While U2's latest album "No Line on the Horizon" will certainly be regarded in the coming years as another solid work by one of rock's Hall of Fame ensembles, chances are the recorded effort will more or less be remembered as the grand excuse the band used to reinvigorate stadium concerts.
Typically suffering from poor sound and a sense of distance between the people on stage and the vast majority of eye-straining fans, football arenas have hardly had a stellar history when it comes to musical performances. Looking to turn such muddling variables on their head, Bono, Edge and Co. oversaw the construction of a 360-degree stage configuration designed by longtime collaborator Willie Williams. Nicknamed the Claw for its four protruding support rigs, the monstrous set measures 164 feet tall, features a 54-ton, circular video screen with interlocking LED panels, a state-of-the-art sound system, and an inner and outer main stage connected by several rotating bridges.
Giving off a sincere nod to some intergalactic vessel, it seemed appropriate that moments before the Irish rock ensemble made its entrance at Charlottesville's Scott Stadium, the public-address system began blasting David Bowie's "Space Oddity." "What do you make of our space junk?" Bono himself quipped shortly after blasting through the set's opening selection of songs which included "Mysterious Ways" and "Beautiful Day," "We built it to be closer to you."
With its large-scale intimacy off and running and a substantial fall chill taking hold in the open-air venue, U2 progressed through the night delivering hits from more recent albums such as "All That You Can't Leave Behind," "How To Dismantle an Atom Bomb" and older records "War" and "The Joshua Tree." One of the best examples of spectacle came when the stage's hanging video screen slowly expanded its tiles like some light-infused funnel during "City of Blinding Lights" and "Vertigo." One of the more enduring moments of musicianship occurred when the Edge delivered an excellent acoustic rendition with Bono of "Stuck in a Moment."
That's certainly not to say the master of the effects pedals did not deliver when things needed to get loud. In a live setting it's evident that while Bono may the de facto leader of U2, the Edge will always be the heart of its sound. Bono himself -- perhaps inspired by the campus setting -- acknowledged that each member of the band fills a kind of schoolyard role: the Edge serving as the Nerd, Larry Mullen as the Jock, Adam Clayton as the Cheerleader's Friend, and himself as the College Dropout.
For all its carefree showmanship perhaps the only hiccup to the night was when things started taking an unnecessary political tone at times, whether it was airing a recorded message by Archbishop Desmond Tutu about fighting disease and poverty in Africa, framing "Sunday Bloody Sunday" with images of this summer's election protests in Iran, or having members of the audience come on stage with masks of jailed Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during "Walk On." Of course you can't really fault a little agenda selling when your existence is so intertwined in the social, political and cultural consciousness.
From the technical -- a daily cost of production as much as $750,000, utilizing 250 tour staff, and 120 trucks necessary for transport -- to the artistic, U2 has certainly achieved something with this approach to a popular music performance. All systems go, ambition comes across like a huge understatement.