U2 Delivers a Message of Hope During Inspirational Performance at FirstEnergy Stadium

Plenty of rock and pop acts can capably rock an arena. Successfully engaging a stadium full of people is much trickier. Credit U2, who performed last night before a capacity crowd at FirstEnergy Stadium, for having mastered the art.

These guys could run a clinic on how to properly execute a concert in an outdoor stadium. The rousing show had both highly intimate moments and overblown segments that featured immersive visuals and deafening acoustics.

And it had purpose as the band offered a message of hope during the two-plus-hour performance, the last date of the current leg of the band’s U.S. tour to mark the 30th anniversary of the Joshua Tree album.

You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here.

The band began the concert with a stripped down set on a satellite stage that stretched onto the stadium floor. Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. walked out first along the catwalk that extended into the pit. He sat at his drum kit and banged out the distinctive militaristic drum roll that kicks off “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” a track from the band’s 1983 album War. The rest of the group would slowly matriculate to the small stage to join him.

The opening set also included vintage material such as “New Year’s Day,” “Bad” and “Pride (In the Name of Love).” During “New Year’s Day,” Bono stepped aside to let the Edge deliver a reverb-drenched solo, and during “Bad,” Bono whispered a few lines from the Simon & Garfunkel tune “America.” “We hope this is one of those epic nights you’ll always remember,” said Bono. “We’re trying to find common ground as we reach for higher ground.”

From there, the band migrated to the main stage to perform the Joshua Tree album in its entirety. The giant high-resolution video screen behind that stage illuminated in red with a black silhouette of a Joshua Tree cactus to mark the beginning of the main set.

Video of desert landscapes accompanied “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Bono effectively whispered the intro of “With or Without You” before wailing on the song’s chorus. As the band played “Bullet the Blue Sky,” sparks appropriately flew off the Edge’s guitar during a video treatment the showed him playing. His feedback-filled solo on the tune sounded particularly menacing.

Prior to performing the ballad “In God’s Country,” Bono explained that the song was about how “landscape can change and a person can change and country or town can change.” His comments alluded to the recent shift in the United States, which has a conservative president for the first time in eight years, something he would reference throughout the show without specifically mentioning Tump's name.

Bono sounded particularly soulful on “One Tree Hill,” and the band went back to its punk rock roots for the noisier parts of “Exit,” a song they performed under flickering strobes. “America, we love you,” Bono said at the conclusion of “Miss Sarajevo,” a song they’ve retitled “Miss Syria (Sarajevo).” A specially commissioned film by French artist J.R. accompanied the tune. J.R. shot the footage at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, home to some 80,000 Syrians forced to flee their country.

Bono sauntered back to the satellite stage where he serenaded the audience and conducted the band as he sang hits such as “Beautiful Day,” “Elevation” and “Vertigo.” During “Mysterious Ways,” he pulled one patron onto the stage and danced with the exuberant fan, admitting at the song’s conclusion that he’d “met his match” because she danced so well.

Bono dedicated “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” to “all women,” and the video screen displayed images of famous female writers, activists, artists and politicians (including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Michelle Obama). The band even included a photo of the late Jane Scott, a former writer at the Plain Dealer who covered rock ’n’ roll for the paper.

“People on the left and right can agree that a country does incredible things when it works together as one,” Bono said as he introduced the closing number “One,” a final passionate plea for peace, love and understanding that the band delivered with all the studio version’s beauty and grace.

The pop rock band OneRepublic opened the show with an hour-long set that could be described as “U2 lite.” Singer Ryan Tedder owes a serious musical debt to Bono as he sings with a real righteousness. But while Bono has stage presence and charisma to spare, Tedder comes across as someone who doesn’t quite know how to engage an audience (and dismissing fans that don’t know your hits by saying that they must’ve been “in captivity” for the past decade doesn’t help).

That said, by set’s end, the band had warmed up and delivered rousing renditions of hits such as “Good Life” and “Counting Stars” that found Tedder effortlessly shifting from piano to drums. But ultimately, there’s something forgettable about the group, which perhaps explains why Bono would later mistakenly thank the Lumineers for opening the show.

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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