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U2 performs two nights this week at Chicago's United Center as part of its "Songs of Experience" tour, which opened in Tulsa earlier this month. (PHOTO: Danny North)

After exploring "Innocence," U2 turns to "Experience" at Chicago show

CHICAGO – Though U2 continues to elude Milwaukee these days, the Irish quartet has been making regular visits to Chicago, including a pair of shows this week as part of its "eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE" tour, in support of its latest record, "Songs of Experience."

The band performed at Soldier Field last year during its "The Joshua Tree" 30th anniversary tour, and did a five-night run at the United Center during its "iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE" tour two years before, on the heels of its then-new record, "Songs of Innocence."

Meanwhile, U2 hasn't been back to Brew City since a gig at the Bradley Center during its "Vertigo" tour in 2005. The group also performed at the Bradley Center in May 2001 and played The Palms nightclub in 1981. Maybe the opening of the new Bucks arena will change that next time the band hits the road.

At the moment, the current tour – which opened May 2 in Tulsa – is slated to run through at least mid-November. The U.S. dates continue through early July, with a European leg kicking off at the end of August.

The second show of a two-night stint takes place tonight at the United Center. We were at the first show, on Tuesday night, and thanks to familiar staging, it felt like we had arrived with a little experience, too.

"Songs of Experience," released last December, is the band's 14th studio record and is a companion to 2014's "Songs of Innocence," the titles of which were inspired by William Blake's poetry collection, "Songs of Innocence and of Experience."

The two records are tied together not only by their titles but by two versions of a song that is called "Song for Someone" on "Innocence" and "13 (There is A Light)" on the new disc.

Reviews of the latest LP have been all over the board, ranging from Rolling Stone's 4.5-star review to Pitchfork's 5.3 out of 10 rating.

I fall somewhere between those extremes.

Sonically, "Songs of Experience" doesn't mine that classic U2 sound with The Edge's chiming delay-affected guitar as much as its predecessor did. In fact, bits of it have a relatively lo-fi vibe for a band that has rarely strayed too far from the effects rack in the studio. That's refreshing.

At the same time, I've found it more difficult to latch onto many of these songs and commit them to memory than I did with the material on "Innocence," which boasted a thematic unity I haven't uncovered yet as readily here and a number of melodies that wormed their way into my head.

So, I was curious to see if hearing these new songs live would draw me in more profoundly.

As I mentioned earlier, the show seemed familiar. We had experience with it, you might say, since the stage, runway and remote "E Stage" were basically the same as during the "Innocence" tour three years ago in the same venue.

Some of the on-screen graphics, most notably during "Cedarwood Road," were also familiar.

But that didn't mean it wasn't interesting. For example, there was that moment that Bono toppled, something many of us couldn't see in the darkness from our vantage points:

... and some folks bumped into George Lucas, though, again, not us:

Of the new material, "The Blackout" felt more dramatic than its recorded version and the acoustic reading of "You're The Best Thing About Me" had a tenderness the CD version cannot boast.

The song that ended the night – "13 (There is a Light)," which Bono described as a kind of lullaby – was a definite highlight. So was "Acrobat," one of the gems of 1991's "Achtung Baby," which made its Chicago debut Tuesday night, to the delight of fans.

That said, you'll be unsurprised to hear that the songs that drew the most enthusiastic response were the hits: "Pride (In the Name of Love)," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "I Will Follow," "Beautiful Day," "One."

If the show didn't feel completely new, it didn't suffer much from familiarity, either, and all these years later, U2 seems to still possess a nearly boundless energy that can't help but energize an audience.

SETLIST
Love Is All We Have Left
The Blackout
Lights of Home
I Will Follow
Gloria
Beautiful Day
The Ocean
Iris (Hold Me Close)
Cedarwood Road
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Until the End of the World

Intermission
Elevation
Vertigo
Desire
Acrobat
You're the Best Thing About Me (Acoustic)
Staring at the Sun (Acoustic)
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Get Out of Your Own Way
American Soul
City of Blinding Lights

Encore
One
Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way
13 (There Is a Light)

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