)"
"With or Without You"
"Moment of Surrender"
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