By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When you travel with a stage that rises 168 feet in the sky and looks like a space invader from "War of the Worlds," you risk making the performers themselves seem, well, tiny.
Unless, of course, you have a Bono handy.
Despite standing less than 5 feet 9, the 51-year-old U2 singer has a mighty big presence, which cast its shadow for the first time Tuesday night in the Steelers' house, Heinz Field.
Pittsburghers have been on the sidelines hearing about this record-breaking, $700-million-grossing "360 World Tour" now since the spring of 2009, and we managed to squeeze in there on the last week as the penultimate show (it ends Saturday in Moncton, Canada).
Having gone through the paces through 60 shows over three years, U2 might be burned out on this 360 number and ready to move on to the next album cycle, but it didn't show as the band barrels to the finish line.
The occasion for the tour, which might be forgotten now, was "No Line on the Horizon," the band's 12th album and first since 2004. However, you might have thought it was the "Achtung Baby" tour when the top spire started smoking at 9:10 and U2 hit the stage with "Even Better Than the Real Thing" followed with "The Fly," "Mysterious Ways" and the electrifying "Until the End of the World," all from that 1991 classic.
U2's sound was forged in clubs but designed for stadiums with the muscular rhythm section of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., The Edge's ringing guitar heroics and Bono's anthemic scope. It was all there in the fifth song and U2 template "I Will Follow," which had the Ketchup Bottle bouncing.
The stage's ramps and hydraulic bridges made U2 look like it was floating right on top of the sea of 55,800 fans.
Bono was handy with the applause-generating local references. He gave a shout out to "our neighbor and Irish ambassador [Dan] Rooney," noted that "the world would not be the same without Andy Warhol" and introduced himself as the Christina Aguilera of U2. The crowd helped him out with the name of The Decade, the club the band played in Pittsburgh 30 years ago on it's first U.S. tour.
"And what a decade it was," he said. "A man's hair should never look like it was struck by an iron, but I was proud of my mullet."
Space shuttle commander Mark Kely appeared on the screen to say "Hello Pittsburgh" and request U2's finest song of the past decade, "Beautiful Day," and recite some of its words with Bono, who also inserted a snippet of David Bowie's lonesome "Space Oddity."
The spacecraft above them at Heinz didn't really display its full power until U2 hit the segment with "City of Blinding Lights" and "Vertigo." That's when a dazzling cylindrical screen dropped down and we all got our money's worth out of the most expensive stage in history.
The Martin Luther King Jr. tribute "Pride (In the Name of Love)" came with a crowd sing-along, "Discotheque" veered into a brief Talking Heads medley and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was passion and chaos with The Edge scratching out one of his most jagged riffs. U2 ended the main set with "Walk On" as a moving tribute to Amnesty International with the stage surrounded by candles.
The band's emotional ballad, "One," began an encore set that also included Bono's beautiful take on "Hallelujah" leading into a thunderous "Where the Streets Have No Name" with the spacecraft glowing an angry red. The color was carried through in his laser suit for "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," which had him swinging on a rope.
The band closed out the U.S. portion of the tour with the somber weight of "With or Without You" and "Moment of Surrender" and the rousing "Bad."
U2 was a force back when all Bono had for props was a white flag, but having seen the Irish rockers from the Fulton Theater through the various arena and stadium shows, it's easy to say this was the band and its production at peak power.
Interpol is one of those bands that should not be exposed to direct sunlight, belonging somewhere in a dark New York or London club. But that's part of being an opening act on a stadium tour, along with playing to the partial crowd that filtered in from the tailgate parties.
Interpol, which puts a sonic upgrade on the bleak post-punk of U2 contemporaries Joy Division, battled the light along with the rumbling echo that turned some of its clean, precise songs into cacophony. U2 fans likely got the gist of it, though, through songs like "The Heinrich Maneuver," "Evil" and the amazing "Slow Hands," powered by the driving bass and frontman Paul Banks' commanding baritone.
Scott Mervis: [email protected];412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg; Blog: www.post-gazette.com/popnoise
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