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A look back at the Vertigo Tour

Firstly, I would like to offer a somewhat belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our visitors from those of us here at U2gigs.com. Have a fantastic 2007 - and let's hope that the year includes a new U2 album. But for now, instead of looking to the future, I would like to turn my sights back to the past and reflect on the last two years of U2's concerts. The Vertigo Tour is now well and truly over, and with everything in the U2 world calming down, now seems to be an opportune time to reflect on what has been. This article is a general reflection on the tour, and shall be followed by a detailed statistical analysis of the tour in the coming days.

The Vertigo Tour was the second longest tour in U2's history, both in number of shows (131; 132 if counting the Los Angeles public rehearsal) and duration (1 year, 8 months, 11 days; 13 days if you count the LA rehearsal), with ZooTV retaining its lead on both counts. However, the Vertigo Tour featured much more variance and diversity than ZooTV, or, for that matter, any tour since Lovetown. For the first time since Lovetown, U2 played at least one song from every single currently released album, with the strongest representation naturally going to How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and the weakest representation going to Pop - Discotheque was the only song from Pop performed on the tour, and only twice at that. In terms of song quantity, the Vertigo Tour featured the most songs of any U2 tour in history, though in terms of setlist variety from night to night, it cannot compete with Lovetown's diversity. The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby were featured in greater quantity than on any tour since the end of the Lovetown and ZooTV tours respectively, and Boy saw its strongest representation since the Unforgettable Fire Tour.

This strong representation of past albums was part of the continuation of a facet of U2's concerts that was introduced on the Elevation Tour. Until the Popmart Tour, U2 progressively discarded old standards and introduced brand new songs in their place. The odds were extremely strong that if a song was not played at a single show on a tour, it would not appear again; exceptions were very rare, such as Sunday Bloody Sunday reappearing on ZooTV after missing Lovetown, and the location-specific Mothers Of The Disappeared appearing for the first time in over 10 years on Popmart. However, on the Elevation Tour, U2 returned to long abandoned songs in their back catalogue, much to the delight of fans: Party Girl and Stay for the first time in eight years, nine years for Spanish Eyes, eleven for 11 O'clock Tick Tock and Out Of Control, fourteen for A Sort Of Homecoming. This process picked up even more steam on the Vertigo Tour. The band dipped into almost all parts of their back catalogue, including long forgotten Boy songs, Miss Sarajevo from Passengers, the never-before-performed The First Time, and even the much maligned October album. Covers, once such a frequent feature from People Get Ready of the late eighties to Edge's karaoke on Popmart, became very thin on the ground in favour of more original U2 material, but when covers were performed, they became an opportunity for U2 to collaborate with other artists. The Vertigo Tour featured more other artists sharing the stage with U2 than on any past tour, and the artists came from a diverse range of genres and backgrounds. Mary J. Blige performed One with U2 multiple times even before her studio collaboration was known to be happening, Eddie Vedder and Daniel Lanois both also made multiple appearances, and even some local bands were invited to share the stage with U2.

Each leg of the tour had its own distinctive character and notable setlist facet. The first leg was characterised by the return of the Boy material, some songs after absences of longer than 20 years, and more Boy material was played on this leg than on any subsequent one. On the second leg, the concept of "Vertigo x2" became a setlist regular and the setlist became more stable, but on the third leg, more variable elements came back to the set as the band returned to indoor venues and introduced an acoustic encore. The fourth leg barely had a chance to define itself, but came to be a final summary of the Vertigo Tour, featuring the final performances of songs such as All Because Of You, Original Of The Species, and Fast Cars. The fifth leg proved to be a U218 Tour By Stealth and also featured the All That You Can't Leave Behind and Rattle And Hum albums more strongly than the prior legs. Out of these distinctive features, both Vertigo x2 and the acoustic encore caused a stark divide of opinions amongst U2's fanbase. The band themselves seemed to enjoy repeating Vertigo but many fans resented it taking the setlist spot of another song, and while the acoustic encore gave the band a chance to bring out songs that lacked a setlist position, it was seen by many as a far less effective form of an encore than the Zoo encore used for the rest of the tour, and it ultimately disappeared after almost two months of usage. A couple of the songs from the acoustic encore survived past its mid-November 2005 disappearance to appear as part of the second encore for the remainder of the leg, primarily Stuck In A Moment.

Of course, there was more to the Vertigo Tour than just songs. Although the European leg of the Elevation Tour included a few stadium/outdoor concerts, the Vertigo Tour featured full stadium legs, something last done in 1997-8 on Popmart. And although the Vertigo Tour was not as extensive a "world" tour as Popmart, it was nonetheless U2's second-most "worldwide" trek, visiting some locations that the band had not been to in over a decade or two, such as New Zealand, Hawaii, and Ottawa. It also revisited locations that had previously only seen U2 on Popmart, such as Poland and South America, and after Australia had to be skipped on Elevation despite the band's best efforts to organise concerts there, the band returned to the land down under for the first time in almost nine years. The tour was not free from controversy either: poorly managed fanclub presales and overwhelming public demand for general sales did nothing to impress many fans, and the lottery system used for access to the ellipse on the two North American legs was met with much disapproval from some quarters. The high politicisation of much of the show and Bono's excessively long and rambling speeches before Miracle Drug and One also had their critics, and the replacement of Where The Streets Have No Name's usual red background with African flags as graphics sparked some disapproval, though others found the graphical change to be a refreshing new take on the song's live presentation.

All things considered, the tour was a huge success. Every single one of the 131 concerts was sold out, though at the third Sydney show and possibly Hawaii, not all seats were put on sale in the first place. The third Sydney show had approximately 10,000 less people than the first two nights, but nonetheless Sydney still had the second highest attendance of any city on the tour, with Dublin naturally coming in first, some 40,000 ahead of Sydney with over 246,000 concertgoers. The tour was the second highest grossing of all time, just behind the current Rolling Stones tour. Had it finished on time, it would have briefly held the world record. Although there were naturally a few bad nights, reviews from both critics and fans were usually positive, and features such as Bono's drumming during Love And Peace Or Else and the operatic singing during Miss Sarajevo received a particularly strong response. Everyone who attended the tour can pinpoint their own personal highlights, but here at U2gigs.com, we would consider the scintillating, intense performances of The Electric Co. to be the tour's general highlight, and the awe-inspiring and emotionally powerful performances of One Tree Hill in sight of the Hill itself to be the specific highlight.

Between the end of the Elevation Tour and the start of the Vertigo Tour was a gap of more than three years. We sincerely hope the wait for the next tour is not as long. U2 have left their fans with many special memories and the next tour is eagerly awaited. Thank you, U2, for 131 (or 132) fantastic nights of music.

Posted on by Axver

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