U2’s “Experience And Innocence” Tour At Madison Square Garden, Monday, June 25th, 2018 Reviewed
To quote another band who peaked in the 1980s, “Warning sign, warning sign, I hear it but I pay it no mind,” and if you want to know a warning sign just listen to any band who claims about an upcoming tour: ‘this one is for the fans” because it translates into “you’re not gonna like this very much.” U2 at Madison Square Garden on their Experience + Innocence Tour was a technical marvel update on their 2015 “Innocence + Experience Tour” but the setlist was for the fans and from Bono’s first moment, intoning a meaningless piece of drivel off the current album, I was watching the clock.
Love and love is all we have left
A baby cries on a doorstep
Love is all we have left
Love and love is all we have left
You argue ’cause you can’t accept
Love is all we have left
By the time he came round to that abandoned baby a second time, I had had enough. U2 have been building to this debacle at least since the 360 tour nearly a decade ago, It isn’t the pontification and speech making, it is the performances of bad songs poorly. This is the bands sixth tour of the 2010s, in that space of time they’ve released two albums. The moral is: there is more money in touring than in recording. Songs Of Innocence was a bad album, but Songs Of Experience is better, the best of the century with no Joey Ramone or Iris to get in the way, both “American Soul” and “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way” were fair mid-level U2 songs. But that doesn’t give them free reign to perform huge swathes of the album, mingled with deep album tracks, for one long bathroom break.
The Edge told Entertainment Weekly earlier this year “There’s always going to be people who just want a nice night out of entertainment. The times do demand a response from artists. You can’t just pretend everything’s hunky dory and go forward, because there are issues that need to be faced.” Perhaps, but telling us, as Bono did, “at the edge of experiences lies innocence” isn’t helping any one at all. And to position yet another U2 concert as a trip from one end to the other of a life (on that catwalk they used in 2015) is well beyond banal politically, personally, or otherwise.
What is it about Bono? In silhouette for the first song and a half, he looks so superior. Superior to whom? Suckers like me who paid $100 for section 412 BEHIND THE FUCKING STAGE? Bono, so smugly self conscious with his backing band who haven’t moved forward since Achtung Baby, while he sings terrible songs in succession to start the proceedings: “Love Is All We Have Left,” “The Blackout,” and “Lights of Home,” before the highlight of a gig, on stage e or b or a or something, and manages a powerful “I Will Follow” but soon after he is telling us about this journey into… what? I dunno… his Mommy? Iris Hewson died from an aneurism at Bono’s father’s funeral when Bono was fourteen years of age. That’s pretty devastating stuff, but a 58 year old rock and roll star shouldn’t be airing his Oedipal angst when Iris’ claim to fame is solely her relationship with a famous son. It is uncomfortable, as uncomfortable as the 2015 tour, where Bono showed the same film, his mother running circles round his father, his parent’s wedding day, grainy black and white memories best kept unseen, just glanced at from time to time so the magic of mom doesn’t disappear through overuse. As uncomfortable as the Sims like across a multi screen big bridge across the arena in a facsimile of “Cedarwood Road” and much much worse, the “Sunday Bloody Sunday” fife and drums that misplaces true sentiment for a sad obituary.
This was much worse than the same three song plateau in 2015 because a) there was no thrill of the new and b) the setlist couldn’t lift the band up, instead it sunk them further down. This is a question of when it comes to the band: when were they great? The 1990s -everything from Achtung Baby to All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and everything else a song here and there. Last night, Bono resurrected MacPhisto from the Zootopia era and rolled out “Acrobat” for the occasion. What worked as satire in the 1990s cuts too close today, a neither clever nor funny retread.
Soon after that I walked out. My sixth U2 concert in eight years, it was just so much useless energy. In October 2001, back when there was still a sense of risk about New York, back when people were still missing and bodies were still being pulled out of WTC, U2 performed one of the most moving concerts I’ve ever since, they paid tribute to the civilians killed in a terrorist attack sanctioned and paid for by Saudi Arabia, the one country all US Presidents can go to line their pockets, Bono knew what to do and he knew how to do it In an act of inclusion, he managed to mourn the dead without demonizing the terrorists. U2 couldn’t do that today, they can’t get out of their own way, and the result has been a steady decline in every aspect, except for stage design.
Here is their 2010s tours graded:
U2 360° Tour (2009–2011) – A-
Innocence + Experience Tour (2015) – B+
The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 (2017) – C+
Experience + Innocence Tour (2018) – D+
The only thing that saved their last tour was the first side of The Joshua Tree, nothing could save Experience This is not an ad hominin attack, I don’t dislike Bono and I’ve known enough people who know and love him to assume he is a good guy. But good guys know the difference between the rich and the middle class and don’t sell nosebleeds for $100. These guys are beyond out of touch and the only way they can help the world, the only way we want them to, is by touring behind their greatest hits. Instead they feel compelled to prove their relevance via bad albums and bad tours. If they are such good Christians why don’t they act that way?