As U2 closes its 8 concert run at Madison Square Garden tonight, we look back at their greatest MSG show.
Although New York has been the site of multiple U2 triumphs from their first US show at The Ritz in December 1980 to the surprise Brooklyn Bridge performance in November 2004, the world was suddenly a different place when U2 took over the city and the Madison Square Garden stage from October 24-27, 2001, the month after terrorists leveled the World Trade Towers, killing over 2,600 victims in and around the Towers.
The October 25th U2 show is the classic of the lot, and one of the most monumental rock shows in the Garden’s storied history, up there with the Stones’ 1969 and 1972 shows, the 1971 Bangladesh concerts, Zeppelin’s 1973 run, and the 1988 Atlantic Records 13 hour marathon. Some would also include Phish’s 1995 New Year’s Eve concert to that lofty list.
As the crowd grew restless after the opening set by Garbage, the angst was palpable and the house PA reminded us all that it was 20 years ago (not exactly) today, that U2 first came to NYC, to the strains of Sergeant Pepper, as the band entered the stark stage to the lead off track from their then latest album, Elevation. The pent up anger, fear, and frustration of the collective found its perfect release as the house jumped and rocked. Elevate Me!!! Bono kept giving the new material highlights with an even higher aspiration of beauty and hope as they tore into Beautiful Day. Touch Me! And take me to the higher place! Teach me love!
Jesus, this is Judas. Next is Until the End of the World, with every song, every lyric, taking on new meaning in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The band is ferocious and empathetic at once, feeling the crowd, feeding off the crowd, and exploding with passion back. A lost wandering searching crying “love love love love.” With the first (nearly) overt reference to 9/11, Bono ends the song with a flash of Two Tribes.
The setlist for this third leg of the tour was modified to address the recent terrorist strikes, by adding New York, Angel of Harlem, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, and Marvin Gaye's What’s Going On.
The show built to its emotional crescendo as victims’ names were scrolled on the screens during the final songs One and Walk On. The crowd could not hold it back any longer as most openly and uncontrollably wept. Catharsis at last.