On Thursday night, U2 played the Meadowlands for the 28th time. Signs of age are starting to show - both cosmetic signs, like Adam Clayton's white hair and The Edge's ever-present wool knit cap, and more substantive ones, like Bono's increasing tendency to sign an octave lower rather than stretch to hit the high notes on songs like "With or Without You" and "The City of Blinding Lights." But with those signs of age come marks of experience. U2's playing sounded tighter than I've ever heard it before. The Edge's guitar playing, so innovative and creative in their recordings, was somehow both elegant and powerful in person. The Edge's greatest strength as a guitarist (besides the sonic innovations for which he is so well known) is his ability to blend in with the rest of the band for most of a song, then step up with a dynamic riff without consciously 'soloing,' then seamlessly blend back in with the rest of the band. "Till The End of the World" was a big highlight for him. Larry Mullin Jr.'s powerful, precise, flourish-free drumming was at its understated best.
Bono was Bono. His new look - muscular, leather jacket, buzz cut - was a bit of a shock, and he seems to have adopted an aggressive singing style that occasionally makes it sound as if he's shouting. This style works great for song's from the band's latest album, but he seemed to struggle with the sad, pretty songs - like "With or Without You" that have been highlights of U2's live shows in the past. And he didn't pull a girl on stage from the front row and sing to her, as he often has in the past - is it possible he's too old for that? Somehow, that just didn't seem right. But he's still a magnetic presence, speaking about global politics and African poverty in a way that really ties it into his music, and he led the audience in a few of the most enthusiastic sing-alongs I've ever heard.
It was a great show. Even if you're not the biggest fan of U2, they are one of the bands you've got to see in person before they stop touring. I am an enthusiastic fan of long standing, and if this is the only show of theirs that I ever see, I will feel as if I got my money's worth. I got the full U2 experience.