You can still find U2's spirit amid its spectacle

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Orlando Sentinel

When Desmond Tutu and a guy literally in outer space only qualify as extras, it's an understatement to call U2's 360º Tour a big production.

Everything about Friday's two-hour show at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa was out-of-this-world in stature. It started with the attendance, a record crowd of more than 72,000 that exceeded this year's Super Bowl turnout.

And the numbers are equally astounding for the smoke-belching, "spaceship" stage that occupied about half the field. The 170-ton contraption came equipped with giant runways, rotating walkways, massive claw-like arms to support more than 200 speakers, a giant circular video screen and a spire that poked toward heaven.

It's called the "spaceship," but that nickname became more than just figurative when Bono introduced a video segment with Cirque du Soleil founder and current space tourist Guy Laliberte.

The short interview was part of a worldwide TV/Internet special from the International Space Station to raise interest in preserving the world's water resources.

Enlightening it wasn't.

How did the Earth look to the space traveler, Bono asked. "So great, but also so fragile," Laliberte reported.

Of course, there was music, too. The band devoted ample time to its new No Line on the Horizon, opening with a purposeful "Breathe" and then the harder-rocking "Get On Your Boots."

That song and the deft dance-mix transformation of "Ill Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" showed that the new stuff can match the intensity and style of the hits. At other points -- in the title track and "Magnificent," for instance -- the magic just wasn't there.

Even on the big hits ("I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Beautiful Day," "Mysterious Ways"), Bono and the band seemed at times detached from the enormous crowd.

When Bono talked, it was with a purpose. He dedicated "Walk On" to jailed Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a message reinforced by a procession of audience members wearing masks of her face.

For a show with so many bells and whistles, at least a few effective moments were relatively simple. When Bono and The Edge teamed for a solitary "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" it yielded astounding intimacy.

Likewise, it was a low-tech mirror ball (along with thousands of high-tech cell phones) that turned the stadium into a sea of stars in "With Or Without You."

And it doesn't take a video introduction by Desmond Tutu to make "One" enduring and emotionally charged.

Spirit, not spectacle, is still U2's biggest asset.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 10, 2009 8:31 AM.

U2 delivers a transcendent performance in Tampa was the previous entry in this blog.

I'll Go Crazy If I don't Go Crazy Tonight is the next entry in this blog.

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