The narrative of U2's Experience & Innocence show
U2's Experience and Innocence show had a story to tell and was made with a story in mind. The band wanted to tell us something. But what is this story, what is this narrative that fans have been talking about all year? In this article we unravel the narrative, the songs and the stories. Join us as we attempt to breakdown the Innocence from the Experience.
Innocence, Joshua Tree and Experience
The narrative of the Experience and Innocence show started in 2013 when band and crew members were exploring the idea of using the following years to tell a story. The idea was to tell a story that would not only be very personal to U2 but also "universal, as all great stories are. Hung on the pegs of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, the members of U2 wanted to dig deeply into their own personal experience to see if perhaps there was a more comprehensive story there" (Willie Williams, 2018 tour book).
"The idea of two journeys began to emerge: the first a teenager’s story, escaping from the house out into the world (Innocence), the second from an adult perspective, on a journey ‘home’ however that might be interpreted (Experience)" - Willie Williams
U2 performing The Little Things That Give You Away on the opening night of the Joshua Tree tour in Vancouver, 2017. A song connecting Innocence and Experience. Photo by Remy/U2start
Willie Williams, U2's show director, concurred that the Joshua Tree actually is a perfect fit in this trilogy, acting as a kind of bridge between U2's Innocence and Experience, just like it did in U2's real life. It might also be the reason for U2 to play The Little Things That Give You Away during this tour, as a song where Innocence is talking to Experience.
"The two stories it came down to wanting to tell what it's like for anybody growing up, where you feel like your bedroom is and your house where you're looking out the window at the world outside, trying to make sense of what's going on. Journey two is being a grown-up in the outside world, the things that you have to face and what it takes to deal with all of that." - Willie Williams (IQ Magazine)
It starts from the end - the near death experience - and works its way back.
The Experience narrative
If you look at the Experience and Innocence show as a whole you can divide it into three big parts. The first is the opening which features songs about mortality, reference death and "going to the light". Then the show turns to become a reflection of life: growing up, loss of innocence, almost breaking up, rock star-dom and the descent into MacPhisto. The show ends with the things learned from it all before the main character finally ends up home. The main character here is Bono himself, but as with all great stories the themes and narrative is very universal and could be anyone's.
"This is my story, but it also could be Edge's story, Larry's story, Adam's story, anyone's story" - Bono
The Songs of Experience themselves all have deeper themes and meanings as well which are represented throughout the show and embedded into the shows narrative.
Selecting songs fitting the narrative
If you read fan reviews of U2's shows, its common to read something about individual songs. U2 should play Acrobat or Mofo, or U2 should not play Beautiful Day and Elevation. Rarely do fan reviews address thematic choices. Willie Williams shared a unique insight into the process of selecting the songs to play on stage in the 2018 tour book, which helps us to understand the decisions on including or excluding certain songs. Willie explains that the start of this process was a big wheel with song names. A wheel that divides the show or tours into different themes representing a point in U2's career or life.
The setlist "wheel" as taken from the 2018 tourbook.
If you zoom in on the wheel, the following themes can be read in order for the left part representing the "beginning" (Innocence): Arrival, Narrative, The garage, Transformation, Home run, ZooTV, Epilogue.
The other part of the wheel represents "ending" (Experience): Assault, EDM, Rock, The lounge, Convulsion, Home run, Resolution and Epilogue. For each theme, song names were listed that fit the theme. "Vertigo" for instance belongs to "Arrival", whereas "Song for someone" is in the list of "Epilogue" songs.
"The setlist process was unusual, the setlist became a wheel of 60 songs from which you could pick any two opposing points to be the beginning and the end" - Willie Williams
The "setlist wheel" is an exciting source of insight into the thinking process that preceded the past few and current U2 tours. It also shows that putting a show together with a strong narrative is not an easy task, you have to find songs that connect in terms of not only the story but also musically. It also demonstrates that once such songs are selected, it is not always easy to deviate or switch it around without losing the bigger picture or narrative.
For reference we have listed all the individual songs listed as Innocence and Experience at the end of the article.
Choosing a wardrobe to fit the narrative
It’s not only the songs, the stage, or the albums. It’s also wardrobe choices that have to be made. The Edge adapted his wardrobe a bit to Innocence and Experience by wearing jeans with album and single covers embedded into them, sort of like a history mix of U2. One perspective on this is that it’s a mix of Innocence and Experience.
