Live Review: U2 and Arcade Fire at Magnetic Hill, Moncton, Sat. July 30, 2011

It is not too often that my sleepy hometown of Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada gets to host a band the size of U2. Since their concert was announced this past winter, anticipation for last night’s show has been running high in the city.

If you can appreciate that Wikipedia pages have to be taken with a grain of salt, take a look at the Wiki page for the U2 360 Tour that began in 2009 and concluded just more than 9 hours ago (as of press time). The page will help you get an understanding of how bloody big this tour has been and why Moncton hosting the final date on their 2.5 year long tour is a crazy badge of honor for the city.

Last night’s show was a global event; people from all over the world came to Moncton. Bono said it on stage last night, “more than 7 million served” over the span of the U2 360 Tour, helping make the tour the biggest grossing of all time. Let’s face it, it is a record that U2 themselves will probably break the next time they decide to tour the world.

Around 7:30 last evening, Arcade Fire took to the stage, opening with Ready To Start from their Grammy-Award winning record The Suburbs before moving into Keep The Car Running. They delivered knockout after knockout, playing Month Of May and Rebellion (Lies) as if their lives depended on it. Simply put, these guys stole the show in my books. The energy and enthusiasm Arcade Fire had on stage was incredible. This wasn’t their crowd and it seemed to me like they went on stage consciously aware of the fact they stood to win a few fans if they played their cards right. I think it’s safe to say they accomplished that in Moncton on Saturday night.

While there is no way that Arcade Fire would have played to such a significant crowd (75,000 at the very least) had they come to Moncton on their own, Arcade Fire is a major band in their own right. In the past few days, they played to more than 7000 people in Halifax, Nova Scotia this past Thursday and then delighted a conservative 800 or so fans at the awesome SappyFest Music Festival in Sackville, NB on Friday night. I am seriously kicking myself for not having taken in one of their other shows while they were here in Atlantic Canada. Hopefully it won’t be long until they come back to the region.

Just before 9:30 last night, U2 walked on stage to thunderous cheers, opening their show with Even Better Than The Real Thing, The Fly and Mysterious Ways. Though there is no way you could keep everyone happy with the songs played last night, I personally thought that some of the band’s song choices a bit odd. The group intertwined decent newer songs like Get On Your Boots and Moment Of Surrender with “classic” songs like I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, With Or Without You and I Will Follow, but throwing Miss Sarajevo into the middle of the set effectively killed the momentum they had built up, or so I thought. I’m sure there are 74,981 people that will probably disagree with that statement, that the song was a part of the natural ebb and flow to any live show and in one way, I agree that not all shows can run on 10 for a full 2.5 hours.  So I’m moving on from that point now…

Visually, the U2 show was like nothing I have ever seen and that ended up being a big part of the experience as well. While I might not have enjoyed every freakin’ song the band played, I was more than happy to be watching the big screens and merely taking everything in. At point in their career, I think that U2 are acutely aware that getting up on stage with little in the way of fanfare or visual stimulation ain’t gonna fly. People have come to expect so much from the group’s concerts, God knows where they will take their live show from here. It’s going to be a hard tour to top.

On stage, Bono was chatty (which I thought was phenomenal) and by taking the time to thank the band’s management and the many people responsible for having brought the tour to 7 million faces, he showed the group was not simply going through the motions of this being just another rock show last night. Frankly though, as the show progressed, I think the enormity of the tour coming to a close weighed heavily on the band and I felt that it started to show. If U2 intended the final date of the 360 Tour to be a celebration, I thought that it was a subdued one in some ways.

And that is ultimately what I am taking away from the show. It was a great first date for U2 and I, but I think that after last night, my heart is definitely with Arcade Fire for the long haul.

Please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on the show.




24 Responses to "Live Review: U2 and Arcade Fire at Magnetic Hill, Moncton, Sat. July 30, 2011"

  1. David, a sincere thanks for taking the time to read my review. I was admittedly a little late getting on the Arcade Fire train but am really digging the band.

    All the best!

  2. I was at the concert last night as well, and I am going to have to agree with you on all fronts. U2 did have a visually spectacular show, however, it failed to captivate me like some of the other “legends” I have seen play in the past.

