It was about 10 minutes past 8:00 p.m. when the lights dimmed at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena and “Beat on the Brat” by the Ramones began blaring out of U2‘s massive sound system, kicking off the group’s long-awaited Innocence + Experience Tour. As the band took the stage to a deafening roar from the sold-out crowd, they launched into “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” under a single light bulb suspended from the ceiling, meant to evoke Bono’s childhood bedroom.
The group that took a 29,000-square-foot stage known as the Spaceship around the globe on their last tour was now moving forward by going all the way back to where it began. They were honoring the music that first inspired them to pick up instruments, as well as the physical space where that happened. To drive the point home further, the song transitioned directly into “Out of Control,” U2’s debut single from 1980. “We’re a band from the north side of Dublin called U2,” Bono told the crowd, as if he’d traveled back in time. “This is our first single. Take it, the Edge.” Not a single screen was activated, giving the crowd at the front of the general admission floor the sensation of seeing the band at tiny club in Dublin 35 years ago.
After getting the audience into a frantic state with “Vertigo,” they went right back to their earliest days with “I Will Follow” before Bono paid tribute to his late mother with “Iris (Hold Me Close).” A giant curtain of LED screens hung above the catwalk in the middle of the arena, connecting the main stage to the B stage – they came alive with still images of Iris Hewson and video of a young Bono. “This is a night about first experiences,” Bono said before playing the intensely personal song. “We don’t want to stay in the past for too long because I’m told that’s not good, but if you don’t go to the past at all I’m told you end up staying there, so we’re going to visit the past now for a few minutes.”
The journey back continued with “Cedarwood Road,” another Songs of Innocence tune about Bono’s early years. For this one, the singer climbed between two sets of LED screens in the center of the arena and appeared to be actually walking down the street where he grew up. Most every line in the song was animated, down to the “blossoms falling from a tree.” It wasn’t a very complicated effect, but it was extremely well-executed and more than a little surreal. The animation then zoomed inside Bono’s house for “Song for Someone,” a sweet ode to his wife Ali. Young Bono was shown siting in his room under Clash and Kraftwerk posters, strumming a guitar while present-day Bono stood underneath and belted out the tune. Like many moments from the show, it was about the past and present colliding.