Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL • October 9, 2009
Beneath the October night sky, grounded within a football stadium, yet a mere phone call away from outer space, nearly 75,000 fans united for the grandest rock concert in history courtesy of the biggest band in the world, U2. Their sole Florida date at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa was less of a concert and more of a moment shared between strangers. The Gulf breeze, the planes passing overhead, the never-ending waves of people that reached up to the heavens, and the music of a band at the top of its game suspended reality for all in attendance, if only for a couple of hours on a Friday night.
Joining the Irish quartet on this, its biggest tour since 1997’s Popmart, was Muse – a band that is only beginning to get the kind of recognition here in the States that they’ve long been receiving in their native England. Because of a strict no-reentry policy, my Muse experience was limited to what I could hear from the backstage press area, however the performance was impressive enough to win over my girlfriend who had, up until this night, been a staunch Muse non-fan. The powerful, fan-turning trio closed out its set with “Time Is Running Out” as the cheers reached a crescendo that must have warmed the band members’ hearts dearly. Muse has, at long last, landed in America.
What was initially dubbed “The Claw” has since become known as “The Spaceship” due to its out-of-this-world scope. Walking under, between, and inside of the beautiful monstrosity that is the U2 360Âº Tour stage, it is easy to get lost in the epic scale of not just the stage but the production as a whole. A credit to the band is that they manage to not get lost inside of it themselves. The Spaceship serves as not only an all-encompassing setting for the stage, but as a sound system so state of the art that it can clearly be heard, and seen, from the parking lots that surround the stadium. With all of its bells and whistles, moving bridges, and flexible video screens, there was surprisingly little in the way of schtick on this tour. Unlike Popmart, with its golden arch, Lemon ship, and Bono’s muscle man suit, the performance was pretty straightforward. The band took their turns around the oval-shaped catwalk, putting them closer to the fans further out, but for the most part they just played their songs and played them well.
As the lights fell and the ship ignited in a visual smorgasbord of color and video, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” blared through its 200 speakers, and drummer Larry Mullen walked out in a cloud of smoke to play the opening notes of the evening’s flawless set. Space was a third-party player behind the band and the audience, from the cloudless sky that peeked inside the Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s home turf, to the live video chat that Bono had with Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté who was orbiting Earth in the International Space Station at the time. You read that right. Bono called Outer Space.
Opening up with a pair of songs from their latest album (their twelfth) No Line on the Horizon, before falling into a trio of ear-pleasing favorites that included the first classic of the night, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” the two-hour plus set was piled up with all of those songs you’d expect the band to play (“One,” “With or Without You,” “Where the Streets Have No Name”). But what was most impressive was how quickly the songs from the last few albums are falling in line between those greatest hits. “Stuck in a Moment,” “Elevation,” “Walk On,” and “Beautiful Day” evoke the same chills and choke me up just as easily. The Edge’s unmistakable guitar sound swims around inside of Bono’s soulful approach to rock vocals, and quietly holding down the fort is bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Mullen. Not only does this band sound better than ever and look not a day over 40, but they’re making some of the most exciting music of their career. The brand new songs still have that indefinable U2 quality that makes you want to cry and laugh all at the same time.
Thirty three years into their career, they’re still making music that touches. They don’t need a 150-foot high stage that requires 120 trucks to transport it from gig to gig, but the mere fact that they still feel the need to challenge themselves and give their fans something extra is one more testament to the special something that music lovers have in a band like U2.
U2: http://www.u2.com ◼