DALY CITY — Dreamforce, the high-stakes tech conference/theme park/party that takes over San Francisco for one week in the fall has grown larger and larger each year. Never before has its attention-grabbing Dreamfest concert, previously headlined by the likes of Bruno Mars and Green Day, approached the level of excitement of the conference itself.
U2’s presence was inescapable Wednesday. The biggest band in the world was playing at one of the biggest tech conferences in the world.
“It’s a very, very incredible concert,” conference attendee Antonio Altuso said. The Italian citizen said there was no way he would miss a chance to see the 22-time Grammy award winners. However, there were plenty who cared more about the party atmosphere than the band on stage.
Why would U2 play to thousands of tech and business employees, a good chunk of whom fell in a much younger demographic? There are three reasons. The most obvious is the Salesforce connection. The tech company is sponsoring the band’s current “Innocence and Experience Tour.” Additionally, the band is close to CEO Marc Benioff, who has supported Bono’s (RED) campaign. Finally, the event, also known as The Concert for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, doubled as a fundraiser for the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, a worthy cause for the socio-conscious band.
Business and tech employees in the Bay Area know how to help America grow, and they also know how to give, Bono said.
Dreamfest, held at the Cow Palace, was open to conference badge holders and those who forked over $1,000 for a ticket, as well as a few dozen U2 fans who got creative and bought or borrowed badges from those who opted to skip the concert, which had 30,000 to 55,000 in attendance. Despite such a large scale, the event appeared to have gone off without a hitch.
The show was a return to the Cow Palace for U2, who last played there in 1987 during their Joshua Tree tour. For their part, U2 mostly played it safe with the hits during the 90-minute, 15-song set. Performing on a 10-foot-high stage, below a massive video screen and a faux-neon marquee that made visual references to both U2’s current tour and the Geneva drive-in theater, which used to be located at the site of the concert.
The song selection was picked to appeal to the casual fan, with favorites like “Vertigo,” “Elevation,” “Beautiful Day” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Many of the transitions and visuals were similar to what the band used on its last pass through the Bay Area last year.
“What a treat; what a gift,” conference attendee Jessica Halverson said afterward. Halverson, who works for a San Francisco philanthropic foundation that writes grants to charities, was attending her first Dreamforce concert, and admitted that U2 set the bar high.
It stands to reason that the highlights came in the updates U2 made to their abbreviated setlist. “California,” a track off their most-recent album, 2014’s Songs of Innocence, was preceded by a snippet of The Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin.’” The concert concluded with a rare rendition of “40,” the diehard fan favorite in which guitarist The Edge and bassist Adam Clayton switch instruments. But the moment that will have everybody talking today is the use of a manipulated video of presidential candidate Donald Trump during an extended “Bullet The Blue Sky.”
The frontman took multiple swipes at Trump’s wall, his ego and his vision. It was, quite frankly, the angriest U2 has been in a while. Fans weren’t sure whether to boo or cheer when The Edge dug into his signature solo in the bridge. The following song, “Pride (In The Name of Love), featured a video of Martin Luther King, Jr., providing a stark contrast to Trump that was hard to ignore.
Bono also took time to appeal to the philanthropists in attendance, naming off everyone from Melinda Gates to Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who led the charge for HIV and AIDS treatment. Answering a question he himself asked — why is U2 still together? — he said it was due to “unfinished business.” More wrongs to right, more ways to help.
The Bay Area’s MC Hammer and will.i.am of The Black Keys performed inside the Cow Palace following U2’s set.
“I Will Follow”
“Beautiful Day” (“Zooropa,” “Blackbird” snippets)
“California (There Is No End to Love)” (“California Dreamin’” snippet)
“Angel of Harlem”
“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”
“Every Breaking Wave”
“Bullet the Blue Sky”
“The Hands That Built America” into “Pride (In the Name of Love)”
“One” (“My Sweet Lord” snippet)
“Mother and Child Reunion”
“Where the Streets Have No Name”
“With or Without You”
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”