Playing its first full-scale U.S. concert since 2006 before a packed house, the Irish quartet presented a 23-song, two-hour and 15-minute show that followed the mold set by the European leg of the tour earlier in the summer. And like those dates, the star of the show was The Claw, the 164-foot-tall, space-age, crustacean-like stage that houses a variety of visual effects that U2 frontman Bono told the crowd "we built..to bring us closer to you" via a series of ramps and bridges, as well as a large circular video screen that expanded and contracted, accordion-style. Even drummer Larry Mullen, Jr., was able to play to all sides of the stadium via a rotating platform for his kit.
But unlike previous stadium tours such as 1992's Zoo TV Outside Broadcast and the 1997-98 Popmart trek, neither U2 nor its songs was dwarfed by the visual spectacle. Rather, The Claw and its components enhanced the songs, which included seven from the group's latest album, "No Line on the Horizon" -- four of which opened Saturday's show -- and a careful selection from U2's 29-year recording catalog. "The Unforgettable Fire" and "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" remained in the set after more than a decade and a half away each, while "Elevation" and "Bad" were special "treats," the latter concluding with snippets of the Rolling Stones' "Fool to Cry" and U2's own "40." The group also slipped a bit of the Beatles' "Blackbird" into "Beautiful Day," Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" into "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "Oliver's Army" by Elvis Costello into "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which was accompanied by video images of this year's violent Iranian election protests.
The emotional high point, however, was "Walk On;" dedicated, as usual, to imprisoned Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, it was performed while three-dozen "volunteers" stood on the lower stage ramp holding masks bearing her likeness in front of their faces and was followed by a powerful version of "Where the Streets Have No Name." The tour program also included Suu Kyi masks for audience members to wear.
Bono also celebrated the tour's opening locale, telling the Chicagoans "there is nowhere else we'd want to be this evening than hear, the heart of America" and claiming "small part" for the Irish in the city's "majestic skyline." "We're the wind in the Windy City," he noted, subsequently explained a lack of humility by explaining that, "When you put this band with this crowd, there is no room for modesty. Anything is possible."
U2 will be in North America until Oct. 28, when the tour wraps in Vancouver. The group's 2010 itinerary has not been revealed, but it's expected to return to North America in June and July, then reprise Europe in August and September before heading to South America later in the year.
The set list for U2's North American opening night included:
"No Line on the Horizon"
"Get On Your Boots"
"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
"Stuck In a Moment You Can't Get Out Of"
"The Unforgettable Fire"
"City of Blinding Lights"
"I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight (Redanka remix)"
"Sunday Bloody Sunday"
"Pride (In the Name of Love)"
"Where The Streets Have No Name"
"Ultraviolet (Light My Way)"
"With or Without You"
"Moment of Surrender"