Album covers in Edge's jeans, photos taken by Remy/U2start.com.
For the north American shows he used the album cover of October for his right leg, and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb as well as No Line On The Horizon on his left. He changed his jeans in Europe with the covers of Joshua Tree & Discotheque on his right and the covers of Achtung Baby and U218 Singles on his left. Edge also wears a shirt with a photo of his daughter on it during Love Is Bigger Than Anything On Its Way, something we'll elaborate on further along in this article.
An American and European narrative
What great stories have in common is that they can be interpreted in different ways. A show such as this one driven by a narrative does not have just one meaning or story. It adapts itself to the context such as a location or an audience, and wraps it around the bigger storyline. The American and European shows of the Experience and Innocence tour featured slightly different adaptations such as specific songs, sets of songs or speeches, but overall address common themes.
Breathe in, exhale - The MRI experience
"Breathe in.. exhale.. thank you", words that did not raised any attention for the first few shows. But those who either hear or say them regularly know that they are not random words. First observed by Jen the words that are part of U2's show intro (prior to Love Is All We Have Left in North America and part of the pre-show video in Europe) are words said to someone undergoing an MRI scan.
The words are accompanied by brain image visuals made by such a scanner. This all ties in with Bono's near-death experience that revolves around the album and show. While the exact nature of his "brush with mortality" is unknown, we can assume that Bono had to undergo an MRI scan as part of his experience. He at least had one after his bike accident in 2014.
The brain scan shown on the screens is actually the brain of show director Willie Williams, about that he said that they "considered using Bono's real scans but they would probably have been too revealing medically" (Atu2). The brain image is a way to combine the "personal and political cataclysm" in this part of the show (IQ Magazine).
Visuals of Willie Williams' brain. Photographed by Carol Spagnuola in Duluth.
You would almost forget that part of the introduction of the show was an Augmented Reality (AR) experience, used for the Northern American leg of the tour. Fans pointing their phones towards the screen before or during Love Is All We Have Left would see the imagery turning into a giant iceberg that melts over the audience, preluding the cataclysm theme, which is enacted as a tsunami in the middle of the set with waves appearing across the screen during Until The End Of The World. A metaphor for consciousness, the band says.
The idea and importance of Europe - The European intro
The European shows had no icebergs, Augmented Reality and no Love Is All We Have Left to start the shows with. The tone for the night is set with a four-minute movie revolving around the idea of Europe. The visuals explain the European narrative and feature footage from the early to mid-20th century including:
* post-war footage of Berlin and Hamburg from 1946, and Cologne and Amsterdam from 1945;
* war-time footage of Paris from 1944, Copenhagen and Milan in 1943, Manchester and London in 1940, Belfast and Dublin in 1941;
* Lisbon during the 1926 coup d'état;
* Spanish Civil War footage of Madrid in 1939 on two occasions.
The MRI scan also occasionally appears over the war-time footage, further combining the personal and political cataclysm but this time focusing more on the political aspect than the personal one.
Still from the movie opening the European shows, by U2gigs.com.
In the weeks before the European leg of the tour, Bono wrote a lengthy essay about Europe highlighting its significance and importance. If you read it the footage and themes of the show become more than clear. The intro movie is a thought-provoking and complex introduction that shows the people what the world was like without a united Europe and why Europe is a strong idea that is worth believing in and holding on to. A theme that comes back several times during the European shows.
The images also show the risk of allowing far right politics - what happened the last time we allowed this to happen. Scenes are selected for the cities that the tour visits.
"We wanted to make the point that because we've grown up in Europe and we've never seen war, we just assume that this is the way it's always been. The start of the show is a reminder that we can't take these things for granted." - Willie Williams, IQ Magazine
The mortality section - Love Is All We Have Left, The Blackout and Lights of Home
The Experience show starts at the end of Innocence with three (in Europe two) songs that more than others are U2's songs of experience: Love Is All We Have Left, The Blackout and Lights of Home. These songs all deal with mortality and are build upon the whole MRI experience, about Bono's belief that he is going to die and what is in some way his resurrection.
