U2 Concert Review in Toronto: A Beautiful Day and Night

Maybe God does listen to Bono.

On a night where rain was such a certainty the restaurant I dined at prior to Monday’s show wouldn’t open its patio because of the dire forecast, the panels of the ’Dome stayed curled back, allowing the selected songs from U2’s 30-something-year-old catalogue to lift off into the Toronto night. It was an audacious dare to Mother Nature, who apparently doesn’t mess with this quartet of Dublin rock deities.

U2 in Toronto

That "Spiders from Mars"-inspired set sure messes with your iPhone.

Like many fans from the early days, I’d stopped going to U2 shows for a while back in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The intensity of Bono’s political rhetoric turned me off and the experimentation with electro-pop didn’t appeal.

In September 2009, though, I lucked into tickets for the two sold-out shows on the 360° Tour. U2 thrilled us with open-air concerts right in the middle of TIFF and did it with a lightheartedness that made it much more pleasant than a brow-beating from the frontman over how we weren’t doing enough to prevent Africa from going to hell or Sarajevo from turning to rubble. Those shows two years ago were not only electric, they showed Bono had softened some, letting others — including Desmond Tutu — do lots of the talking for him as he seemed to pay close attention to his rock ’n roll hero’s ethic of giving fans what they want night after night after night. In U2’s case, it’s epic renditions of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “I Will Follow,” “The Streets Have No Name” and “With or Without You,” among others. The second show in 2009 was particularly special because it was more intimate. Although it was listed as sold out, the infield that night was far from full and scalpers were selling seats for less than half price. No such scenario on Monday as the standing-room-only turf was packed shoulder-to-shoulder and every available seat appeared filled. About 80,000 people jammed into the ’Dome for what was one of the most anticipated shows of the year — a make-up date for a concert cancelled last year because of Bono’s back surgery.

Although it seemed to me there was more political talk this time, it was all very positive. No prank calls to the White House or sermons for War Child. The most touching moment came from American astronaut Mark Kelly, who said hello to Toronto from the International Space Station and said his wife, U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, knows he loves her. Giffords was shot in Arizona on January 8 and is recovering from brain surgery. There was no mention of gun control, but the metaphors made it clear. Kelly’s appearance was both touching and fitting, as he introduced “Beautiful Day.” His presence also allowed Bono to underscore the 360° Tour’s “Space Oddity” (Major Tom) theme.

Aung San Suu Kyi also took part in the massive stage inspired by David Bowie’s “Spiders from Mars.” The Burmese opposition leader who was released from house arrest late in 2010 appeared on screen to explain the situation in her country, motivate the audience and introduce “One.”

The final bit of positive political discourse came at the end, when Bono thanked Canada for helping to save millions of African lives through its support of AIDS-fighting drugs. Then he delved into the final song of the two-hour set — and it was a treat. “Moment of Surrender,” an achingly gorgeous number from “No Line on the Horizon” about the struggle to purge guilt and find absolution, closed out the evening that showcased music that’s helped define a generation delivered by a band who possess an unwavering insistence that they can do more than just rock ’n roll. Bono and crew, it seems, believe they can bring sunshine when all the world knows is rain. For one night in Toronto, U2 did just that.

THE LEGACY OF ‘ACHTUNG BABY’

Achtung Baby

'Achtung Baby' was released 20 years ago - and we all knew a little bit more German than before.

The first time I heard “One” was on a snowy December night in 1991 while driving from Toronto to Ann Arbor, Michigan for a 3-on-3 basketball tournament no one in our car really wanted to attend. (And our instincts were proven correct as we lost three round-robin games and were eliminated within three hours.) Our first game was at 9 a.m. and we couldn’t leave Toronto until 2 a.m. because our driver — and best player — was also our bartender and had to close the Library Pub before we left for the University of Michigan campus.

We didn’t get on the road until 3 a.m. and around 5 o’clock all of us in the car but Wigz, the driver/bartender/mad rebounder, were asleep. To make sure he didn’t join us, he cranked up his favourite new CD, “Achtung Baby,” and when the album’s third song played, he started to sing. He’s not a bad singer, so that was okay. But he was doing it at the top of his lungs and by the time the penultimate stanza came along he was screaming:

“Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law”

If it was any other song, I might’ve hated it forever because of that moment. “One” has universality to it, however; it speaks to just about all of us. It’s probably the most important song of the last 20 years partly because it resonates with our struggles for peace and bonding across societies. It also helped keep U2 together, which alone makes it significant.

As Bono said during Monday’s concert, “We made ‘Achtung Baby’ while the Berlin Wall was coming down and walls were going up between the band.” The making of U2’s seventh album was contentious and recording sessions in Germany were famously tense until the Edge came up with the opening chords to what will go down as the band’s finest song.

With the 20th anniversary of the release of “Achtung Baby” nearing on November 19, the band is playing more songs than usual from the album on this tour. “If it weren’t for that album, we wouldn’t be here today,” Bono said.

Monday’s concert opened with “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” the second song on “Achtung Baby,” and also included “The Fly,” “Until the End of the World” and “Mysterious Ways” from the album.

Were you at the show? Got a favourite U2 moment? Share it.

MORE TORONTO CONCERT REVIEWS
Los Lonely Boys bring a Texas Flood to Toronto
Sam Roberts collides with success
Death Cab for Cutie livens up the Phoenix
The Jezabels woo Lee’s Palace

[NOTE: Video of the opening from Monday’s show posted by worldphotojournal on YouTube.]

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