Perhaps U2’s greatest asset in their lengthy and successful career has been the ability to reinvent themselves in times of musical and directional crisis.
At the start of this decade, with a series of smaller (by their standards) shows, they appeared to be trying to reconnect with their early days and the passion of their fans.
Like the live shows around their other landmark albums, The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, it worked, but their return to the world’s football stadiums appears to have come with another of their periodic regressions to type.
The show is big on spectacle, high on volume and plentiful in its often confusing messages and sloganeering, but ultimately it seems reliant on the past and almost afraid of the future.
Power wins out over subtlety, and the stage set and lighting effects are initially more diverting than many of the musical concoctions. Vertigo, Elevation and All Because of You � the best of their post-millennium output � are used effectively early, but each of these is big on show and low on real emotion.
The performance also seems staid: Bono is lively but remote, the others look coolly disinterested and it takes the frequent injection of “greatest hits” material to enliven the crowd. New Year’s Day, Sunday Bloody Sunday and With or Without You all succeed in this regard, even a reworked I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, though it is hardly the folk song Bono proclaims it to be.
Elsewhere, the messages are piled on thick and fast: Martin Luther King, Suu Kyi and, more surprisingly, Gordon Brown are the good guys.
It provides an interesting but claustrophobic setting for the music. U2 favour broad sweeps over attention to detail, and though it works up to a point, it may take another decade for their music to become vital again.