    Certainly your points about odd set list the show losing momentum (especially near the end) are both salient and accurate. I think that when they played the ballad of Springhill was a highlight for me, it was a nice moment albeit far too short lived — I think everyone expected them to at least play the song in full and not just sing the chorus a couple times.

    Finally I want to echo your comments that Arcade Fire rocked my socks. They have insane energy and presence on stage… they must be on some kind of a strict cardio workout regime to be able to jump so much without getting out of breath or tired.

    Great interview,


  3. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts, Jason. I definitely have no regrets for going to the show but I think that when it came to U2, I was somehow expecting more from them. Sonically, they sounded excellent. They are a great live band but something just seemed to be missing last night.

  4. Excellent review by Ken Kelley – I agree with most of this. Many people who were experiencing U2 for the first time may not have noticed the subdued performance last night due to the larger than life stage and production. Having seen them three times previously , I agree they weren’t on top of their game last night. We can speculate on the reasons why but anybody who has played in a band can attest to the fact that there are nights where things just don’t seem to click. Often times there’s no explanation for it, it just happens. What’s clear is that these four guys played their final show of a mammoth two year tour last night. They’re in their 50’s now and it would be understandable if mental and physical fatigue was a factor, notwithstanding Bono’s recent back surgery. While it wasn’t perfect, it was still pretty damn awesome and I don’t regret going at all.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Larry. I was hoping to hear from someone who would have had prior U2 shows to compare their Moncton date to. I haven’t been so fortunate although given the opportunity, I would definitely not hesitate to see them again.

  6. Good review and comments…I still don’t “get’ Arcade Fire…it all sounded the same to me…but U2 was awesome…even if they were a bit off..I saw them three weeks ago in Montreal (the 2nd show) and the energy from the band and crowd was unbelievable…The crown was much more vocal and interactive in Montreal which to me made the show..Moncton didn’t compare to that show at all. It was a good show but not the best I’ve seen.

  7. Thanks for your comments Stephen! I have actually heard from a few different people now who have said that the energy and dynamic of U2’s show in Moncton wasn’t necessarily the same as other shows on the tour. Maybe the crowd’s response was to blame for the band’s performance? Hard to say…

  8. I don’t get Arcade Fire either (half the band looked to be on LSD while performing….), Carney was awe full ( I just hate those movie-style songs with no verse and bunch of yelling). U2’s performance was flawless, no other band will ever be able to match such a performance and concert. I never thought U2’s 360 show would be half of what The Rolling Stones’s show (i much prefer up beat rock and roll songs to slower tempo U2style); however the stage, light, spectacle, performance, The Edge’s notes bouncing everywhere , Bono’s energy, good mix of Bass and virtuosity of the drums, U2 360 was a lifetime trill to me and the best show I have experienced !!! No youtube video, or even watching the U2 360 DVD, could have prepared me for this. There is so much going on, energy is so high, it was unbelievable. I now better understand fans when I hear that some went to 50-60-75,100 U2 shows – nothing equals it!

  9. I think the crowd in Moncton was in awe of the band as it’s the biggest band to hit the area…Montreal is used to huge bands and I think the crowds in Montreal know how to respond to a show while we are still watching a show down here.

  10. Great review Ken!

    As for Arcade Fire looking like they were on LSD, one might think that- if they are used to performances like U2 gave that night. The energy and passion that Arcade Fire has displayed is as much in their stage presence as it is in their music. They are true performers and musicians, most of them playing multiple instruments, and always giving an uninhibited performance for their fans (even though they had concerts on the Thursday and Friday before U2).

    Sure, U2 had a great stage… but I didn’t go to see a light show. I’m a music fan and I was really disappointed in the set list, lack of energy from U2, and the fact that I felt like I was watching a “World Vision” commercial half the time. Maybe the thousands of people who left when I did, an hour before the concert finished, were just in awe?

  11. Steve – thanks for taking the time to leave your comments. Much appreciated – I love discussion.

    I can’t argue the fact that U2’s performance was technically sound. They sounded great and delivered more than faithful renditions of some of rock music’s best known songs.

