Opening Act(s): PJ Harvey, Big Audio Dynamite II
Zoo Station, The Fly, Even Better Than The Real Thing, Mysterious Ways, One-Unchained Melody, Until The End Of The World, New Year’s Day, Numb, Zooropa, Babyface, Stay (Faraway, So Close!), Satellite Of Love, Bad-The First Time, Bullet The Blue Sky, Running To Stand Still, Where The Streets Have No Name, Pride (In The Name Of Love). Encore(s): Desire, Ultraviolet (Light My Way), Love Is Blindness, Can’t Help Falling In Love.
Tonight’s concert features the live debut of Babyface. MacPhisto’s call after Desire is to the author Salman Rushdie, who had been in hiding since January 1989 after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwā (religious edict) on Rushdie calling for his death, due to Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses”. It turns out Rushdie is actually in the venue and he comes on stage and hugs Bono. It is his first public appearance since 1988 and it receives worldwide media attention. A few years later, U2 recorded a song written by Rushdie entitled The Ground Beneath Her Feet and it appears on some editions of All That You Can’t Leave Behind.
Bono calling Salman, Sarajevo - and Elvis
by Chris Heath
U2’s Zooropa tour styles itself as an ironic, post-modern commentary on rock celebrity and contemporary life. To this end, as the Irish rock quartet play their most famous tunes at Wembley Stadium, they are towered over by banks of flickering televisions, large and small. Sometimes they show images: documentary footage; famous faces; a burning swastika. Sometimes they splurt unconnected words or sly aphorisms: Enjoy The Surface; Everything You Know Is Wrong; Evolution Is Over.
For a while my companion for the evening is impressed. “It’s brilliant. It’s like coming out and watching telly. You can’t change channels, that’s the only thing.” U2 didn’t used to be like this. They started in the Eighties as unknown, fresh-faced Christian idealists from Dublin and ended as something like the biggest rock bank in the world. They had got there by writing some fine, epic songs, but also by being steadfastly earnest and sincere. To their fans, they were visionaries. To their detractors, they were pompous airheads. U2, to their credit, were uneasy with either assessment.
Pop musicians forever talk about “reinventing themselves”, but it usually means getting a new haircut. U2 have been a little bolder. Over the past couple of years they have forsaken guitar-driven anthems for odder, more eclectic noises, have become fascinated by modern communication and have exchanged most of their surface pomposity for irony. Instead of acting like big shot rock stars, they show up the ludicrous conceits of big shot rock stars (whilst, naturally, indulging in those conceits all the more).
Consequently, Zooropa is a celebration of having your cake and eating it. It is one which is not without problems. For all the blinking and flashing on the TV sets, the attention-grabbing thrills are not duplicated in one’s ears. For the most part U2 won’t sacrifice their songs to the spirit of the performance, and so we get the stadium rock ordeal: four distant people playing their songs as they sound on record. I suspect it is an unintended irony that, with all this attention to technology, it is the “unplugged” semi-acoustic part of their set which works best.
It is another that within all this wilful reinvention the old overblown epics like Pride (In The Name Of Love) are played exactly as they ever were. And is it a third irony that the live sound is dismally muddy? A ludicrous failing for an organisation which can fix up a live satellite link with Sarajevo.
It is with the Sarajevo episode that the evening turns truly surreal. This is a nightly ritual, and tonight their Sarajevan connection introduces three girlfriends, who between them embody the three warring parties and who speak at some length about the ghastliness of their situation. “I’m sorry,” U2’s singer Bono says, and apologises for how daft he feels in the midst of this rock ‘n’ roll fantasy hearing of their reality. It doesn’t seem enough of an answer. U2 arranged the conversation, after all, and knew they weren’t going to hear that everything was rosy.
It gets stranger. Bono returns in the guise of his latest alter ego, Macphisto, who wears a gold suit, white face paint and red horns, and who affects the manner of someone part devil, part faded cabaret singer and part decadent English aristocrat. It is now that Bono-Macphisto exercises his next nightly habit of telephoning someone live from stage - one time he tried to order 10,000 pizzas for the crowd.
Tonight, he will dial up Salman Rushdie. The call is made, the novelist-in-hiding answers and Bono-Macphisto mugs some slightly spiteful questions of the “how miserable are you?” variety, before we realise that the situation is a sham. It is Salman Rushdie, but he has not only been expecting the call but is standing backstage. Eventually Rushdie appears. Macphisto kneels to kiss his hand, and they hug. Then Rushdie departs, and U2 play another song. It leaves an uneasy feeling.
In their old pre-ironic days, Bono might have said a few sensible campaigning words to the crowd, and might well have been derided as another jumped-up Johnny Pop Star thinking he has a place in world affairs. But is it really a smart change to go from being the group who think they know all the answers to the group who proudly admit they know none of them, but like to play around with the questions just the same? Are Salman Rushdie and the people of Sarajevo sharing U2’s stage as a little pop consciousness-raising, or are they merely the punchline of U2’s most arch joke of all about celebrity: “We’re U2 - look what superior guest stars we can get.”
I suspect you can only play their current game for so long: eventually you either have to say what you really mean, or shut up. The show finishes with Bono crooning the standard I Can’t Help Falling In Love. After a couple of verses he stops and, as a more famous version of the song strikes up, announces “Elvis is here”. But for all U2’s pulling power, this is one guest star they can’t deliver. Though his voice booms over Wembley Stadium, Elvis is no longer with us.
And, as it takes the crowd some time to realise, neither are U2.
© Sunday Telegraph, 1993. All rights reserved.