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U2 Concert Review: East Lansing, MI

Date: June 26, 2011
Venue: Spartan Stadium

U2 concert-goers find what they are looking for

Detroit Free Press, 06/26/2011

by Brian McCollum

EAST LANSING -- On what just might have been a perfect June night in mid-Michigan, U2 reached high to create its own summer masterpiece.

The powerhouse Irish band brought its 360° Tour to Spartan Stadium on a gorgeous Sunday night, delivering a compelling, glorious performance on a mammoth high-tech stage.

It was a visual and sonic spectacular that deeply resonated with the elbow-to-elbow to crowd, keeping fans off their seats and occasionally dropping their jaws.

Only the stadium’s very upper corners were bare on a night that drew more than 65,000 for just the second-ever concert at the venue.

This 360° run zoomed past the Rolling Stones weeks ago to become history’s most successful tour. With a dozen dates left on the docket, U2 arrived in East Lansing running up the score, on its way to an expected $700 million total gross.

Sunday was all about size. It’s easy for a performance to get lost on a big stadium stage, the artist overshadowed by the sheer scope of the setting. But the coolly poised U2, on one of the biggest stages ever, was a match for its own ambitions.

With the late-evening sun lending a restless feel to the proceedings, the band eased into its show with a low-key air, and you might have figured that flagging interest is what you get on the 99th show of a two-year-old tour. There was a gentle restraint to the opening “Even Better Than the Real Thing” and slinky “Mysterious Ways.”

But as the sun set and the magic of night set in, the energy grew in an exquisitely paced performance, from the boundless old-school vitality of “I Will Follow” through the tightly angled, thickly harmonized “Get On Your Boots” to the lofty “Beautiful Day.”

The towering stage set, with its four-legged claw planted across 40 yards, lived up to its billing, with a visual wow factor that U2 will find hard to top.

With Larry Mullen’s drum riser periodically rotating, other band members worked the ramps and catwalks as if it were a rock ‘n’ roll playground: You looked away, looked back, and Bono and the Edge had popped up somewhere new.

A cylindrical drape of video screens took over the stage for the band’s performance of “Zooropa,” a nod back to U2’s big leap into these sorts of productions two decades ago.

Bono ably rose to the task on his first real vocal challenge of the night, leaning into the mic as he nailed the chorus on “Pride (In the Name of Love),” one of several vintage numbers that held up as potent stadium anthems.

He let the crowd sing the opening verse and chorus of “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” -- that phenomenon where thousands singing just out of tune in their own ways manage to create a soaring, perfectly pitched melody.

With the Edge supplying the thick-chimed guitar, the band rolled out familiar hits: the swirling energy of “Vertigo,” the pomp and stomp of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” the sizzle of “Elevation.”

Bono played to the crowd early on: “Go green, go white!” he shouted to a crowd loaded with MSU faithful.

“We never made it to university ourselves,” he’d say later. “U2 became our university. Rolling Stone became our textbooks.”

As always, Bono was chatty between songs, frequently rhapsodizing about the United States and at one point saluting Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, who he said was on hand for the show. Having paid tribute to Michigan’s “magical landscape,” Bono said the Edge wants to buy a small cabin on Lake Michigan.

Unmentioned was the weekend’s big U2 news – a protest by demonstrators at Friday’s Glastonbury rock festival, who claim the band has skirted Irish taxation. But when Bono reminded Sunday’s Spartan Stadium audience that America “is a beautiful idea,” you were forgiven if your mind lit upon the country’s tax-revolt founding.

He went on to cite the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps and applauded Americans’ good works.

Up in the press box, Detroit rocker Bob Seger popped in to say he found the show “breathtaking” and said he loves Bono’s voice.

“He’s kicking it tonight,” Seger said, who was here for this first U2 concert since 1987.

As the band wound through an encore that included “One” and “With or Without You,” Bono offered an emotional remembrance of the just-deceased Clarence Clemons, leading U2 into one of the night’s few newish songs: 2009’s gorgeous “Moment of Surrender.”

Contact Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or bmccollum@freepress.com

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