U2 showcase their 'eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE' at London's O2 Arena

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By Scott Campbell

There aren’t too many bands that can boast having forty years’ experience, but this week saw U2 showcase their excellence as they returned to the O2 Arena for the second leg of their multi-million pound double-bill tour, Experience + Innocence.

In 2017, fans were treated to the 30th anniversary of the 1987 album ‘The Joshua Tree’, which saw the band celebrate by playing stadia across America, Canada and Europe. However, the Experience + Innocence tour finds the four-piece Irish quartet return to the journey they began on the Innocence + Experience tour, which bowed out almost three years ago.

Those lucky enough to have witnessed the first leg back in 2015 will remember the captivating transparent visuals of the arena-filling screen; which saw Bono literally immerse himself inside, allowing himself and the band to be creative and playful with perspective. Thankfully this was one of the many returning features for this leg; and the compelling double-stage setup, separated by a raised elongated cat-walk for their charismatic frontman to strut along was also a welcome return. In terms of set design, not a lot had actually changed, but the significant difference was to be in the set-list, as a considerable amount of iconic hits were noticeably absent.

The show opened with a song of darkness and despair as the “lights go out” for Blackout, the second song from their most recent studio album. Hope was then restored for Lights of Home before the exhilarating, yet simplistic, lyrics of I Will Follow allowed exuberant fans to passionately sing-a-long. After slowing things down for a while, the crowd were soon uplifted once again for the adrenaline-fuelled Elevation and Vertigo, before moving back to some of their lesser-known newer tracks.

Although the previous Innocence & Experience tour recalled the death of Bono’s mother in ‘Iris’, and explored growing up on the Glasevin, Co Dublin street ‘Cedarwood Rood’, it also allowed fans to reminisce in the nostalgic back catalogue of the band. And whereas this tour, and album, give an honest present-day reflection of the band’s more mature wiser lifestyles, it’s apparent that they are refusing to lean on nostalgia this time around. Instead they opt for songs that relay the typical messaging you would expect from a place of parenthood. You’re the Best thing About Me and Get Out of Your Own Way almost offer a sense of honour, content and wisdom from the foursome, while there is an ongoing lyrical theme throughout the new album of darkness and light - possibly a true reflection of most family lives.

This was never expected to be a greatest-hits show, but there was a sense of shared satisfaction when hearing a mere few of the classics in Pride (In the Name of Love), One, New Year’s Day and a surprising choice of Acrobat (a song that has never been played in public before this tour). If there was to be one criticism of this show, it would be that there aren’t more songs like these during the two-hour long set.

There is no doubt that the Experience + Innocence tour is a complex and difficult production, for the band as well as the audience. A modern lens may have exposed some minor blemishes in the appearance of these aging rock stars, but their graceful hunger to remain contemporary and innovative is something that can only be admired. Although the production is highly elaborate throughout, there were also some beautiful stripped-back moments, especially when The Edge and Bono joined together for a duo of Summer of Love, in a similar style to their performance of Every Breaking Wave in the first leg of the tour.

Although they may receive judgement from their critics, U2 are a not a band that can easily avoid expectation from their fans. In fact, their ability to consistently exceed expectation is probably the main reason they are considered by many to be one of the greatest live bands of our generation.

The greatest worry now is… where do they go from here?