"We open at the end of Innocence, our three songs that deal with mortality. They are very much songs of experience. Then we felt like, "Great, you open with that. Now you have to go back to the beginning very quickly to start the story from where it really starts, which is the really early days and the Songs of Innocence." - Edge, Rolling Stone
"Bono walking into the light up the barricage. It is the stairway to heaven and he kneels at the very gate."
Bono walking on the "stairway to heaven". Photo by Danny North
Bono walking into the light up the barricage, his steps are lined with stars. It is the stairway to heaven and he kneels at the very gate. Then he realizes he is still alive and kicking and "frees himself" on the e-stage, ending the section about mortality on a brighter note.
Back to the early days - I Will Follow, Gloria/All Because Of You and Beautiful Day
After the show opened with U2's most obvious songs of experience, the show goes back to the start of U2, the really early days and the Songs of Innocence. No song is more speaking for U2's early days than I Will Follow, which opens this part of the show. When questioning why I Will Follow was used in both the 2015 and the 2018 tour, it’s obligatory to understand where the song came from. Bono once said about I Will Follow "it came out of a screaming argument in the rehearsal room. It was literally coming out of a kind of rage, the sound of a nail being hammered into your frontal lobe". Putting this into context it is thought provoking that yes, this section can be considered ‘Innocence’ but the band came from a place of pain that pushed their life, and the show’s set to where it ends up.
After I Will Follow U2 played either Gloria or All Because Of You at most shows, songs which thematically do not only both relate to innocent times but also talk to and about God. This makes both songs thematically fit this spot in the setlist very well and could be one of the reasons for these two to be picked. All Because Of You references "the place I started out from", possibly talking about U2's early days. Adam Clayton referred to this in 2006 when talking about How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb: "The young men who spent their whole childhoods working up to making Boy, had now spent twenty-five years of adulthood working up to Atomic Bomb. We had somehow got back to the same point again, revisiting that place of youth and innocence with the maturity of a lifetime". Edge commented in 2004 that "life would be so much simpler if you didn't know what you knew. All Because Of You is about that, in a way".
"If The Blackout is interpreted as a song about the existential threat to democracy, then Beautiful Day could be interpreted as a hope for better times despite the tough times"
It also musically is a fitting song to play as a song that lightens the load of what is in some way can be seen Bono's resurrection. An exultation of still being alive. According to Edge, the song "helped with the momentum and made you feel like you'd earned it when it had finally arrived."
The Innocence section - The Ocean, Iris, Cedarwood Road, Sunday & Until
Having introduced the Experience theme of the show and introducing the band with the early day songs, the show's narrative for the majority of the tour took turn to another important part of U2’s story. The story of Innocence, a significant part of the show and narrative.
While many hardcore U2 fans grumbled about the repetition of some of these Innocence songs, it's important to not forget that this is a pivotal moment of the show, showing "Bono’s turbulent childhood where he endured the loss of his mother amid horrid political violence around his hometown of Dublin. Cutting it would have meant removing the heart of the show." As mentioned before this show was always meant to be a pair with U2's previous tour and album, Songs of Innocence, so this part could not be omitted from the story as a whole.
Raised By Wolves was one of the songs that was quickly dropped from the Innocence section, with only 7 performances. Photo by Remy/U2start
The Innocence section of the show starts with The Ocean, a beautiful introduction to Iris during which Bono reminisces about his early childhood when his mother was still alive. The song segues into Iris, dedicated and named after his mother. Iris also pairs well with a song like Love Is All We Have Left which can be seen as the Experience twin song for Iris. This heart of the show also has the added impact of Bono finding himself and his background in this songs: "I don’t have very many memories from my early life." He was quoted as saying in 2005: "I’ve talked about this with my brother because he doesn’t have that many either. When my mother died, my father didn’t talk about her, at all ever. So as a result of her being erased from memory, I think a lot of other stuff went with her".
"Iris and Love Is All We Have Left can be seen as twin songs where the latter is the Experience version"
Cedarwood Road brings Bono back to the street he grew up in and Sunday Bloody Sunday brings him back to the time in his life where he escaped from death by not taking the bus to school.
"Song For Someone and Raised By Wolves are clamoring for spiritual help navigating challenges, only in the latter to find out the strength comes within you"
The Innocence section ends with Until The End Of The World, which is a perfect song to act as a bridge between Innocence and Experience. "It's got references to mortality and to all the big questions (Edge, Rolling Stone)".
