“We built this spaceship to be closer to you,” remarked Bono during U2’s set Saturday night (9.12.09) at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The show marked the beginning of the US leg of U2’s 360° world tour. The “spaceship” Bono was referring to is the massive structure that landed in the middle of this Chicago Bear’s football stadium. Oddly enough, it does, in fact, look like a spaceship. Known as “The Claw,” U2 brings the biggest stage ever created for a concert tour, and while it may not have physically brought the band members closer to those in attendance, the audio and visual effects from this stage design made the show intimate for all 80,000 people inside the stadium. I could go on and on about this stage, but what mattered this night was not the stage itself, but what went down on it…

At 8:40pm David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” blared through the speakers and smoke oozed out of the Claw. SHOW TIME! U2, arguably, the biggest band in the world right now, and one of the indisputable all time greats, is one of few acts that can fill 80,000 seats during an economic downturn such as the one the country is going through right now. Their shows sold out in a matter of a minutes, and if you wanted a good seat, there certainly was not a stimulus package.

Joining Bono, Larry Mullen Jr. (drums), Adam Clayton (bass), and The Edge (guitar) entered the stage one by one and grabbed hold of their respective instruments. The show started off with an electrifying version of “Breathe” that got the 2+ hour set off and running. Right out of the gate with songs from the latest album, ‘No Line On The Horizon’ (7 of the album’s 11 tracks played in all), Bono and company ripped through a set loaded with tunes off of the Irish quartet’s most recent albums with some older gems mixed in to delight even the die-hard fans. The album’s title track, the searing guitar and thundering bass on “Get On Your Boots,” and recent single “Magnificent” all really got the crowd going for what was the beginning of an exciting evening. The new album has not generated the buzz of some of the band’s older releases. It’s no ‘The Joshua Tree,’ or hell, not even up to snuff with 2005’s ‘How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,’ but in a live setting the new songs really came to life with a rhythm section that thundered through like it was the last night U2 would ever be on stage. With thhe Edge’s soaring, glassy, tingling guitar work, which was as on point as I’ve ever seen, and Bono’s distinct vocals, (even with his tendency to get into his sing/speak mode) U2 sounded as youthful and energetic as ever.

A brief nod to the city of Chicago led into one some of U2’s biggest hits of the last decade+ including “Beautiful Day,” (with a bit of the Beatles’ classic “Blackbird” mixed into the ending) and a raucous version of “Elevation” that had everyone elevated to their feet from the field to the $40 seats at the top of the stadium. Following that came a slowed up version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” during which the band quieted down for the only time all night to let the crowd start off the song. Bono thanked the opening band, Snow Patrol, gave another nod to Chicago, noting it’s the only place U2 wanted to be for this US tour opener, and finally introduced the friends he has shared a stage with for 30 plus years, each member getting a louder ovation than the last. “There’s no room for modesty here tonight. This could be the best night of our lives,” he said, never at a loss for words.

Cameras from all angles captured just about every move, strum, and facial expression of the band. I’m not sure who the handyman behind all this was, but he did a phenomenal job of editing for the 360 degree monitor so that even the cheap seats could see every move “up close.”

“Unforgettable Fire” was a welcome throwback to the 1984 album of the same name. “City of Blinding Lights” was accompanied by marvelous light show, climaxing with white lights shooting high into the sky above from the top of the Claw. With every hit played, the volume seemed to get louder and louder. I’ve never experienced this type of sound outdoors, and again, the engineers behind the stage and sound system really outdid themselves. A highlight of the night for many, a disco like take on “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” brought back fond memories of the ‘Pop’ era.

“Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Pride,” and “Walk On” led to a set closing “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Edge’s guitar work this evening was spot on, flowing expertly alongside Adam Clayton’s bass and Larry Mullen Jr.’s pounding of the drums. There was no holding back on this tune, leaving the crowd hungry for more.

“One” got the encore off to a phenomenal start, followed by “Bad,” another welcome favorite to the set list. After a quick wardrobe change, Bono emerged in a black suit lined with red lights, and as a red-lit steering wheel shaped microphone descended like a boxing ring mic, Bono clung on as the band played another older cut, “Ultraviolet (Light My Way),” during which a disco ball emerged atop the lightning rod type centerpiece shooting high above the Claw, creating a light show like one has never seen before…unless you’ve seen U2. “With Or Without You” was accompanied with yet more lights. Bono asked the crowd to light up their cell phones to “create the milky way.” It was quite a site on a clear September evening, giving one the feeling of being in space.

Closing the show, “Moment of Surrender,” one of the best written tunes on the latest album, meant it was time for the band to bid adieu to the 80,000 strong, still wanting more and not letting up with thunderous applause. As “Rocket Man” played as exit music on the sound system, one couldn’t help but think this really was one of the best nights of their life and had most wondering where it would take them next.