With U2 kicking off a North American tour tonight at Rogers Arena, the group has released a short video offering a glimpse of what fans can expect. The 45-second clip opens with an illustration of the staging, shots of the band backstage and the Edge warming up. But it really kicks into gear when Bono steps onstage – showing off the group’s lighting, drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. walking a catwalk with a marching-band snare and more impressive views of the stage. It ends with Bono’s arms outstretched.
Late last month, the group detailed how they intended to begin touring arenas after hitting stadiums on their last jaunt. They told The New York Times that they had crafted a three-part stage with a capital I to represent “innocence” (their latest record was titled Songs of Innocence) a lower-case “e” (they’ve teased a new album titledSongs of Experience) and a catwalk to symbolize the “passage from innocence to experience.”
The band also revealed that they were using a special sound system that would evenly distribute sound throughout the audience. Instead of having two giant speakers on either side of a stage, like most arena concerts, the band plan on hanging speakers from the ceiling.
They told the Times that, since they were playing multi-night residencies in every city of the tour, they would be varying the set lists by night. The first half of each concert would be “relatively fixed,” whereas the second would highlight a more diverse and unpredictable set.
Beyond the tour, U2 are also recording new material on the road. “We’re keeping the discipline on songs and pushing out the parameters of the sound,” Bono told The Times of the new songs. “They’re very basic earthy things, irreverent. They’re not lofty themes. One of the things that experience has taught us is to be fully in the moment. What’s the moment? Pop music.”
The group will play its first Innocence and Experience Tour date tonight in Vancouver. The tour will find U2 playing lengthy residencies in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and New York City before bringing the tour to Europe.
Bono’s kids had made the trip to their dad’s childhood home to take a picture for his Christmas present. The four of them had dressed up as a band, posing outside the house. The current owner, unaware of who they were, photo-bombed the session – this is according to Bono – they got to talking, and she invited them in to see where their dad grew up; they had never been inside before.
When the tour hit his old bedroom, the owner told his kids: “His secret box is under the floorboards,” Bono says. He continues: “She pulls back the carpet. And there is a badly sawn floorboard that I used to hide stuff. And they said: ‘Is there anything in there?’ And she says: ‘We’ve never looked.’ ”
“Hold on a second,” The Edge interjects. “She knew it was there but she never looked?”
She didn’t want to invade his privacy, Bono explains . So the box is still there and the contents remain a mystery – even to him. He has no recollection of the box or what he stashed inside it.
“I’m worried about it. … Because it’s stuff I didn’t want anyone to see,” Bono says. “I’m hoping it’s explosives and not pictures of girls.”
In recent years, U2 has been spending a lot of time pulling up the floorboards of its past. The result is Songs of Innocence, the most overtly autobiographical album in the band’s nearly 40-year career, and also, thanks to a botched release stunt that dumped the record into millions of iTunes accounts – whether people wanted it or not – the most controversial. Mode of delivery aside, it’s a project about which the band remains staunchly proud (“The only thing I regret about the album is it isn’t noisy enough in terms of its sound,” Bono says).
“I think there was humility in the decision to go back and realize that, actually, some of the things that we were capable of back then and some of the things we did in innocence and ignorance were actually much more powerful than we realized at the time,” says bassist Adam Clayton. “And they are the reason we’re where we are now.”
The U2 machine has been in tour prep mode in Vancouver for weeks, and last Saturday night, the day before Bono’s birthday (and also Mother’s Day here) the band gathered in a round corner booth at Vancouver’s Chambar to discuss the tour, the album – and keeping that creative hunger and rock and roll rage (the difference between rock and pop, opines Bono) alive, despite the cushion of the band’s enormous achievements.
“I think we as individuals have never fallen into the trap of falling asleep in the comfort of our success. In so many ways, and I can’t really quite explain it, the same sense of determination and vulnerability that we had when we went on stage for the first time, we still feel it now,” says The Edge, the guitarist. “You could almost say that our success means nothing to us in creative terms.”
But the band bristles when the word “nostalgic” is used in connection withSongs of Innocence. This is no sentimental look back.
“We’re taking the blinkers right off,” says Bono. “It’s more like the analyst’s chair.”
Indeed, events dealt with on the record include the death of Bono’s mother Iris when he was 14 (she collapsed graveside at her father’s funeral – a brain aneurysm) and a Dublin bombing that same year that killed 33 people and drove a friend of theirs who witnessed it to heroin (the subject of U2’s earlier hit Bad). There’s happy stuff too: Bono’s love for his wife Ali – he’s been with her about as long as he’s been with the band; the influence of The Clash; the joyous discovery of Joey Ramone (“I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred; heard a song that made some sense out of the world.”)
The loss of Bono’s mother (so traumatic, he tells his band-mates Saturday, that he never visited her grave despite the fact the band’s early rehearsal venue bordered the cemetery) was also the subject of their breakthrough hitI Will Follow, from their debut album Boy. “It was so rebellious to sing about agape love; to sing about a mother’s love – in the middle of punk rock,” Bono says.
But Iris (Hold Me Close) is a more intimate affair. “Singing ‘hold me close, hold me close and don’t let me go, like I’m someone that you might know’ is a vulnerable thing to say to an audience,” Bono says.
As they prepare to take that vulnerability on the road, nothing is guaranteed. Their live show is celebrated, but it is hardly consistent, the band says. “It can be horrific or joyous. It is often both,” Bono says.
And the band members say they still get nervous about performing live. “It just doesn’t come naturally or easily for us,” drummer Larry Mullen Jr. says.
The stakes may be particularly high this time. Five-and-a-half years after No Line on the Horizon landed with a meh, Songs of Innocence landed everywhere last September – the iTunes invasion launching a barrage of outrage; the narrative of the record overshadowed by the kerfuffle. Now the tour gives the music its overdue moment in the spotlight. Will the miracle occur once again?
U2’s iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE kicks off Tonight in Vancouver, with a second show Friday.