From mother to father - Dirty Day
The Songs of Innocence songs and section of the show talks about U2’s early days and times of innocence. It’s about their childhood, about the loss of Bono and Larry’s mother. Later in the tour this was replaced with a story about the band U2. About how they ended up in U2 but also how the band experienced difficult times during the recordings of Achtung Baby.
Dirty Day was introduced late in the tour in Dublin, a fitting place to debut the song which is so much and so clear about a father talking with his son. In this tour it’s not just a homage to their fathers but also sort of an apology. It starts with Bono talking about Ireland in the seventies, and how this was not the happiest place with all kinds of troubles. Innocent times for four Irish boys and how man daring to believe that at the far end of Experience we can still recover that Innocence.
"If you look at Dirty Day in the bigger picture of the two tours you can actually see the transition of I&E to E&I as shows which went from being about mother to coming to terms with father"
Photos: Mark Reed & Cind75
Later Bono realized that his father was not in the way. "He just wanted solid ground for his son. Tonight, I thank him for his patience. He thought to dream was to be disappointed, he didn’t want that for me. And more than that I want to say to my father, I’m sorry."
If you look at this song in the bigger picture of the two tours you can actually see the transition of Innocence and Experience to Experience and Innocence as shows which went from being about mother to coming to terms with father and then back again to the mother. in 2006 Bono said about his father’s death: "When he (Bob) died, it was bringing me back, it was closing the circle, bringing me back to my mother’s death".
Four boys becoming men - The Berlin songs
When disaster struck in Berlin with Bono losing his voice during the show, new ideas emerged for the show. Ideas to replace the Innocence section of the show with something different. According to Willie Williams, U2 first played around with the idea of building a section out of songs about cities which explains the one-off performance of The Unforgettable Fire in Copenhagen. In the end it became a "Berlin Suite" about the city U2 would return to which would also be the location of the film shoot, a suite of songs telling a different chapter of the Experience and Innocence story.
The abruptly ended Berlin show was yet another reminder of the band’s mortality and the pace of human life. During the first few hours after the cancellation U2 even feared they were finished. Thoughts that might had them appreciate even more what they have, and what they can do. Not only happy to be alive but also happy to be able to sing, to perform and be together as a band doing what they love most. Something to not take for granted. A realisation that might have led them to tell another story, a story also originating from Berlin, the city they would return to. About a time when the band also was having struggles, struggles on different levels. About the band almost splitting up but coming together again. It was almost as if the events in Berlin were guiding U2 to change the narrative and tell these stories. The location, the events, the moment, it all came together.
"They use these Achtung Baby songs to help us unpack what we are politically and socially struggling through in 2018"
Zoo Station made its return when U2 switched from songs with a city theme to songs with a Berlin theme. Photo by Remy/U2start
These songs tell a story about "four boys becoming men", about four boys struggling with life and refusing to grow up. About four boys who discovered songs (such as One) to help them unite again and find themselves back. They also use these songs to help us unpack what we are politically and socially struggling through in 2018.
"We found ourselves at the end of the eighties in the city of Berlin as the walls come down, as the country is coming together. Unity is on everyone’s mind except unification is exactly what is not happening in our band. We are in Hansa studios fighting with each other. We can’t agree on anything. Berlin is a great city to get lost in. Getting lost is an important part of finding yourself. Boys refusing to grow up. Boys becoming men".
The Icarus myth - Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
While the band make themselves ready for the Experience section of the show, an intermission video is shown on the screen accompanied by the music of Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me sung by Gavin Friday. Inspired by the videoclip of the song, the video tells a story visualised as a comic strip showing the band stumbling through life. It's a story about finding innocence again on the other side of experience.
Pictures from HMTMKMKM single, by @LanceASchart
The song starts with Gavin Friday reciting William Blake’s "The Sick Rose", from his 1794’s Songs of Experience collection:
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
The comic depicts the young band being shown the way from innocence to experience by a stranger, who presents the business card of "Wormwood & Macphisto Inc. Bespoke Atonement Services", a reference to C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. The stranger gives the young band (the heroes) advice, which they are deaf to. But then, disaster strikes and our heroes start asking questions such as how will we be saved or what is the meaning of life? The stranger speaks with the ultimate advice that "wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience" before giving them a lift from Cedarwood Road to the city they are playing in.
