Opening Act(s): The Pixies
Zoo Station, The Fly, Even Better Than The Real Thing, Mysterious Ways, One, Until The End Of The World, Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around The World, Angel Of Harlem, Satellite Of Love, Bad-All I Want Is You-Bullet The Blue Sky, Running To Stand Still, Where The Streets Have No Name, Pride (In The Name Of Love), I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Encore(s): Desire, Ultraviolet (Light My Way), With Or Without You, Love Is Blindness.
New York Times
U2 Restyled, With Props and a Nod to the Fringes
by Jon Pareles
Amid a shimmering haze of sustained electric guitar, Bono strutted onstage at the Nassau Coliseum tonight to unveil U2’s new style. He was dressed in shiny black leather, wearing sunglasses, with his hair slicked back, and as he sang he smiled, preened, even pumped his hips with a leer. He looked like someone trying to play a rock star on Broadway.
Luckily, he had help: a barrage of video images and, more important, the songs from “Achtung Baby” (Island), U2’s first album since 1988, and the backing of a band that invented one style and is ready to take on more.
U2 has made rock historians’ lives easier by coordinating its changes with the decades. In the 1980’s, it established itself as a high-minded band that filled arenas with ringing, echoing guitar riffs and earnest anthems like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” But after pontificating unto self-parody, U2 withdrew and reshaped itself for the 1990’s. With “Achtung Baby,” the band embraced distorted guitars and vocals, clanking bass lines and drumbeats that crunch instead of march.
To recharge itself, U2 has looked to rock’s fringes, especially to collegiate rock’s layers of noisy guitars, to British rave music’s midtempo dance beat and to industrial rock’s brutal textures. The Pixies, college-circuit stars who move from rock to guitar-swathed howls, opened the concert.
U2 used to perform with no props more elaborate than a large white flag. On this tour, which is named “Zoo TV” and sponsored by MTV, that has changed. In the age of rock video, many performers have come to believe that a concert has to dazzle the eye as well as the ear, and U2 has accepted some artifice. Six full-size cars, painted with words or flowers, were suspended above the stage, holding lighting equipment. A walkway led into the audience, and Bono strolled down it, sometimes playing to a camera that followed him.
The first part of the concert featured the new U2, with eight songs in a row from “Achtung Baby.” Bono was every bit the modern star, enigmatic behind his shades and in his lyrics, yet the master of a multi-media hullabaloo, a rush of noises and images and ideas.
In “Mysterious Ways,” he did some hip-grinding amid images of belly dancers and a woman’s face rocking back and forth like a pendulum. “One” used films of buffalo being driven over a cliff, an image created by the artist David Wojnarowicz. For “The Fly,” words and aphorisms flashed on the video screens (an effect previously used by the Jesus and Mary Chain): “Rebellion Is Packaged,” “Guilt Is Not of God” and “It’s Your World You Can Change It.” While Bono sang about artistic crises and love, Larry Mullen on drums and Adam Clayton on bass knocked out a funk beat and the Edge played wailing, squealing guitar.
Although the music had a wilder surface than U2’s older repertory, it was also more precisely calibrated. The band made an effort to perform the new songs almost exactly as they sound on the album. In “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” as computer-screen and cable-television displays filled the video screens, the Edge copied his own slide-guitar solo from the album. Some songs also included keyboard and guitar sounds that were not played onstage.
After “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World,” the concert took a turn. The band followed him down the walkway to a platform in the audience. With Mr. Mullen on hand drums, U2 played “Angel of Harlem” and part of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” as if they were street musicians. That was the transition to the older, more earnest material.
Wearing a preacher’s black frock coat, Bono led band and audience in anthems like “Surrender.” In “Bullet the Blue Sky,” the video screens lit up as high-tech flaming crosses, lending the song more urgency. With the older songs the band loosened up, finding new inflections to make them sound more heartfelt. Not that Bono had given up artifice; in “Pride,” after singing about a man (presumably Jesus) “betrayed by a kiss,” he threw a big show-business kiss to the crowd.
U2 wants to have its artifice and its sincerity at the same time — no easy thing — and it hasn’t yet made the breakthrough that will unite them. The music can only improve when the band starts to play its new songs with abandon rather than rigor, letting their noise pour out. In the meantime, a U2 that doesn’t mind being trendy or funny is a vastly improved band.
U2 will play at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., on March 18 and at Madison Square Garden on March 20.
© NY Times, 1992. All rights reserved.