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Nathan Gunter, Managing Editor
Photo by Lori Duckworth
On Bono and Hope
By Nathan Gunter
May 3, 2017
U2’s music has always occupied a special place in my personal soundtrack. The Irish band released its first album, Boy, in 1980, the same year I was born. When Rolling Stone named it to its list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, the magazine said, “Too ingenuous for punk, too unironic for new wave, U2 arrived on Boy as big-time dreamers with the ambition to back it up.”
I like this description; it kinda applies to me too. I’m both ingenuous and unironic—read: so not cool and not too worried about being so—and my dreams and ambition often outsize my abilities. U2’s music is aspirational, and so am I, and that’s probably why I’ve always heard something in between their notes that called to my soul. On a soaring song like “In God’s Country” from 1987’s The Joshua Tree, I hear the same thing I feel when I’m driving under enormous prairie skies. On “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “City of Blinding Lights,” “Miracle Drug,” or “Beautiful Day,” among others, I hear echoed something that is intrinsic to my own soul: The sometimes flagging but never failing belief that we can all be better; that there really is enough for all of us if we don’t let our generosity and empathy fail us; that vulnerability, openness, and hope aren’t weaknesses but strengths; and that something greater calls to us all to scrounge up the courage to reach for our higher potential.
So I responded with ingenuous and unironic enthusiasm last week when I got an email asking if I wanted to attend and review U2’s opening night of their Experience + Innocence Tour at Tulsa’s BOK Center. This was the third time I’ve seen this band live. The first was in March 2001 in Charlotte, when I was a junior in college and caught them on the Elevation Tour. The second was in Norman in 2009, when I had nearly front-row, standing-room-only position for the enormous U2 360o Tour, the stage for which took nearly the entirety of Owen Field.
The difference in Wednesday night’s show was the setlist. Many legacy acts I’ve seen live simply trot out the hits, knowing that’s why most people came to see them. (I once attended a Counting Crows concert that nearly ended in a full-on riot when the band neglected to play “Mr. Jones.”) U2 didn’t neglect the hits—highlights included “Beautiful Day,” “Desire,” “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, and “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” among others—but the show’s axis didn’t revolve around them.
Photo by Danny North
Rather, the tale the concert wove centered around the dichotomy between band’s last album, Songs of Innocence, and its most recent, Songs of Experience. In stunning computer animations, careful song selection, and a series of interstitial moments from Bono—who also famously resurrected his character MacPhisto via the magic of special effects—the band told a powerful story that encouraged us all to, as Bono said, “Pray for the regeneration of the American Dream.”
Photo by Danny North
There were many recent songs, including “Get Out of Your Own Way” and “Iris (Hold Me Close)” as well as gems—if not major hits—from older works including Achtung Baby’s “Acrobat,” which never before had appeared on a U2 tour setlist. As an audience, we were here for it, excited to see one of our favorite bands not just give us a jukebox musical-style review of their career to date but continue to break new ground, challenge us to expand our minds and hearts to encompass bigger ideas and greater love.
It’s a challenge I continue to accept, and I thank this band for continually throwing down the gauntlet.