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Review of Auckland, 25/11

Today's review is unfortunately the last I will be writing for Vertigo's fifth leg, as the second concert in Auckland was my last Vertigo Tour concert. However, after the conclusion of the tour, I may offer reviews of the three concerts I saw in May 2005 in Boston as reflections upon the tour, and stay tuned after Vertigo's conclusion for other wrap-ups on the tour and articles on different U2 topics. In a way, I am glad that this is my final fifth leg review, for if I could choose any concert to be my last review, it is this one, the best U2 concert I have attended.

The day for me started around 11-11:30am when I arrived at the stadium a little later than I intended. For the first time out of all of my shows, I faced the prospect of queuing alone, but by the time I had staked out my position in the inner zone, I had struck up a fantastic conversation with an American visitor and an Australian I already knew who I did not know realise was coming to New Zealand. U2 fans can truly be a friendly, welcoming bunch. Our position was on the rail where the left arm (facing the stage) from the stage meets Edge's b-stage, quite possibly the only position I had yet to try after my numerous concerts. It was a great position, and just after we arrived, a German friend made his way through the crowd to me and handed me a sign. He had read a comment I had made online regarding the fact that Slow Dancing is the only b-side to have been performed on every tour since its debut but is yet to appear on Vertigo, and he had been inspired to create a Slow Dancing sign, which he entrusted to my care. This sign came with a lyric sheet - due to Bono's notoriously poor memory, a lyric sheet would certainly be an encouragement for him to go through with the song! My Australian friend then proceeded to employ his musical knowledge and added the song's chords to the lyric sheet, but despite our organisation and the fact Edge and Bono both read the sign, the band did not choose to take up the request. The Slow Dancing sign can be seen in this picture; I am the guy holding the sign on the right with the glasses and light hair. Multiple people over the length of the tour have observed "you look like a young Adam Clayton!"

Luckily, unlike the night before, the weather for the second show was dry. Kanye West did not have to hide his orchestra or DJ under shelters and performed an energetic set to a crowd almost as receptive to his music as the night before. Both nights, Kanye clearly fed off the vibe in Auckland as his sets were performed much better than in Australia. I personally do not think very highly of his music, but opening for U2 is a tough gig and I'm glad that his last two experiences were, from my perspective at least, markedly better than those on the other side of the Tasman Sea.

When Wake Up blasted through the PA, it felt somewhat weird for me, as I knew this was the last time I would ever see the Vertigo show and that I would not see U2 live for a while. In a sense, it felt like deja vu, as I had felt the same way in Boston last year, long before there seemed to be a chance that the band would seriously come to the Southern Hemisphere. City Of Blinding Lights felt almost surreal, and I sincerely hope that this rousing, anthemic number has a live career beyond this tour. Vertigo's live future is all but guaranteed, and hopefully it will continue to be as rocking and enjoyable as it has been this tour.

As a studio song, I do not think particularly highly of Elevation, but it is a good deal of fun live, and it was one of the highlights of both Auckland shows. The night before, during the breakdown, Bono threw in lines of Crowded House's Four Seasons In One Day, and at this show, Bono inserted the famous chorus of Split Enz's I Got You. Split Enz, musical heroes of New Zealand, reunited for a series of shows earlier this year that I was fortunate enough to attend, and it was great to see Bono make a nod to possibly the most original Kiwi band ever.

Up next, as I expected, was Until The End Of The World. This song is a delight to hear live, and although it had been followed by I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For at the second Melbourne show, I anticipated that U2 would revert to the traditional follow-up of New Year's Day in Auckland. As it turned out, I was quite wrong on this count and we got a beautiful version of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For with much crowd participation. Next was the best performance I have ever heard of Beautiful Day and a fun, exuberant Angel Of Harlem.

When Angel Of Harlem drew to a close and Edge received an acoustic guitar, I was wondering what could be next: the return of Yahweh or another appearance by The First Time? Bono brandished an Irish flag and began speaking about the troubles with flags, and for a moment, I had a flashback to Bono's speeches on the Elevation Tour before the acoustic version of Please. Please was snippeted fairly frequently this tour and I believe a full version was rehearsed, and for a second I wondered if we were all about to get a shock, despite common sense telling me there was no way that U2 would revive Please this late in the tour. Common sense indeed proved correct, as the band launched into an acoustic version of Walk On, much to my surprise. I feel the electric version performed at the start of the fifth leg was better, but the acoustic version is beautiful and suits the setlist position better. At the end of the song, Bono sung a snippet of the anthem of Liverpool FC, You'll Never Walk Alone, which particularly resonated with me as I grew up with a father keen on Liverpool and I acquired that keenness from him.

