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Vertigo 2005/Live from Chicago DVD
Artist: U2
Label: Island
 
In many ways this is just another U2 live video.  They are now pretty much obligatory for each tour, and, in fact, the last tour had two (Boston and Slane Castle).  But for fans they are also indispensable as documents of the gradually evolving magic that is U2 in concert.  The fab four from Dublin first played Chicago, as Bono says, “20 years ago… 25, 23” and clearly a lot has changed since then.  But this latest tour, part of the second major reinvention of U2, also sees an affinity between the urgency expressed in new songs such as the fiery “Vertigo” and the lean and hungry songs that made up the set then.  
 
This latest concert film looks fantastic, like an MTV video clip, with snappy editing and crystal clear images and sound.  Show designer Willie Williams continues to outdo himself, again matching the lighting to the music: simple, powerful, and distinctive.  The stage looks similar to the Elevation tour, but the heart-shaped walkway has become circular.  Lights embedded in the stage in concentric circles form the Hitchcockian Vertigo tour logo, enhanced by some dizzying top-down camera angles.  The other major innovation is a raiseable curtain of light bulbs ­ like a giant beaded door hanging ­ that spans the stage and displays images such as the swirling Vertigo logo during its namesake song.  
 
The songs have been honed by constant live airings, and it’s a mark of U2’s brilliance that they get more refined rather than baggier in their live versions.  Small tweaks make for interesting listening, such as the solo in “Bullet the Blue Sky,” which The Edge turns into cool blues, appropriately for Chicago, rather than the usual Hendrix-inspired slash-and-burn.  “City of Blinding Lights” makes for a glittering opener, but “Vertigo” turns up the heat, with Edge’s guitar threatening to bring the house down.  A series of feel-good anthems ­ “Beautiful Day,” “New Year’s Day,” “Miracle Drug” ­ climaxes with the poignant “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” before Bono changes to rant mode with a series of angry songs beginning with “Love and Peace or Else,” where red lights recall the red stripes of the “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” artwork and signal the shift in mood.  
 
Bono’s certainly high atop the soapbox.  But then if he doesn’t do it, who will?  And there’s still a lot to be angry about.  Twenty years on, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”’s refrain of “how long?” is, sadly, as urgent as ever.  During “Pride,” the band reminds their American audience via video screens about the Declaration of Human Rights and that “everyone is created equal under the eyes of God.”  Over that exhilarating opening ­ and isn’t it one of the most exhilarating passages in pop music ­ of the utopian “Where The Streets Have No Name,” Bono proclaims, “the journey of equality moves on,” while African flags scroll down the curtain of lights.  Over the sombre opening notes of that great hymn to brotherhood “One” Bono talks about Neil Armstrong and the moon landing and asks that this generation do something similarly extraordinary, that is, Make Poverty History, before requesting that the crowd pull out their cell phones and add their voices to those petitioning world leaders.
 
The last third of the show is almost a relief after all that high emotional temperature.  The battery of lighting effects in “Zoo Station,” and Bono’s costume (this time a stiff soldier is one of his on-stage alter-egos) indicates we’re not in Kansas anymore.  But because they have such an array of songs to choose from, this one seems a strange choice to open the last part of the show.  A reshuffle that puts “All Because of You” first would seem more logical.  (Or maybe “Mysterious Ways” or “The Fly”)  However, taking into consideration that back catalogue, a positive is that “With or Without You” is the only immediately obvious and notable exclusion from the set-list.  There’s a healthy mix of new, old and really old.  
 
Some new songs go down better than others, the crowd being subdued during a nicely spare arrangement of the otherwise less-than-rocky “Original of the Species.”  There is nothing from “Rattle and Hum,” “Zooropa” or “Pop,” but the inclusion of long dormant songs from the first album “Boy” shows both how well the old stuff fits with the new post-irony stuff, and how good the old stuff still sounds, particularly the ricocheting guitar of “Electric Co..”  Surprising for more ways than one (but I won’t ruin the surprise completely) is the finale, a full version of “40,” their traditional show closer that was dropped during the nineties.  This tour has cemented U2’s turning full-circle, and during the song there’s a sense of both nostalgia and triumph as the band exits the stage one-by-one, last of all the boy who started it all, Larry Mullen Jnr, while the fans continue singing “how long to sing this song?” like they did way back when.  
 
Nick Mattiske  12/19/2005


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
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