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U2 - 360° Tour 5th leg: South Africa

2011-02-13: FNB Stadium, Johannesburg - South Africa

( other U2 shows at this location )

<<< 2011-01-22 - Potomac | 2011-02-18 - Cape Town >>>


Review

2011-02-16 - U2 Rocks Soweto submitted by John

The weight of expectation hung heavy over Soccer City as the clock on the big screen counted up toward midnite. (In the galaxy of U2, even time moves to its own tempo.) Instead of the usual 360 degree lead-in music “Space Odessey” by David Bowie, the lights dimmed to a funky remix of “Get On Your Boots” with the Soweto Gospel Choir, reminding the almost 100,000 in attendance that we were in the heart of the township. For those who still weren’t convinced that this would be a unique nite, Bono and the boyz surprised all by opening with “Beautiful Day." Followed immediately by “I Will Follow,” I felt like I was watching a redux from the Elevation tour, likely an acknowledgment/ apology by U2 for having not played South Africa since the PopMart Tour in 1998. However, apologies did not seem required as the “Rainbow People” in the audience welcomed U2 back to Mzanzi with open arms.

The set then returned to its usual 360 degree rotation, with “Boots” and “Magnificent” leading into “Mysterious Ways” and “Elevation,” before a riveting “Until the End of the World,” the claw and moving bridges working their magic and wowing the crowd. I am glad that “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” has become a mainstay of the U2 set; I never understood why one of their #1 hits would only get played relatively sporadically. The tune also provided the first high point of the evening, with the great South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela providing improvised trumpet fills at the end of the song. I was surprised it worked so well, but then again, Bono has always called this song U2’s attempt at gospel, so maybe a little jazz flavor wasn’t too much of a stretch.

New tune “North Star,” featuring Bono with Edge on acoustic guitar, lightened the mood in the way “Stuck in a Moment” or “Stay” would, and will sit nicely on the new album expected in May. But the respite was brief as “Pride” followed, providing the emotional high point of the show. Bono has longed linked the message of MLK with the anti-apartheid struggle and Nelson Mandela. It was no surprise then that the performance included video of Madiba’s speech made at the very same location 21 years to the day of this show, a day after his release from prison. Bono even changed the “early morning April 4” lyric to reference Mandela’s release and speech.

While South Africa played front and center, other issues and themes were not ignored. “Miss Sarajevo” was a welcome surprise, with footage from the original documentary providing the backdrop, and Bono doing his (not very) best Pavarotti imitation. “Walk On” carried the torch for continued reform and freedom of political prisoners in Burma, acknowledging that the release of Aung San Suu Kyi is not the end of the struggle there. The visuals for “Sunday Bloody Sunday” included new imagery from the upheaval in Egypt, continuing the transformation of that song from a historical footnote about the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland to one of universal struggle for freedom, with a hopeful tone.

The show was not without its low points. As the nite wore on, the band seemed to be running out of steam as the weight of the moment seemed to take its toll. To see Bono in particular – he who exudes hyperconfidence in his singing and his advocacy – sighing and shaking his head repeatedly while downing multiple bottles of water was an unusual sight. Bono’s voice was breaking from early on in the show, and after a blazing section including “City of Blinding Lights,” “Vertigo,” the (still silly) remix version of “Crazy,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” the bottom fell out. The band surprisingly started playing “Scarlet” while Bono made another speech. At the point where he should have belted out the single lyric “Rejoice,” Bono went silent and the band limped into “Walk On.” What should have been a moment of celebration and maybe the highlight of the evening turned into a misstep. Having seen the video intro by Desmond Tutu in the lead up to “One” at a previous show, the second time felt anticlimactic. I actually expected Tutu himself to make an appearance. “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” was a questionable choice for an encore (I would have preferred “Ultraviolet”); Bono swung from the loop-shaped microphone, but it seemed more like he was hanging from a life ring, holding on for survival. Ahh middle age...

Despite the slight missteps, this is still a band that knows how to seize the Moment. A fantastic version of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” replete with “Amazing Grace” intro and African flag visuals helped raise the energy level as even the crowd seemed to wane as the set entered the home stretch. “Moment of Surrender” seemed the apt (if predictable) show closer. Perhaps the band and the crowd were overwhelmed by the experience, and this is no bad thing. U2 can phone in a performance and still put on a hell of a show. On this nite, they reaffirmed their place as one of the greatest acts on earth, in one of the greatest venues on earth. Hopefully the weight of expectation has now been lifted, and the next show in Cape Town will be pure Celebration.

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