The story is a retelling of the Icarus myth, which comes from the Greek mythology. In order to escape from prison, Icarus' dad attaches wings made of wood and feathers with wax on to their bodies. He then warns Icarus not to fly too high as the sun could melt the wax. But, of course, Icarus got overexcited and too self confident and ignores this warning. The wax subsequently melts and Icarus falls in the sea.
The "wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience" quote is a quote from David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God: Being, Conciousness, Bliss. Fellow fansite Atu2 recently published a great interview with David Bentley Hart who was unaware of the fact that U2 used his quote and also has some interesting observations on Blake, U2 and innocence and experience.
The comic ends with a "to be continued" message, leaving us wondering. What is next for our U2 heroes? Did they gain wisdom? More detailed analysis of the video and references can be found in this article by Scott Calhoun for Atu2.
The return of Mister MacPhisto
When U2 comes out of the screen after the intermission break it cannot go unnoticed that Bono is not Bono anymore. He is now Mister MacPhisto, a character introduced during ZooTV tour and now making a reappearance after 25 years. Bono actually has been trying to bring MacPhisto back for years, already for the Vertigo Tour (most likely for the ZooTV encore on the Vertigo Tour) and 360 (when they opened the shows with ZooTV songs). Various people associated with the band talked Bono out of it back then, but this time: MacPhisto, the gold suited, be-horned trickster who made those legendary phone calls from the Zoo TV stage all those years ago, is back!
To understand the character of MacPhisto we have to go back in time to what inspired Bono. "In Germany, Turks were being brutalized by skinhead gangs. All over Europe fascism was becoming a bit cool again, which is terrifying", Bono said at the time. In Madrid the band saw a man impeccably dressed one night waving at an imaginary audience. That was it for them! Gavin Friday designed the red horns and that was that.
Bono used a copy of C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters to toss into the crowd during Raised By Wolves. Even after Raised By Wolves was dropped from the show in 2018, fans spotted the book lying around before the show started. This book is key to understand this section of the show. The book, a series of letters, epistles even, in which the demon Screwtape advises his nephew Wormwood in the ways of securing the damnation of souls, was also one of the main sources of inspiration behind MacPhisto.
Bono used a face filter to look like the old MacPhisto with the horns. Something which was actually Bono's own idea. Photo by Remy/U2start
The first hint of the return of MacPhisto comes during the intermission video which you can read about in the previous section. There’s a quote attributed to Edward de Bono, "Mock the devil, and he will flee from thee." It is adapted from the New Testament Epistle Of James, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."
The Edge had said that they weren’t going to mention Trump by name, and they don’t, but there can be little doubt at whom MacPhisto’s reappearance is aimed. (Hotpress)
Screwtape, at one point in the book, describes his symbol for hell to Wormwood as "something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern." MacPhisto has returned at a time when he can be most effective and is a powerful instrument for Bono to say things that he normally can't say as Bono. He needs to go in character and use sarcasm and mocking to tell his message.
The transition of MacPhisto, from Tulsa, New York, Paris to Manchester. The teeth are the most notable change over time.
Lacking the golden suit, horns and shoes this time MacPhisto has an iPad face filter to really transform into a scary devil on the screen with a wrinkled and beaten up face. MacPhisto would occasionally ask for a dermatologist in his speeches, which is interesting as the face filter has changed over time. The opening night showed a wrinkled and beaten up face with a cracked and peeled skin, but as the tour progressed, MacPhisto has actually started to look worse. MacPhisto's top hat got more beaten up, the surface of his skin cracked and peeled, and a cavernous blemish appeared on his right cheek. It is a way for MacPhisto to become "darker and destroyed" as the tour progresses, both by design and serendipity.
The seven deadly sins - Desire
The American shows featured a pair of songs that thematically fit together very well: Desire and Acrobat. According to Bono (or MacPhisto) Experience tells you what you think you want reflected in Desire, with Acrobat being a correction to those desires.
When talking about Desire, MacPhisto often refers to and starts his MacPhisto speech with something in the lines of "Desire, greed, lust, deceit, vanity — all the essentials for a showman." What MacPhisto refers to here are elements of the seven deadly sins, something which is visualised as well on the video floor on the e-stage during the performance of Desire.
