U2's 100th show on the record shattering 360 tour came and went Saturday night in at Vanderbilt University's Memorial Stadium, leaving the town buzzing in its wake. This was the band's first visit to Nashville proper since playing Vandy's Underwood Auditorium in December of 1981, a fact U2 frontman Bono made mention of early in the set, admitting that it was almost unconceivable it had been so long since the band had played Music City. That '81 show didn't sell out, but Memorial Stadium, which, at about 45,000, is believed to be the smallest-capacity stadium on the entire mega-tour, was packed to its uppermost reaches, and the eye-popping staging known as "The Claw" and its expansive footprint filled the field to the permanent seating, creating an intimate setting rarely seem at stadium shows.
The show was memorable on many levels, including a rendition of the never-performed classic "The Wanderer," recorded for U2's 1993 album Zooropa with a guest vocal from the late Johnny Cash. Bono respectfully name-checked Cash and time spent at the home of Cash and his wife in nearby Hendersonville, Tenn., and also praised the spirit of several current country artists and legendary music figure Cowboy Jack Clement, one of the producers of the band's "Rattle and Hum" album from 1988.
As it played out, the concert managed that rare feat of blending the most technologically advanced production and video on the road, not to mention the sheer size of the show, with the U2's unique ability to connect with fans that has been the driving force in making them the biggest band in the world. At it's heart, this was about four guys from Dublin who play rock and roll music that people love, and the techno bells and whistles serve to complement the performance as opposed to distracting from it.
The band played a healthy dose of songs from their latest record "No Line on the Horizon," along with gems from the past 30 years like "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Pride (in the Name of Love)", "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Vertigo," "Where the Streets Have No Name," and "One," as well as a moving crowd sing-along of "Amazing Grace," and such rarities as "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," and the aforementioned "The Wanderer." But the signature moment of the show came at the very end, when Bono spotted an audience member holding a sign reading "Blind Guitar Player," invited him to the stage, and encouraged the nervous fan to play Bono's Irish Falcon guitar on an impromptu reading of "All I Want Is You." Bono also gifted the fan with the guitar as the show came to a close.
With ten shows left before the tour wraps July 30 in Moncton, N.B., beginning with a return to Chicago's Soldier Field tonight, the mood backstage was typically business-like amongst Live Nation Global Touring Chairman Arthur Fogel and his LNGT team, but there was also a sort of celebratory feel as the biggest tour of all time winds down. As popular as U2 is worldwide, launching an never-before-attempted 360 configuration that boosts capacities by as much as 30% in such a shaky economy was ambitious, to say the least. Asked in his temporary office what he had learned from this tour, Fogel, who has now produced four of the top five tours of all time, responded, "probably more so than any other tour, to trust my instincts." Pressed on the nature of those instincts, Fogel said basically believing that U2 could indeed fill these stadiums, particularly in North America, where the band had not played stadiums since PopMart in 1997. "After PopMart. the strategy was definitely to build back up North America, under-play, create that buzz and that demand, and I think we did a great job with that. To go outdoors in America this time, particularly with this production, is a story in itself. This thing, apart from, obviously, the band, great musicians, great music, great songs, was about creating that buzz in the world about this production. That was the hook."
Backstage hospitality was filled with notable Nashville music business figures and artists, including Clement, manager Ken Levitan, singers Dierks Bentley and Michael W. Smith, CMT/60 Minutes producer John Hamlin, noted producer Bob Ezrin and many others.
Not only will this tour end up as the highest-grossing tour ever at about $717 million, but more importantly to those involved, it will be the highest-attended tour ever at more than 7 million.