    U2’s stage show is a spectacle in itself – I think that fans have come to expect it from them at this point in time and somehow, they keep raising the bar in terms of what they give their fans in concert. It’s safe to say that their show this past Saturday night in Moncton was like no other show I have seen before.

    I’m just throwing this out there but I truly wonder how many people are going to see U2 for the stage show versus going to see them because they are fans. I think you had a mix of the diehard and the curious alike come out to the show on Saturday.

    I think it would be interesting to throw U2 on a stage without the big screens and messages from Mark Kelly at the International Space Station and see what remains. They have a catalogue of songs that most bands would die to have in their arsenal and being a U2 fan, I would be just as likely to enjoy the stripped down live show as what I saw on Saturday night.

    U2 are undoubtedly one of the biggest, if not THE biggest band in the world and with that must come some complacency when it comes to playing live. But would the U2 360 World Tour have been as successful had they gone the route of a live show without the bells and whistles? Doubtful.

    I think why Arcade Fire’s performance resonated with me more than U2’s is because they are still hungry for success and I think this showed in their performance on Saturday night.

  12. Arcade Fire – brilliant. I was attending with people who’d never heard them before and they walked away fans.

    U2 – I’ve seen them twice before this show, and one of those times was near the start of the 360 tour in Boston. I agree that Saturday’s performance was not their best. I agree with your thoughts, Ken, that the enormity of the moment and the close of such a monumental tour weighed heavily on them. But any live performer knows that the energy of the crowd can also play a significant role in the energy coming from the band off the stage, and I felt that the energy from the Moncton crowd was not what the band was hoping for on their last tour date in a place they’ve never played before. Bono was constantly trying to pump the crowd up, get them singing, etc., and they would for a couple of minutes, but there was never any crowd momentum, never any really spontaneous bursts of energy from the crowd that would typically compel the band to up their game. At previous shows of theirs I’ve been to, the crowd would often continue singing songs like “Still Haven’t Found”, “Streets”, and “40” long after the band had actually finished the song. The singing actually got LOUDER after the band stopped. In Moncton, everyone seemed unsure if they were supposed to keep going, or just weren’t interested in it. In closing the night with “40” – the only time they played that song on the entire tour – I think Bono was hoping for endless choruses of “How long to sing this song?” from the crowd as the band walked off the stage one by one. He didn’t get that, and it felt like the concert ended on a bit of a subdued note.

    I could be completely wrong, and I doubt Bono would ever say it, but I think he and the band were hoping for more from us as their final crowd. Ultimately, it’s still their job to put on a great show, regardless of the crowd reaction, which I think they did, but it could’ve been so much more with better participation from us.

  13. Interesting points, Jason. I even commented to my wife that the crowd seemed a little subdued so maybe that really ended up playing into how the show unfolded. Funny, I even saw a comment on Twitter from someone saying how lame the crowd was. At first, I kind of defensively got my back up but then after I thought about it, I kind of had to agree.

  14. Agree with the crowd participation thing, there were a few cringe moments when the band reached out to the crowd and it just wasn’t there. Too bad. The set list was interesting. I was surprised when they opened with four straight songs from Achtung Baby (I didn’t mind, it’s one of my favorite U2 albums). It would have been great to have heard New Year’s Day, Bad or even Angel Of Harlem over the more obscure stuff like Miss Sarajevo, Zooropa and Get On Your Boots. Did anyone notice a lot of off key singing by Bono? It may have just been an attempt to breathe new life into the songs but it started to wear on me after awhile. A few pleasant surprises in the setlist – Out Of Control was awesome and ending the show with 40 was a nice touch. I would love to see a stripped down U2 show similiar to The Unforgettable Fire tour.

  15. Nice review…
    I came all the way from Montreal, to see Arcade Fire in Moncton and they did not deceive me (even if the did not play so long). Although I thought that the crowd was not super excited. I always had the feeling that I was the only one screaming and singing there songs. I told my self: “Well there are probably all U2 fan” but when U2 came along, the crowd did not respond as I thought it would, maybe because of the choice of song made by U2, or because of so much going on the stage?? And you should all come to the show of Arcade Fire in Montreal in September!!!

