Last December, U2 were slated to perform at KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas at the historic Forum, but the group had to cancel the gig after Bono suffered a bike accident a few weeks before. But on Thursday night in L.A., the world’s biggest rock band made good on their promise to play the show while in town for their current Innocence + Experience tour. The group took a break from their five-night run at the city’s larger Forum to deliver a high-energy set for 500 fans.
Much of the night was about looking back at some of their earliest, most enduring tunes. Just after 9 p.m., Bono and the Boys launched into “The Ocean,” from their 1980 album Boy, in front of a star-studded crowd that included everyone from Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith to Tom Morello and Courtney Love. From there, Bono, eternally cool sporting a black jacket and blue-tinted shades, led everyone into “11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” the Irish rockers’ second-ever single. And after a raucous rendition of “Electric Co,” Bono took a moment to ID his bandmates — as if no one in the audience knew who they were. While introducing Larry Mullen Jr., he said, “[This is] the man who got us our first gig and tries to keep us in line.”
Earlier this week, U2 suffered a tragedy when their longtime tour manager Dennis Sheehan suddenly died of a massive heart attack in L.A. And Bono took a moment to honor the legacy of their friend. “Dennis Sheehan, you can sense the love and best wishes we had the last 24 hours, from all over the world,” Bono said. “He actually had the dignity that our music espoused. He had that dignity.”
U2’s set wasn’t all somber—and the clear highlight came when they ripped through their classic “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.” After The Edge’s intense guitar solo, Bono ordered his background vocals to be cut out — and charged the crowd with singing the song’s titular hook. The group’s main set ended with another Boy cut, “Out of Control.”
But after U2 regrouped backstage for a minute, Bono returned to the stage and asked the crowd, “Does anyone know Spanish?” And if the energy couldn’t get more intense in the tiny, 500-capacity room, they suddenly launched into their massive anthem, “Vertigo.” Bono seemed thrilled to be in such an intimate space: he roamed from center stage to each side, occasionally needing the pit’s assistance to jump on the monitors. Then, he elevated the stakes by calmly trust-falling backward into the crowd.
“When writing songs,” Bono said before the night’s closer, “you don’t know what you’re writing about at the time.” He recounted a story about the group’s first tour stop in Malibu, California, when they tried to track down Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson’s house. “It’s another song about grief and the defiance that is the joy of rock and roll,” Bono shared before launching into “California (There Is No End to Love),” off last year’s record, Songs of Innocence.
U2 wrapped things up with a simple “Thank you!” just after 10 p.m., with Mullen sneaking off stage and Adam Clayton remaining the longest — save Bono — to move from stage left to right to high-five the faithful fans up front.
11 O’Clock Tick Tock
I Will Follow
The Electric Co.
Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Out of Control
Song for Someone
California (There Is No End to Love)
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece stated that U2’s December concert was scheduled for Los Angeles’ Roxy Theatre.