Opening Act(s): Fatima Mansions
Zoo Station, The Fly, Even Better Than The Real Thing, Mysterious Ways, One-Unchained Melody, Until The End Of The World, Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World, Angel Of Harlem-Dancing Queen, 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, Stand By Me. Encore(s): Desire, Ultraviolet (Light My Way), With Or Without You, Love Is Blindness.
Lights, cameras and Achtung
by David Sinclair
WITH typical strength of purpose and guile, U2 have forestalled the backlash which began gathering momentum with their Rattle and Hum album in 1988. Their efforts to counter the perception of them as a remote, stadium goliath began with the release last year of the comparatively left-field Achtung Baby. The strategy of performing once only, at an indoor venue, in each town visited on the current ”Zoo TV” world tour has further enhanced their credibility, while generating added excitement because of the intense demand for tickets. Bono’s apologies towards the end of the show, for the ordeal which most people had endured in order to purchase a ticket, rang slightly hollow to those involved.
But nowhere is the group’s recent change of tack more apparent than in the new-look live show itself. Whereas in the past, U2 have employed only the most simple of visual and theatrical effects to illustrate their music, here the stage was dressed with an arsenal of television screens and overhung by seven psychedelic Trabant cars, converted into eccentric lighting pods.
During the opening number, ”Zoo Station”, the audience was bombarded by a flood of hazy, disconnected images. Then, during ”The Fly”, a succession of words and tendentious slogans such as ”We Are All a Part of the Malaise” and ”Celebrity is a Job”, flashed up, teasing and engaging the attention almost as much as the music.
As a signifier of the modern media overload, this was a neat if unoriginal ploy, but the net effect was distracting as much as it was entertaining. There was a nagging feeling that the transformation of U2’s uncluttered style of presentation into this arty, self-conscious extravaganza had not been accomplished without loss of focus.
For the next 45 minutes or so, they worked their way at a leisurely pace through most of Achtung Baby. Bono, dressed in shiny black leather, clumped around while The Edge with his head swathed in the customary tea-towel, maintained a modest presence, his guitar playing confined mainly to his chiming riff and rhythm work, with only an occasional burst of noise poured like scalding liquid into the moulds of ”Until The End of the World” and ”Bullet The Blue Sky”.
Bono, too, performed with fewer histrionics and a greater sense of irony than in the past. This did not stop him hugging and kissing the imperturbable bassist Adam Clayton, spraying champagne all over the place like a rock’n’roll version of Nigel Mansell, and hauling the obligatory young woman from the audience for a dreamy clinch during ”Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World”. She was then entrusted with a hand-held camera and as she videoed the band, so her efforts were relayed on the screens above the stage.
Changing pace, the four musicians relocated to a smaller stage, set halfway back in the middle of the audience. With drummer Larry Mullen banging about on a set of congas,they performed a cheerful, busker-like version of ”Angel of Harlem”. This was the cue for the hi-tech trickery to wind down and a parade of comfortable old favourites to get underway, among them ”Pride (In the Name of Love)” and ”Where the Streets Have No Name”, during which Bono sang the first verse in the deadpan style of Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys, who enjoyed a hit with the song last year.
Bono returned for an encore of ”Desire” wearing a gold lame suit and cowboy hat, acting the part of a grossly narcissistic caricature with little apparent difficulty, while pictures of Richard Nixon, Margaret Thatcher and Gazza flashed up on the screens and showers of (presumably) fake bank-notes rained down fro the ceiling. The message was not hard to spot, but like the rest of this show, the medium was a little surplus to requirements.
© The Times, 1992. All rights reserved.