The seven deadly sins wheel on the video floor during Desire
The video, as shown in the photo, shows the so-called "Seven deadly sins wheel". The seven deadly sins is a grouping and classification of vices within Christian teachings. According to the standard list, they are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.
Chapter called Vertigo - Even Better Than The Real Thing
The European leg of the tour featured the return of Even Better Than The Real Thing, a song which also made a nightly appearance in 2015. This time it is MacPhisto singing the song and it features two interesting speeches which tell us something about experience and about the band. "Even Better Than The Real Thing as a song was written about where people live right now, about living in the present, in the now, and not looking to what’s around the corner. Something which is very dangerous politically, ecologically, in relationships and to the family" (Nial Stokes).
Bono introduces Even Better Than The Real Thing as the chapter in their lives called Vertigo, when it all went to their head, further addressing the period in their lives where they struggle with finding out who they are. "What being a rock and roll star does to the mind of a young man, being a star feeds you a lie that you want to believe. That you are much more interesting than real heroes like firemen or nurses".
"The Irish don't like an ego and feel like they can tell a Bono to reign it in a bit. The "I'm fucking Bono" is him not taking the advice and letting the ego run free"
What Bono/MacPhisto is trying to tell us here is common Irishness. The Irish don't like an ego and still feel like they can tell a Bono to reign it in a bit. The "I'm fucking Bono" is him not taking the advice and letting the ego run free. But not too much as he only claims to be be the best band from the North of Dublin rather than the world.
The heart of contradiction - Acrobat
The highlight of most die-hard fans of the night is when MacPhisto's speech segues into Acrobat. The speech always ends with "don't believe what you hear, don't believe what you see. If you just close your eyes, you can feel the ENEMY!". The song, never played live prior to May 2018, reminds us we can "feel the enemy." But "the enemy" is how Screwtape refers to Jesus, so the message is scrambled.
The live debut of Acrobat in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo by Remy/U2start
Confusion reigns. As ever, U2 are at the heart of the contradiction. "Nothing makes sense, don’t let the bastards grind you down," is the defiant howl, before The Edge drives the message home with a screaming solo that comes from somewhere very dark indeed. (Hotpress)
"There's so much rage and frustration in that song, which is the ideal vehicle to express the confusion of this moment in history" - Willie Williams (Atu2)
"Acrobat is a song of experience. It's a song where an older more experienced Bono is looking back on his previous years, some could say his innocence years."
MacPhisto redeemed by the Landlady - The Best Thing
When Acrobat ends it is time for MacPhisto to say goodbye for the night and to slowly become Bono again. He turns to the mirror, takes off his hat and his make-up and talks to Ali, his wife, who is the person that puts his feet back up on the ground. Here we see the darkness of MacPhisto being redeemed by the Landlady before he goes and sings a song about her: You're The Best Thing About Me.
MacPhisto turning into Bono after Acrobat, by Remy/U2start
The song deals with the duality of loving someone/something that for whatever reason you really can’t be with. But after the chaos and darkness of Desire/Even Better, Acrobat, MacPhisto et al, it is this introspection that is very human, and creates a connection with any of us who has ever come back from a dark place.
Political blindness - Staring At The Sun
The story stays in relative calmness with Staring At The Sun, played during the North American leg of the tour. As the footage from Charlottesville plays on the big screen, Bono repeats again and again the refrain "happy to go blind." "MacPhisto has gone, his second coming work is done, the rough beast is loose. Anything can happen. That was never going to be the end of the story though. U2 have always held on to an unshakeable belief in the idea of America." (Hotpress)
"Staring at the sun and not wanting to be involved and not wanting to take a position doesn’t seem like a good option" - Adam
Dark clouds - Summer Of Love
The song changed for the European leg of the tour but the overall theme remained intact for this spot in the setlist. Both songs fit into this context which Adam referred to as the dark cloud sitting over the world. Bono earlier referred to Summer Of Love as a "love song with a pungent dark clouds crouching over it".
Whereas Staring At The Sun speaks about with American issues within this time, Summer Of Love speaks about European ones. The song addresses the refugee crisis in Europe and are "about people running for their lives on the same Mediterranean that we’re running through the shallows".
