The stage for U2’s “Experience + Innocence” tour — with its two-sided catwalk screen, encompassing Bono or anyone else walking down its length — is the same. The set lists, while emphasizing the band’s latest release, have a general similarity, down to playing a “Zooropa”-era classic during the “halftime” intermission.
When fans attended U2’s “Innocence + Experience” tour in 2015, they may not have known that they were seeing the first half of a production spanning four years, a career’s worth of albums, and one central theme: The regaining of innocence through experience. The “second leg” of that show, now the “Experience + Innocence” tour, which comes to Madison Square Garden on June 25 and 26, and July 1 (along with a brief detour to Newark’s Prudential Center on June 29), brings the band full circle and holds on to hope for a new generation.
What this leg of the tour doesn’t feature is a reliance on hits from the past. The Irish foursome clearly got their fill of “The Joshua Tree” during last year’s 30th anniversary tour and celebration of the record; according to Setlist.fm, U2 has not performed a single song from that album on this tour. Instead, “Acrobat,” a song never-before performed live, gets a near-nightly slot, and “Staring at the Sun” from the neglected “Pop” gets a stripped-down arraignment. If “The Joshua Tree” tour was a party for everyone, “Experience + Innocence” nods toward the band’s biggest fans, those still enthused by new material (thus far, the set list pulls almost half of its songs from the tour’s two namesake records.)
The biggest difference between the two tours, then, is also the biggest difference between those two albums, “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience.” The former focused inward, with songs about Bono’s mother, childhood fascination with the Ramones, and other reflections on times passed. “Experience,” meanwhile, looks out into a world that could really use a hug (“You’re the Best Thing About Me”) or a shot of empathy (“American Soul”).
Put together on this tour to form the “second half” of the live experience, the two albums connect at the ends to form a full circuit, from childhood to adulthood and ending on parenthood, with a message from Bono to his (and by extent, the listener’s) kids: “Are you tough enough to be kind?” It’s a plea for innocence, from one with a lifetime of experience.