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INGLEWOOD, Calif. – U2's latest live show included a call to fight AIDS, condemnation of the 1974 car bombings in Ireland, the voice of Stephen Hawking, high-tech stage gimmicks and just over two hours of music, including most of its 2014 album, "Songs of Innocence."
The Irish quartet brought its "Innocence & Experience" tour to the Forum Tuesday, the first of five nights in the Los Angeles area. Launched earlier this month in Vancouver, Canada, the North American and European tour continues through Nov. 15.
Performing together since 1976, front man Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. know how to put on a rock show. But they were lacking a little in energy and excitement for their opening LA performance, perhaps relying too heavily on the giant horizontal screens suspended above their high-tech stage.
As with U2s previous arena tours, the stage plays a starring role in the show. The massive screens worked for some numbers, such as Bono's autobiographical "Cedarwood Road," lending an effect that made him look like he was walking through a cartoon town. But when the foursome performed between the parallel screens during "Invisible" and "Even Better than the Real Thing," they appeared to be playing on TV, not live on stage.
Still, they hit all their marks and sounded album-tight. They opened with the new, "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)," and the old, "Electric Co.," from their 1980 debut. The set included such hits as "Vertigo," ''I Will Follow," ''Beautiful Day" and "With or Without You."
After "Bullet the Blue Sky," Bono held his hands above his head and said, "Don't shoot. I'm an American." While performing "Pride," inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., Bono called on the spirit of the late leader.
"Dr. King, we need you in Ferguson and Baltimore now more than ever," Bono said. "We need the spirit of nonviolence, the spirit of love."
The singer also lauded Irish voters for saying "love is the highest law" by legalizing same-sex marriage last week.
"They're putting the gay into Gaelic," he quipped.
The band was at its best when the gimmicks gave way to the music. Mullen marching with a snare drum gave new power to "Sunday Bloody Sunday," and a stripped-down version of "Every Breaking Wave," with Bono accompanied by the Edge on piano, was stirring.
A clip of Hawking's voice played before the band returned for its encore. He talked about the necessity of becoming "global citizens" as a tout for Bono's anti-poverty organization, One, flashed on the giant screens.
Bono also used the encore to discuss AIDS and an effort to end transmission of the disease between mother and child in the next five years. He sang a few bars of Paul Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion" to make the point before the band closed with "One."