"Both Summer Of Love and Staring At The Sun fit into this context which Adam referred to as the dark cloud sitting over the world"
Not surprisingly, this section induced the most criticism from many fans who don’t necessarily agree that either Europe (Brexiteers) or the U.S need to have flexible borders and be part of a globalist society. The giant barricage with its LED glory and the obvious message of these songs, did create some reticence from part of U2’s fanbase. Especially in places like Oklahoma, Nebraska and Georgia.
An ode to America and Europe - Pride through City Of Blinding Lights
Just as the images of the Charlottesville white supremacist rally end during Staring At The Sun in North America we see in the screens an America divided, fighting with each other in chaos and turmoil while we hear the first notes of Pride (In The Name Of Love) and the "Ode to America" arch begins. This section of the narrative that ends with City of Blinding Lights offers us a different side of America, a country that is fighting right now against tribalism, xenophobia and racism. As we hear Bono singing about Martin Luther King, an iconic leader for equality, civil rights and integration 50 years ago we also see some of the civil movements that are taking shape in America right now: marches for women’s rights, immigration and justice. This is the song where Bono reminds everyone to keep the American Dream alive, with their eyes wide open, and invites people from all political sides to forget about petty differences and reconstruct America.
In Europe we can see videos of refugees in boats escaping from places which have become inhabitable and shattered by war, images of xenophobia and racism. The narrative is similar to the one in North America where we see a different side of Europe, which looks disunited and acting in contrast with the beliefs it was founded on. Pride is a song where Bono reminds us that this (referring to the videos on the screen) is not who we are. That this is not the Europe we share. That we should come together and unite.
The American flag as shown during American Soul, photo by Kéké LMB
As a follow-up, Get Out Of Your Own Way picks up where Pride ended. From the bleak landscape portrayed during Staring At The Sun and Summer Of Love, we are now glimpsing some hope, a message to ignore what separates us and fight for what we once had and took it for granted. In difficult times, a kiss can have the same revolutionary power as a fist.
The "be-attitudes" that end Get Out Of Your Own Way and serve as a prelude to American Soul during the North American leg of the tour serve as a sarcastic commentary of the values that society puts above everything else, such as greed, fame or money: "Blessed are the filthy rich. For you can only truly own what you give away, Like your pain".
"American Soul is a song to remind America of the things about itself that the world gives thanks for and an urgent reminder to keep those things the priority in its future" - Steve Stockman
The counterpart of American Soul for the European leg is New Year's Day, where U2 replaced the American flag with the European flag to remind us a message of hope that Europe is blessed and that these bright yellow stars may never fall on our heads. A message particularly well received in the United Kingdom. New Year's Day is a song that talks about problems in places such as Poland in the early 1980s, or Ireland and the division between it. But there is hope that "I will be with you again" and "we can be one". Some very fitting lyrics in the context of Europe.
"What we’re doing in this show is we’re trying to end on ‘City of Blinding Lights’ and to make that a finale because that feels like a wholesome sentiment in this context. It’s a song of innocence, to an extent, that started out as an innocence song, but it has some gravitas." - Bono
The important messages - One and Love Is Bigger
The final part of the show has songs which are important. Important to the band, to the audience. Songs with a message and a meaning, the final songs are messages from U2 to those listening. Something that you can take home.
One of course is such a song, not only U2's most famous song but also a song of hope, a song that brings people together. The song has a unique effect. Based solely on the narrative of the show, the song takes on a very powerful and unique meaning on a visceral level. It is not technically the best live version of the song (Bono doesn’t play guitar in it anymore and the crowd sings the first third for example), but because of the exhausting journey we have taken with the band, singing "we get to carry each other, carry each other" comes more as catharsis for 18.000 souls than a simple sing-a-long.
The Edge playing Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way with a photo of his daughter on his shirt. The song is a message to their children, about what they want their families to know at the end of life. Photo by Remy/U2start
Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way is a song where U2 tells us what they want their families to know at the end of life - the stuff that matters, the things to be grateful for. A song played with the bands children appearing on the screen, or in Edge’s case even on his shirt.
Full circle - 13 (There Is A Light)
The show ends with ‘13’ (There Is A Light), a slow ballad to end the night which is not a very U2 thing to do. It is imperative to the narrative however, as this brings the show full circle again and another example of experience and innocence being intertwined.
