UNCASVILLE, Conn. — What better way to celebrate American independence than with an Irish band on Native American sovereign ground.
U2 closed out its North American “Songs of Experience + Innocence” tour with a two-hour performance at Mohegan Sun Arena on Tuesday night.
Even with the little ironies of time and circumstance, the celebration made perfect sense. After all, Mohegan Sun continues to be one of the country’s great live music venues, consistently pulling down industry accolades. It is no wonder that more and more star attractions are choosing to both start and / or end their tours there.
And U2 may be the best American band available.
These Dubliners are steeped in American culture, well-versed in American politics, and awash in American pride.
Led by enigmatic frontman Bono, the rock quartet’s performance was as immersive a concert experience that you will ever see.
While the concert experience has become exhaustingly obvious, the U2 version is anything but.
With a two-tiered hydraulic catwalk, blanketed in a floor-to-ceiling screen, stretching from one of the arena to the other, the audience was fully engaged.
The performance wasn’t something happening down one end of the hall. It was in front of you, behind you, and beside you.
The set started out sweetly enough with “Love Is All We Have Left,” and immediately swerved into garage rock with the bombastic “Blackout.”
The band was spread out on the catwalk in a sort of linear in-the-round set up before walking back to the main stage for a raw take on “I Will Follow.”
Bono explained the set list as the story of the band in song and took the crowd on a journey with biographical songs like “Iris,” and “Cedarwood Road.”
The group made its way across the catwalk to a second stage to deliver “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” The song segued purposely and perfectly with “The End of The World,” as the band turned its wall-of-sound approach into a sonic war zone with Larry Mullen’s snare sounding like shots fired, Edge’s guitar work the whirring bullets overhead, and Adam Clayton’s bass the echoing of distant artillery fire.
The song ended with leaflets falling from the rafters that upon further inspection turned out to be torn pages from “Alice in Wonderland,” and Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”
Bono disappeared behind the screen for a moment and returned as his alter-ego “Mr. MacPhisto,” the devilish character he first conjured up during the ZooTV Tour of the early 90s.
He led the band through “Elevation,” “Vertigo” (with a closing refrain of The Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll (But I Like It).”
He called on the Stones again as a prelude to “Acrobat,” his MacPhisto character soliloquizing through “Sympathy for the Devil” as his on-screen faced morphed grotesquely into satanic form.
“What a year it’s been,” Macphisto mused. “Lunatics on the left, lunatics on the right, and children in cages.”
Bono and Edge offered an acoustic take on “Staring at the Sun,” while their cohorts manned stages at the side and back of the arena. When Edge moved to his own stage all four sides of the arena where in play as the band soared through “Pride (In The Name of Love.)”
In what might be considered Bono’s only overt political statement of the night (although he was stealthily subtle throughout), he cited “Wide Awake in America” the title of an early EP release.
“It’s never been more important to be wide awake in America than right now,” he said. “The very idea of America is at stake.”
The band played “American Soul” in front of a colossal flag that stretched the width of the arena and closed the set with “City of Blinding Lights.”
The encore included “One,” and “Song for Someone.”
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