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Review of Paris #1 and #2

On the 11th and 12th of July, I was in attendance at U2's two concerts in Paris; seats the first night and standing the second. Unlike U2gigs webmaster Macphisto, I can't offer any videos or photos, but like during the fifth leg of the Vertigo Tour, I can provide a bit of a review. It can be hard deciding just what way to approach a review such as this. In retrospect, I find my reviews from Vertigo to generally be excessively positive, in the sense that they whitewash valid criticisms. On the other hand, there is a line between just critique and unjust condemnation, and I have no desire to appear overly negative, especially not when The Unforgettable Fire has been restored to the setlist after a 19.5 year absence. Hence, I have split my review into two sections, positives and negatives, and at the end of the day, these are simply the views of one fan – a fan who travelled a long way to see the band, a fan who wishes U2 would spend a bit more time in parts of the world outside of Western Europe and North America, and admittedly a fan who is probably more critical and analytical than most ever feel the need to be. I can state with certainty that friends with whom I attended these concerts disagree with a number of the views expressed below.

I should also make a disclaimer that this review was written before Amsterdam II, which I think was a considerable step up from previous shows. My review of the two Amsterdam shows will hopefully follow this Paris review shortly. Additionally, I should issue a warning that I do not exactly practise brevity in my reviews; I haven't the time, funnily enough.

The positives

The first positive is clear from the moment you set foot inside the venue – the stage is awe-inspiring. U2 have truly outdone themselves here; I find myself more drawn to this staging than any of their previous mammoth stadium tours. I personally favour minimalist staging to put full emphasis on the music, but if a band must have something elaborate, this is the way to go. In particular, it makes seated fans feel more involved in the show than ever before.

Opening with four new songs is a little bit of a brave move, and one that I think works. No Line On The Horizon, the song, really seems to electrify and involve the crowd, and Get On Your Boots has improved markedly from its studio version and from the initial awkward performances at promo appearances in February. Whatever its shortcomings, it is a genuinely fun live song, and one that I think tops the likes of Vertigo. These songs also seem to give more life to Larry, from his enthusiastic opening of the show with Breathe to his central participation in Boots; for a moment, you forget the man's grumpy public persona.

The band's rotation of the set after Beautiful Day and before Unknown Caller is very welcome. It's nice to see Angel Of Harlem and Desire alternated each night (they serve similar purposes and I can only hope U2 continue this example and alternate other hits that serve similar purposes), and the snippetry tribute to Michael Jackson is effective and a crowd-pleaser. I'm not a fan of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, but the snippet of Movin' On Up is gorgeous; probably my favourite snippet ever in Still Haven't Found. Bono sings it fantastically. There's also a lot to be said in favour of the return of Mysterious Ways at Paris II. The band played it to a high level, the crowd love it, and most of all, it's the kind of song that feels right at home with this tour's staging. I hope it stays in the mix, and perhaps replaces a more tired classic.

To me, the high point of the show is the trio of Unknown Caller, The Unforgettable Fire, and City Of Blinding Lights. Most specifically, I love The Unforgettable Fire; it is worth the price of admission alone. I never thought I would have the pleasure of seeing U2 play it, and I am even more delighted that it is played to the same level it was played in the 1980s. If any song engulfs the stadium with a powerful atmosphere, it is this track. Unknown Caller precedes it excellently; it is both atmospheric and a sing-along, and I think the band are quickly finding their feet with how to play it. Edge in particular gets a moment to shine with his solo. Then the transition from The Unforgettable Fire to City Of Blinding Lights is powerful; if any song from HTDAAB had to stay in the setlist, this is the one. It is epic live, and has the lighting accompaniment to suit its hold over the crowd. Sometimes I wanted to jump and sing along; other times I just wanted to stop and admire the great job that's been done with its presentation (and, I admit, catch my breath after The Unforgettable Fire). After COBL is Vertigo, and although it will never be a favourite of mine, you can instantly see why it's a lock in the setlist by the crowd's response and participation.

My second favourite track of both nights, closely trailing The Unforgettable Fire, is the remix of Crazy Tonight. It's undeniably awesome stuff. I think the song is pretty decent in its normal studio form, and I actually dislike the studio remix, but live? The normal version just seems flat in comparison to the pulsating remix. It fills the stadium with energy, it gets you jumping, and the band themselves seem to have unrestrained fun playing it. Larry especially takes the spotlight with his drumming on the catwalk. It brings him closer to the crowd than his b-stage drumming during Love And Peace Or Else on the Vertigo Tour ever did. The song then makes an unlikely segue into Sunday Bloody Sunday, but it's one that somehow works. SBS sounds better this tour than it has in over 20 years, and for once is being performed at a level that justifies its inclusion in the setlist. Its presentation makes a point about the current situation in Iran in an appropriate sense that doesn't waste valuable concert time and that does not detract from enjoying the concert simply as a concert. Despite myself, I find I enjoy its presence.

