Opening Act(s): PJ Harvey
Elevation, Beautiful Day, Until The End Of The World, New Year’s Day, Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, Gone, Even Better Than The Real Thing, New York, I Will Follow, Sunday Bloody Sunday, The Sweetest Thing, In A Little While, Desire, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Bad, Where The Streets Have No Name, Mysterious Ways, The Fly. Encore: Bullet The Blue Sky, With Or Without You, Pride (In The Name Of Love), One, I Remember You, Walk On.
San Jose Mercury News
Fire and Passion
U2 fills out a strong application for best band in the world
by Candace Murphy
In this space is supposed to be a review of the performance staged by U2 Thursday evening at Compaq Center San Jose. A tally of the songs played, the outfits worn, the banners waved, the flags raised.
But U2 renders a reviewer’s words mere folly.
Because the Irish supergroup achieved a musical rarity Thursday evening: The band rewarded its fortunate ticket holders with a two-hour passion play, a soaring arc of the band’s brilliant career. The four ageless Dublin rockers unleashed a torrent of memories both old and new, all interchangeably timeless, from the driving punk chords of “I Will Follow” to the soul-stirring, anthemic “Walk On.” Cobbled together was musical brilliance. A moment in time not easily described.
The band took the stage unconventionally. With the arena lights blazing and the opening licks of “Elevation” blaring, the four strode onto the main floor through a doorway just beneath Section 117. First was Bono, in black leather and wrap-around shades. Then the Edge in a red No. 16 Joe Montana jersey. Adam Clayton, in fashion-plate red camouflage pants, followed. Bringing up the rear was Larry Mullen Jr., the quiet drummer whose fists would soon grip sticks of militant rage, in an understated blue T-shirt.
For a solid 60 seconds, the band played with the lights on, a glaring scene usually reserved as a slap in the face for opening acts who should be neither seen nor heard. But U2 has never been a band to play by the rules. It wasn’t until Bono wove a stolen lyric from the band Radiohead — “I’m a creep” — into “Elevation,” an underrated song from the new album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” that the lights dimmed. And it wasn’t until after the band played “New Year’s Day,” its first top 10 single back in 1983, that Bono properly addressed the crowd.
“The last time we were in San Jose, it was in a school gym. It held 1,000, but about 2,000 people came. It was one of the best nights of our lives!” proselytized Bono in a sentimental, yet possibly apocryphal moment, since the moment was never officially documented. “It was one of the best nights of our lives. That was a long time ago. If anyone who was there is here tonight, thank you.”
The concert, which relied most heavily on the new album and 1991’s “Achtung Baby,” was packed with thanks. The band thanked San Jose. Oakland. San Francisco. Even Marin County, a swath of land that garnered a precious two nods. It was also an evening of tributes. Before singing “Stuck in a Moment,” Bono explained it was written for Michael Hutchence, the lead singer of INXS who died in 1997. During the coda of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” Bono verbally saluted Bob Marley by weaving in a lyric from “Get Up, Stand Up.” Marvin Gaye was acknowledged at the end of “Mysterious Ways” with a line from “Sexual Healing.” And twice the band eulogized Joey Ramone, the lead singer of the Ramones who passed away last weekend, by dedicating the new album’s “In a Little While,” early in the evening to the musician, and by later performing a stripped-down duet of the 1977 Ramones song, “I Remember You” with the Edge.
It was the unscripted moment just before Bono and the Edge sang “I Remember You” that subtly revealed the band’s cohesion, a byproduct of performing together for 24 years. With Clayton and Mullen prepared to play the set list’s next song, “Walk On,” the two looked on from the back of the stage as Bono leaned forward and whispered in the Edge’s ear. Clear that there would be a break from the agenda, Clayton and Mullen disappeared into the shadows as Bono and the Edge delivered their mournful tribute.
What was remarkable, too, is how little the band, as a whole, has changed since forming in 1977. The Edge still peels off guitar licks that ring like the bells of a cathedral. Clayton is as stoic as ever. Mullen — whom Bono introduced to the crowd by claiming that the band, in the early years, for a lunch break, was known as the Larry Mullen Band — just gets the job done.
And Bono is still the preening rock star, a larger-than-life performer who writhed on his back on the bent horseshoe-shaped walkway that jutted out into the audience, who kissed the Edge on the lips during “(Until) The End of the World,” who sprinted in circles like a white, Irish Michael Johnson during “Where the Streets Have No Name,” who placed his index fingers to the sides of his head and acted the bull to the red-jerseyed toreador Edge.
But allow Bono to preen. He and his mates have never succumbed to the pop industry, despite the fact they have been filling stadiums since the 1980s. And their political, hard-edged rock, a style abandoned only briefly during the “Zooropa” and “Pop” albums, hasn’t grown old. Though it took until the end of the night for U2 to get political — a snippet of conversation from Charlton Heston in support of guns broadcast on 13 screens behind the stage before the band launched into “Bullet the Blue Sky” — it was a blast of fresh air in an era in which five-membered moony-eyed boy groups have become a barometer of music’s mediocrity.
The only evidence of those types of histrionics apparent in San Jose were the ludicrous pink balloons that radio station Channel 104.9 inflated and forced those on the floor to bounce around. The security guard who captured one during “New Year’s Day” and summarily punctured it should be given a hearty raise. The imbecile who bounced one on stage during “Sunday Bloody Sunday” while Bono was taking an Irish flag from the crowd and draping it over the keyboards as if it were a coffin should have been ejected.
But in the end, after the balloons were put out of their misery and the final notes of “Walk On” dissipated into the night air, the words Bono uttered at this year’s Grammy Awards lingered. There, he announced that the band was applying for the job again. For the job as the best band in the world.
Lads, it’s yours.
All images are © Lynne Sands; © Otto Kitsinger