Before Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own, Bono gave an extended and humorous speech relating what his father would tell Bono to do when performing the song. This drew laughs from the crowd, and the song was performed as well as I have ever heard it. It still strikes me as dead weight, though, and unfortunately lacked the One Tree Hill snippet of the first Auckland show. However, after its conclusion, U2 hit me - and surely everyone else familiar with the regular Vertigo Tour set - with a massive surprise. Here I was, expecting the rumbling intro of Love And Peace Or Else when suddenly a familiar synth began playing and Edge struck the famous ringing notes of Bad. The performance was absolutely transcendent, and at the end, it segued into a snippet of 40. I couldn't help but wonder what was next - after all, the last time U2 had played the Bad/40 combination in a setlist position similar to this, it had segued into Where The Streets Have No Name on the Elevation Tour. I figured there would simply be a jarring cut to Love And Peace Or Else, but then "coexist" appeared on the screen and 40 appropriately segued into Sunday Bloody Sunday, harking back (unintentionally, I'm sure) to the early War Tour concerts in March 1983 where Bono did essentially the reverse and snippeted Sunday Bloody Sunday in 40. For the first time, Love And Peace Or Else was not played at a Vertigo Tour concert.

After that unexpected but fantastic deviation from normal programming, the usual main set schedule resumed. Sunday Bloody Sunday was an emphatic crowd-pleaser; Miss Sarajevo was one of the best performances I have heard; Where The Streets Have No Name had the entire venue jumping up and down in unison. The show was clearly making its case as one of the best I had seen, and the first encore only carried on that work, especially during a scorching rendition of The Fly with an unexpected but great snippet of Satisfaction at the end. At the end of this concert, The Fly had opened the first encore of a mere eight U2 shows, and yet I had been at six of them! I feel it is a very good encore opener, but Zoo Station performs the duty better.

The second encore proved to be a time of amusing antics from Bono. New Zealand is a country obsessed with rugby union; we are indisputably the greatest rugby nation in history as our national team, the All Blacks (so named for the colour of their uniform), has a positive win record against every team it has played and wins over 3 out of every 4 games. So it was no surprise that the crowd cheered wildly when Bono emerged in an All Blacks shirt, and not just any shirt, but number 7, the number of current captain Richie McCaw. However, at the end of a rocking cover of The Saints Are Coming, Bono removed the All Blacks shirt to reveal a green Irish national rugby shirt. He asked the crowd "do you know what this is?" and turned to reveal he was wearing the number 13, the number of Ireland's captain and legendary player Brian O'Driscoll. Last year, O'Driscoll, serving as the captain of the British and Irish Lions, had been the centre of controversy in New Zealand when then-All Blacks captain Tana Umaga (who retired in January this year) and Keven Mealamu tackled O'Driscoll in a manner seen as a dangerous and illegal "spear tackle" by British and Irish fans that dislocated O'Driscoll's shoulder. Umaga and Mealamu were nonetheless not officially reprimanded for the action and the matter remained a bone of contention between Kiwi and Irish fans for a while after, but Bono's gesture was taken in good humour by the Kiwi audience. I can say that it definitely amused me!

After this gesture, the band played a rocking version of Desire, certainly the most "together" and technically accurate version of the song that I have heard the band play this tour. By this time, some fans were starting to wonder if U2 were actually going to do One Tree Hill. Personally, I wasn't so concerned, as I reasoned that as it hadn't shown up around Beautiful Day like the previous night, the most logical place for it to appear would be in the second encore. This prediction proved to be accurate, and after Desire's conclusion, U2 launched into One Tree Hill, with Bono acknowledging the presence of Greg Carroll's family in the audience. The performance was even more moving than the night before. Words fail me to describe just how incredible the performance was. I had tears in my eyes at the first concert, but at this one, after a highly emotional "and when it is raining, raining hard, that's when the rain will break my heart", I could not help but openly cry as the band took the song to a cathartic conclusion. I have entirely no doubt that it was the single best performance of a song that I have ever heard live.

As One Tree Hill drew to a close, I caught myself thinking something I never anticipated I would think at a U2 concert: "please, play no more". As much as I would have loved to hear a sudden surprise performance of A Sort Of Homecoming or 11 O'clock Tick Tock or Gone, One Tree Hill was nothing short of the perfect way to end the concert. It was the most appropriate way to end U2's two nights in "God's own country". It resonated powerfully with the Kiwi audience, and moved me in a way I thought live music never could - and I'm not one to underestimate the emotional power of live music! Thank you, U2. Thank you for ten fantastic Vertigo shows, each a wonderful experience. But thank you especially for coming to my country, performing a show of unparalleled excellence, and concluding your visit with what has to be one of the finest moments of your lengthy career. Here's hoping that it's not another thirteen years until the next visit, and that one day, I can see U2 in my home city, beautiful Wellington.

Posted on by Axver

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