"Bono has been through all experience, seen the truth, and is now passing on the wisdom - which he said would be the only way to find innocence again"
"Ending on this song is really not a U2 thing to do. Traditionally, we would end on a big crescendo. This is a very contemplative place to bring people. And that’s OK." - Edge (Rolling Stone)
"Finding innocence at the other side of experience". Bono taking the light out of his childhood Cedarwood Road house. Photo by Remy/U2start
U2’s choice for the outro music is also interesting and connecting with the story and ‘13’ in particular. Many shows in 2018 for instance ended with "This must be the place" by the Talking Heads, which features lyrics such as "Home is where I want to be..". The final leg of shows ended with a remix of The Miracle (of Joey Ramone), the opening song of the Innocence & Experience show. In Dublin Bono made it even more full circle as he was humming The Miracle while he made his way out.
The Innocence & Experience journey started with a light and The Miracle (of Joey Ramone), and it ended with the very same thing.
Putting it all together - The journey home
When the tour started and fans began to understand the narrative of the Experience and Innocence shows some were not happy about this as it might lead to stagnant setlists. However, it is important to understand that U2 has always been a band that used a narrative to build their shows. They never were a "jukebox band" as U2start member Bloodraven outlined in his article earlier in 2018.
The band needs a reason to go out and needs to have something to tell. And in the end it is not one story told by one person. It is as with U2’s music in general, there are many ways to interpret it and many ways to relate to the songs and the stories. Also many of the greater stories written start off with one perspective but end up meaning something else over time. Very true for U2’s music. It takes time to understand what songs really mean and this is different per person.
To understand the Innocence and Experience shows and the Experience and Innocence shows as a whole we can identify two common themes. These are "home" and "light". Words used in many of the songs and visuals used across the shows. The narrative of the show is themed around the complexity of live as an adult and the final journey (home) towards the light. (IQ Magazine)
The heavy emphasis on "home" during the show also shows a progression of the word for the band. The word is present in almost every album, found extensively as a place of peace, liberation and reckoning. From 11 O'Clock Tick Tock (I hear the children crying,Take me home) to Fire (When I call out, I feel some fire, fire, I'm going home) and to the recent decades with Walk On (Home - hard to know what it is if you never had one, Home - I can't say where it is, but I know I'm going Home - that's where the hurt is) it is clear the band longs to be there, and it could very well be spiritually as well. So when Bono walks off the stage at the end of ‘13’ (There Is a Light) he is literally coming back to that place after the turmoil and darkness in parts of this particular show.
"As time went by and as real life continued to intrude, we came to realize that perhaps the journey we were talking about was the soul’s ultimate voyage: that post-mortem walk toward the white light in the distance." - Willie Williams (tour book)
He tells his children and in this case his son to be careful that darkness will gather around your light, that he should just hold on and keep going strong while he himself walks off into the dark, into the unknown, while still singing. We don’t see Bono anymore as the show finishes, he is gone, but his voice stays telling his son that he is someone like him, that this cycle will repeat again, and again, forever.
This article is the result of more than half a year of work and research and is written by Remy, Jaime R, César Garza, Ali Shafti, Joyce, Joe Ahorro, Matt G and Gerard with input, thoughts and content from many other fans, fansites, journalists and other sources. We would like to thank the writers and the other fans who helped us providing information, corrections, references and ideas. Some of the information is this article are individual theories/speculation and not factual information. We welcome your own thoughts in our forums in this dedicated forum topic. We tried to give credit where credit is due but if you feel your or a reference is missing, feel free to let us know for us to include.
Appendix: Innocence and Experience songs
Taken from the setlist wheel as pictures in the 2018 tour book.
Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
Raised By Wolves
Until The End of the World
Lucifers Hands/ I Will Follow
Punk Cover/ Out of Control
All Because of You/ Fast Cars
Every Breaking Wave
All I Want Is You
Where The Streets Have No Name
Even Better Than The Real Thing
This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now
Two Shots of Happy/ Stay
Ordinary Love/ The Sweetest Thing
Velvet Dress/ A Man and a Woman
Stuck In A Moment
Love Is Blindness
Bullet The Blue Sky
One Step Closer
City of Blinding Lights
New Year's Day
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
Sleep Like A Baby Tonight (Bad)
Every Breaking Wave
With Or Without You
Song for Someone
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The article The narrative of U2's Experience & Innocence show was first published on U2start.com by Remy.
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