Opening Act(s): Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Longpigs
Mofo, I Will Follow, Gone, Even Better Than The Real Thing, Pride (In The Name Of Love), I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For-Stand By Me, Last Night On Earth, Until The End Of The World, If God Will Send His Angels, Staring At The Sun, Daydream Believer, Miami, Bullet The Blue Sky, Please, Where The Streets Have No Name. Encore(s): Discothèque, If You Wear That Velvet Dress, With Or Without You, Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me, Mysterious Ways-Rain, One.
U2 gets intimate with crowd at Giants Stadium extravaganza
by Claudia Perry
When U2 opened PopMart for business at Giants Stadium, the band was surrounded by large, playful props — including a giant lemon, an out-sized olive on a 100-foot swizzle stick and backdrop video screen about the size of a Pee Wee hockey rink.
You would think that with such an enormous playpen U2 would have had trouble creating a sense of intimacy. After all, stadium shows are not known for their warmth.
But instead of offering a chilly discount-store atmosphere, the members of U2 acted more like the proprietors of your local Mom-and-Pop.
When U2 flipped the switch on the Saturday night show by entering through the crowd to the strains of “Pop Muzik” by M, lead singer Bono was robed like a boxer, prepared to touch gloves with the consuming audience. And he did.
He pulled two women up from the crowd on the floor and danced with them. At one point, he held one of the volunteer dancers close as they moved their hips together. He also grabbed her camera and snapped a photo of the two of them.
In other hands, such antics might seem like shameless pandering. But U2 is well aware of its public reputation for solemnity and high seriousness. What the 1993-94 Zoo TV tour did to punch a hole in those inflated perceptions, PopMart gleefully continues.
After all, how easy is it to be thought of as world saviors when bass player Adam Clayton was sporting a T-shirt reading “Poptart” and a surgical mask? The band was dwarfed by a giant golden arch as well as the 40-foot-high self-propelled lemon and the inflatable olive on the swizzle stick.
Of course, the largest part of the set was the 56-foot-high by 170-foot-wide video screen, which makes up the back wall of the stage. The screen occasionally showed the band members onstage, but it also was filled with images that toyed with the meaning of the songs. The best example of this was during “Bullet the Blue Sky” when a Roy Lichtenstein painting of two fighter jets in a dogfight was animated and splashed cartoon fire and bullet shells across the screen.
The band didn’t shy completely away from its old material, tossing off a raucous version of “I Will Follow” as the second song of the show. “Pride (in the Name of Love)” was also featured along with a flotilla of songs from the “Achtung Baby” album. The older songs pleased the crowd to the point where several spontaneous singalongs broke out.
Although the band played exactly the same set as it did on opening night in Las Vegas, there were some differences that propelled the show into a place few bands can consistently reach. Bono led an exuberant version of “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” As the song drew to a close, he sang a bit of “Stand by Me,” and the crowd picked it up until everyone in the place forgot the words.
Bono has always made himself the focus of any evening spent with U2. Whether it’s diving off of balconies or creating personas, he’s an attention magnet. PopMart has done more than any of the other band’s outings to divert some of the spotlight from Bono. Guitarist The Edge delivered a hilariously cheesy version of “Daydream Believer,” and the crowd of nearly 50,000 joined right in. Often the video from the stage would focus on Clayton, The Edge or drummer Larry Mullen while Bono was prowling the edge of the set, flipping his hips and looking for trouble.
Of the 21 songs the band performed, nine were from its new album, “Pop,” which has met with a decidedly mixed response from radio and fans alike. The Giants Stadium crowd seemed more up on the new songs than when the tour began in April. Also, U2 threw itself into the performances. When the show opened with “Mofo,” U2 practically dared the audience members to sit still. Few did.
“Discotheque,” which opened the encore, found the band members descending to the small B stage after riding out on the ramp in the big, glittering lemon. During most of the show, the lemon sat there, robed in a yellow casing that concealed its shimmering surface. As it rolled out toward the small stage, it became the largest fruit-shaped disco ball on record.
The whole production with the lemon featured a long staircase rising up out of the floor so the band could descend to earth. It’s also the biggest and best laugh of the show on many levels. Is U2 really placing itself on a disco pedestal or is it making fun of bands who specialize in that sort of cheesy myth-making? At the end of the song, some of the downbeats were punctuated by blasts of fiery pyrotechnics, an over-the-top touch that seemed unnecessary.
But there were other moments that worked very well. During “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” the screen flashed a graphic of man’s evolution starting with a tailed primate ascending to a man with a shopping cart. The band also played with other images of consumerism, including a short, disturbing animated film where one shopper kills another who wants to buy an item she had grabbed.
If you’re looking for meaning in all of this, you must have a term paper due for the end of school. Bono has joked that Kmart and Ash Wednesday pretty much cover U2’s outlook, and a lot of the images in the PopMart show revolve around those twin poles.
For all of the fun and excess of PopMart, U2 is still on the journey that began nearly 20 years ago with four earnest young men from Dublin who wondered what it was all about. In the band’s early recordings, the reach for transcendence propelled most of the music. As the band members grew older and figured out that nothing in life is simple, they blended shamanism with showmanship.
With first Zoo TV and now PopMart, U2 has chosen to lampoon its own bigness, playing with how cynical consumers have become about everything. But in the midst of glittering lemons, golden arches and big video screens, the band’s belief in sensual and spiritual love keeps the whole extravaganza from becoming hollow and pointless. Few bands can balance wit and wisdom without erring too much on one side or the other. With PopMart, U2 stays on the tightrope, and it’s doing just fine.