U2 played the next-to-last show on their 360° World Tour on Tuesday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. I was fortunate to have been there to witness this amazing spectacle. The tour kicked off back in 2009, ostensibly in support of the band’s No Line on the Horizon album, and it has grossed more than $700 million. The stage set is unbelievable, with a claw-shaped stage structure that is 168 feet tall, with massive video screens. I’ve never seen a stage set that comes close to this one.
U2 opened the concert with four songs from their 1991 Achtung Baby album: “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” “The Fly,” “Mysterious Ways” and “Until the End of the World.” They then played “I Will Follow” from their 1980 debut album, Boy. “Get on Your Boots” and “Stay” followed. Astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, then appeared on the giant video screens to say, “Hello, Pittsburgh!” and introduce the next song, “Beautiful Day.” From that point, the show continued to get better and better, as U2 played hit after hit, including “Elevation,” “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “City of Blinding Lights,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Vertigo,” “Walk On” and many more. The encore began with “One” and then a great version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” “With or Without You,” “Moment of Surrender” and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" followed, before the band finished the show with a rousing version of "Bad.”
I have probably seen about 100 U2 shows in the last 31 years, and this one has to rank near the very top. I first saw U2 in a school gymnasium in Coventry, England, in 1980. As a writer for Rolling Stone at the time, I was the first American journalist to interview the group. They were amazing, and when I came back home and wrote my story, the editors put the headline “U2: The Next Big Thing?” on the story. And, indeed, they did become the next big thing. I wrote several more stories about the band during my tenure at Rolling Stone, and successfully campaigned to get them on the cover. During that period, Bono and I would exchange CDs and books. One time, I gave him a book about Martin Luther King, Jr., and he now says that book inspired him to write “Pride.”
Over the years, the group has been very generous to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. When I first became the Museum's curator, I contacted them about getting some artifacts for an exhibit. This was back in 1994, and they had not yet been inducted, so they thought it would be weird for them to be in the Museum. I explained that the Museum included exhibits about inductees and non-inductees, and then suggested we could do a small exhibit that focused on their early years, the pre-The Joshua Tree years. They liked that idea, and we put a small exhibit together. Then, in May 2001, they came to Cleveland during their Elevation tour, and they visited the Museum. Our major exhibit at the time was John Lennon: His Life and Work, and U2 loved it. They said they would be willing to work with me on a major U2 exhibit. I took them up on their offer, and in February 2003, the Museum opened In the Name of Love: Two Decades of U2. That exhibit ran until March 2004. Since then, U2 has always had a presence at the Museum. We are fortunate to have a nice collection that includes instruments, stage outfits, lyric manuscripts and other items, including rejection letters they received from record companies when they were first trying to get signed.
Prior to the Pittsburgh show, I went backstage with a group of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame supporters. Bono came out to greet us, and he was as kind and generous as he always is. He is an amazing human being, and I feel very, very lucky to have gotten to know him over the last three decades.