Opening Act(s): Fun Lovin’ Criminals
Mofo, I Will Follow, Even Better Than The Real Thing, Gone, 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-America, 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, One-Hallelujah.
U2 mixes a good look with new, old tunes
by Dan DeLuca
U2 wants to have its irony and eat it, too.
“This is where we live, this is where we work, and this is where we pray,” said Bono at Franklin Field on Sunday, before throwing his ample lung power behind the romantic anthem “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” “This is our church, made up of bits and pieces of America.”
Behind him stood the oversized altar of the Irish rockers’ “PopMart” tour, whose Philadelphia stop was the first-ever public concert at the University of Pennsylvania football stadium.
A 40-foot lemon hovered alongside a neon-lit olive atop a tooth-pick that shot into the night sky. A soaring golden arch framed lead singer Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen. And a state-of-the-art 170-by-56-foot video screen showed gigantic shots of the band, clever bits of animation and glorious color-coded abstractions, which made “PopMart” possibly the most cool-to-look-at stadium rock show in history.
America had turned U2 “into a great big rock band,” said Bono, explaining “PopMart” to an audience more eager to hear heroic ’80s hits such as “I Will Follow” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” than the noisier, less tuneful material from the band’s new Pop. And for a while, U2 was scared of being eaten alive by “the corporate monster.”
But before the monster could eat the band, Bono said, “we decided to eat the monster.”
Thus goes the rationale for both Pop and “PopMart,” in which the members of U2 continue the transition from their once-earnest selves that began with 1991’s Achtung Baby. Rather than wave a white flag to save the world, the ’90s U2 indulges in self-consciously kitsch arch-commercialism. The chief metaphor is the shopping cart — an apt choice considering the $52.50 and $37.50 ticket prices (which made for an older, more well-heeled crowd than at your average rock show) and concessions for $50 T-shirts and $15 lemon-shaped beach balls.
Clayton wore the orange jumpsuit of a nuclear waste worker, Edge was a Mephistophelean cowboy, Mullen was nondescript in black, and Bono, in a hooded robe, shadowboxed like a rock champion. Later, Bono became Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp in a bowler hat (for “Bullet the Blue Sky”) and for the Batman Forever sound-track hit “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” wore a metal-studded black leather suit. For the band’s encore of “Discotheque,” the band emerged from the lemon, which had been transformed into a sci-fi spaceship/disco ball. Despite all the showmanship — there was even a karaoke interlude, with Edge leading the crowd in the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” — U2 has by no means left its seriousness behind.
Pop finds the band singing about spiritual hunger, but dressing up its yearning with touches of electronic dance music and end-of-the-century noise. “Lookin’ for to save my, save my soul … lookin’ for to fill that God-shaped hole,” Bono sang on the roiling “Mofo,” which opened the show.
The rhythm section was as supple and powerful as ever. Edge’s hypnotic playing was terrific, whether firing up the slide guitar riffs of “Gone” or the spiky funk fills of “Please.” And — with a few exceptions, such as the inane “Miami” — Bono was magnetic and often funny, a far cry from his self-important ’80s days. But while the band put over its new material with aplomb, Pop has yet to strike a chord with longtime fans.
Sunday’s show underscored the impression that Pop, which has skidded to Number 33 on the Billboard album chart, is weird enough to alienate old fans and not weird enough to convince a new generation that there’s a brand new U2.
Inside Franklin Field, 56,000 people stood for almost two hours. But outside, scalpers were selling tickets for half-price, and concert-goers were polled — at whose expense it was not clear — about whether they had bought Pop yet, if they had seen U2’s TV commercials and whether they even understood the “PopMart” concept. The band’s set list was also notable for the fact that it rarely put new songs back to back.
The band didn’t make the case that its ironic worldview constitutes a compelling new vision, and the encores were strangely tepid. Even the heartfelt “One,” whose “Hallelujah” coda was dedicated to the recently drowned Jeff Buckley, fell short of the transcendentspirituality-and-sleaze hybrid the band is looking for. But that said, with their greatest-hits-plus-Pop approach, U2 did put on the most entertaining stadium show in memory.
Franklin Field proved to be an excellent venue: The sound was clearer and sightlines better than at Veterans Stadium. However, long lines and a massive traffic jam on the Schuylkill Expressway made it difficult to get there, and most people, this reviewer included, couldn’t make it to their seats in time to see hip-hop wiseguys the Fun Lovin’ Criminals open.
© 1997 The Philadelphia Inquirer.