  16. Well, it looks like I’m going to be the lone voice here, but I have to wonder if you guys were all at the same concert that I was. I didn’t find the show subdued at all. Instead, it was emotional and heavy. Maybe what people were looking for was a big crazy romp where everyone jumps all over each other, but I look for intimacy and emotion, and that’s what we got on Saturday. With a crowd that big, the show somehow managed to feel close and intimate, and the gravity of the tour ending that night weighed on everyone, especially as the night went on.

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved Arcade Fire, but I think they set a bad precedent so everyone expected U2 to be wild and crazy on stage and felt let down when they weren’t. Arcade Fire are chaotic — that’s their stock in trade. U2 carefully construct their shows and everything they do has a purpose. U2 put on shows that make you feel while standing in a huge crowd that they’re singing specifically for you. I didn’t feel that from Arcade Fire. They were brilliant, of course, but I didn’t feel a connection with them. On the other hand, I felt like Bono was standing directly in front of me.

    The only down point in the setlist was I’ll Go Crazy. It just didn’t fit with the emotional aspect of the rest of the night. The talk about the “more obscure songs” like Miss Sarajevo, which was beautiful and haunting, indicates why the show didn’t work for everyone: it was for the die-hard fans, not those who only want to hear the band’s most popular songs.

  17. Don’t be afraid to be the lone voice, Whitney. I appreciate you taking the time to read my review and let me know what you thought of the show. 🙂

    Totally agreed with you on the “I’ll Go Crazy…” aspect of the show. In the bigger context of the concert, you are right: it didn’t fit. I’d much rather have heard the original version of the song instead a dance remix of it.

  18. Bono is one of those rare performers who can make tens of thousands buy into whatever he is selling. This despite today’s hype, YouTube video bites and play by play tweets, where we already think we know pretty much what’s coming. No small feat. Thirty plus years at or always near the top of the music business with its fickle fans on one side and jaded ones on the other, no fluke. U2 is the greatest band of its generation. That it along the way became such a grandiose one is the product or desire to continue taking it all on at such a lofty level. I don’t think they could exist as a band at less than that. We will see.

    I very much enjoyed the show and all the production that came with it. For some of us U2 fans who latched onto the group on the cusp on of 80’s it’s, I guess personal vindication and a little smirkish pride that the band we chose so long ago had arrived here in the Maritimes as iconic rock champions. And I for one totally got the closing of the show with “40”. It’s been a long journey, this tour and career. You never know what is in front of you.

    About half way through Arcade Fires set, I was taking back to 1985 and the Police Synchronicity tour. It was their final triumph as a band at the top of their carrier. On that night in Montreal, Talking Heads opened. They had already enjoyed their own measure of “indie” like success as an artsy 1970’s post punk band. On this night the expanded live version of T.H.was honing its act on the heels of the just released “Speaking in Tongues” album. This would evolve into the groups much acclaimed “Stop Making Sense” live album and film. Takings Heads ended up as one of the most celebrated bands of it’s time.

    The Police would go on to thrill me and the rest of the crowd with well played and beloved songs. All delivered with the high tech wizardry that the biggest rock acts of the day could bring with them. It was a great show by the trio but I could not for days, weeks, shake the utter joy and abandon that David Byrne and Co. brought to the stage that evening.

    Imagine my amusement when later on Saturday Night, Bono laying on the stage, murmuring lyrics from “Life During Wartime” and “Psycho Killer”.

    Saturday night belonged to U2 and their fans. The A.F. performance tough will linger for me when ever I look back at this concert. I was reminded that the future and life blood of modern music is in the prolific talent and exuberance of its youth.

    But for those fans that discovered them in places like “The Marquee”, don’t hold on to tight. They will go as far as they desire. Be proud they were your’s first. .

  19. Stephen, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and your experiences. That Police / Talking Heads show sounds like it would have been amazing!

    Timmy, Halifax blog The Broken Speaker posted the AF setlist at Magnetic Hill as this:

    Ready To Start
    Keep the Car Running
    No Cars Go
    The Suburbs
    The Suburbs Continued
    Month of May
    Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
    We Used To Wait
    Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
    Rebellion (Lies)
    Wake Up
    Sprawl II

    Taken from

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