Opening Act(s): Smashmouth
Mofo, I Will Follow, Gone, Even Better Than The Real Thing, Last Night On Earth, Until The End Of The World, New Year’s Day, Pride (In The Name Of Love), I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, All I Want Is You, Staring At The Sun, Sunday Bloody Sunday, 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, One-Wake Up Dead Man.
Will the real U2 please show up?
by Howard Cohen
U2 brought PopMart to Miami’s Pro Player Stadium Friday night but did someone forget to tell the real U2 to show up? There were too many times, amid the extravagant staging and the soupy sound, when it was hard to believe this was a once a moving and important rock group plying its trade up there.
The first tip-off came early in the show when, during a passable Even Better Than the Real Thing, images of man’s human evolution flashed across an immense LED video screen, perhaps symbolically representing U2’s own evolution. (That screen, by the way, is reputedly the world’s largest at 170 feet long by 56 feet high, and it sits behind the band and a 100-foot-high golden arch rising dramatically from center stage - McDonald’s meets the old Star Trek emblem.) The group emerged from a small satellite stage near the center of the stadium like a a post-modern Village People: drummer Larry Mullen Jr. was GI Joe; bassist Adam Clayton, a hazardous-waste engineer, complete with a surgical mask; the Edge was a cowboy; and Bono wore the robes of a prizefighter.
U2’s evolution from Dublin club band to commercial ’80s powerhouses and ’90s electronic pop rockers is impressive but in concert it’s undermined this group’s raison d’etre: It’s spiritual, powerful music.
There was a lot of heavenly lights, but little heavenly music for great stretches of the show. The newest Pop material, in particular, suffered the most. Heavy on reverb, delay, sampling and other sonic gimmicks, the clutter on early songs Mofo, Gone, and Last Night on Earth swallowed lead singer Bono’s voice and obscured the other instruments so that all you heard was a booming rhythm section.
“There are a lot of restless people in Miami,” Bono said at one point. “We’re kind of restless, looking for new sights, sounds in our music, you know what we mean? It makes it hard to follow this group but if we keep it interesting for us, it won’t be bull—— for you,” he said to the roar of about 50,000 people (not quite a sell-out but better than a lot of other stops on this tour).
Fair enough, but judging by given the musical capabilities of this band, you couldn’t help but feel shortchanged by PopMart. The anything-goes staging, which also included a 35-foot lemon/disco ball and 100-foot-high swizzle stick and olive, caught your attention, distracting you from the subpar Pop tunes (U2 should know that the solemn beauty of If You Wear That Velvet Dress would never play well in a vast open-air stadium.) Was a time when U2’s music didn’t need the fancy threads.
Though much of the two-hour concert disappointed, seldom transporting us the way great rock shows can, there were transcendent moments.
The rocker Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me made good use of the video screens, and the band was tight. With or Without You with a strong dance pulse satisfied. Discotheque, when the band climbed inside the motorized mirrored lemon and made its way to the center of the field.
But the best moments were the softest, when U2 remembered what mattered most: the music. Bono and The Edge performed an acoustic version of the new Staring at the Sun and by stripping away the excesses of the material that preceded it, found the grace within the melody. Even better, a stark Sunday Bloody Sunday, a song originally written in 1982 to plead for peace in Northern Ireland.
“We haven’t done this song in a while,” Bono said. “We kind of lost sight of what it was about, but we did it in Sarajevo.” The songflowed beautifully and in the wake of recent threats in Iraq, lines like “How long must we sing this song,” gained poignancy.
Though PopMart was bargain shopping by most standards, moments like these reminded us U2 could be magical - pulling glimpses of beauty out of gaudiness.
© 1997 Miami Herald. All rights reserved.