The negatives

I'll be honest: if I had left Paris II after Sunday Bloody Sunday, I would not have enjoyed the show any less – in fact I may have enjoyed it more, since I wouldn't have spent another hour or so on tired feet in an inner zone that was more fully packed with people than it reasonably should have been. The organisation at Stade de France was abysmal. Some GA gates were let in earlier than others, completely voiding the dedication of some fans who queued from early in the morning, while other fans had been sold tickets to seats that did not actually exist (e.g. section H3). To add insult to injury, the stadium staff asked these fans to relocate to seats in a section worth less than what they paid, without any offer of a refund. I was luckily not one of these fans, but friends were.

The end of the main set bothers me. It feels like the Vertigo Tour all over again; Where The Streets Have No Name and One to close, Pride nearby, and a pre-recorded speech. One has been played at every show since its 29 February 1992 debut and needs a rest urgently; Pride sounds much better this tour (and the last) than it did on Popmart and Elevation but there is no justification for U2 playing it when it sounds worse than the studio version – even if they must play another hit in an already hits-laden setlist, they have plenty of hits that they do play better than the studio version. The side of me that is a fanlad of the Unforgettable Fire album is pleased to see MLK return, and it is a good intro to Walk On, but it is easily my least favourite song from that album (in part because it is less a song and more a glorified outro), and I really don't think Bono sings it particularly well at the moment.

And then there is Walk On, complete with tacky Aung San Suu Kyi masks that seem to find favour with very few people at all. They certainly do not find favour with me. While the plight of Suu Kyi and Burma demands emphasis and attention, Bono has gone about it in completely the wrong way. The masks trivialise the situation; they achieve next-to-nothing besides a moment when a few people in the audience can dress up and have a moment of slacktivism. No meaningful protest is registered, the crisis is not understood, and they detract from otherwise high quality performances of one of ATYCLB's more tolerable tracks. Worst, however, is what happens to the masks. Strewn around the GA floor even before the band comes on stage, this waste of ink and paper is trampled and torn by hundreds of feet and soaked with beer. What does this say? It shows people really just don't care and that no point is made. Time to go back to the drawing board, Bono.

Moving onto the encore, I am less excited than most by the return of Ultra Violet. Sure, it's nice to see the band resurrect a track hitherto ignored for almost 16 years, and the presentation is nothing short of brilliant. To my own tastes, though, it is easily one of the weakest songs from Achtung Baby, a decent song dragged down by a banal chorus. Well, at least the band perform it well and I don't begrudge its presence. Having seen it twice now, though, I harbour no desire to see it again. It is followed by a song I actively never want U2 to play live again, With Or Without You, simply because it sounds so awful nowadays. Bono in particular sings – or oftentimes, mumbles – it in a manner devoid of passion. In its live heyday from 1987 to 1992, WOWY was one of the best songs in a U2 setlist. It is now just a shell of its former self, stripped of its anthemic Shine Like Stars conclusion and seemingly played just because the band feel they have to play it, not because they want to play it. No matter how much I like the song and revere past performances as some of U2's finest moments, I would rather not hear it than hear an uninspired version of it. Plus I feel there is no reason for both Still Haven't Found and WOWY to be in the same set; they should be rotational like Angel Of Harlem and Desire are.

Let's wrap this up. I'm not sold on either Breathe as an opener or Moment Of Surrender as a closer. Breathe's drum intro is ideal, but the rest of the song does not suit the role. I'd like to see the band mix up the opening slot a bit, like on the Vertigo Tour's first leg, and personally I feel No Line On The Horizon would be very effective. Moment Of Surrender similarly does not suit its role; I enjoy it live and I want it to stay in the set, but it leaves you wanting more. There should at the very least be something after. U2 may be playing a long main set, but only three songs in the encore is not enough. It's a far cry from Vertigo Tour encores featuring six songs, often opening with the double-hit of Zoo Station and The Fly and sometimes concluded with what I feel is U2's best closer ever, Bad, or their most distinctive closer, 40. I have definitely enjoyed myself at the Paris concerts, mainly the first half of the show, but they were merely good, not great, and – although it's early days yet – the 360 Tour has a fair way to go to match the Vertigo Tour for me.

Posted on by Axver

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