Opening Act(s): PJ Harvey
Elevation, Beautiful Day, Until The End Of The World, New Year’s Day, Kite, New York, I Will Follow, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, In A Little While, Stay (Faraway, So Close!), Desire, Bad-40, 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.
Orange County Register
U2 Good But Not Great In Opening Night At The Pond
The veteran Irish band rewards patient fans but forgets to satisfy its own creative hunger
by Ben Wener
Oh, what a heavy burden U2 carries.
Not since the Beatles has there been an internationally adored rock band - an Important Band that sings about Serious Things - whose prime mission, obvious to all, is to spread peace and love.
Entertainment, pushing the boundaries of popular music - that’s secondary.
Even at its most ironic, U2 has been about (cue dramatic strings) love’s power to change, to heal the world.
But the weight of the world, though still significant, isn’t the chief burden anymore. Now the tricky part is this: How to keep the message alive without boring yourself or your audience?
You can’t say they didn’t ask for it, but U2 has assumed the unenviable role of prophets in perpetual reinvention. They did it so spectacularly - perhaps too spectacularly - with 1992’s “Achtung Baby” and the ensuing Zoo TV tour that we have come to expect fresh wonders from them at every turn.
Ordinary rock won’t be tolerated from such an extraordinary band. The sad news, then, as discovered at the group’s first of three sold-out shows Monday night at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, is that U2 still isn’t sure what to do for a third act. As with its half-brilliant-half-lousy last album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” its Elevation Tour is a jumble - a good jumble, mind you - that tries too hard to satisfy everyone.
What it should have done is satisfied U2, which at times it clearly did. The most magical moment, in fact, was the most spontaneous, when midway through the two-hour set Bono called an audible to the Edge, then the pair of old friends delivered a spellbinding version of “Stay (Faraway, So Close!),” illuminated by a lone spotlight at the center of the arena.
Sometimes the magic worked as planned, as with the declaration of independence “Kite” (in only its second live rendition) followed by Bono’s devious shadow dancing during “New York.” Both are recent songs that were more convincing live. As Bono pointed out between those tunes, it felt like this was about getting “back to singing for your life, not for your supper.”
Not that they’re going hungry, seeing as choice seats went for $130. Was it worth it? You don’t want my answer.
Surely there was plenty to compliment, starting with not one but three tributes, assuming you don’t count a soul-filling take on “Pride (In the Name of Love).” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” was for Michael Hutchence; the song, Bono explained, is “an argument I would like to have with a friend I wish I still had.” The other two were for Joey Ramone - “In a Little While,” which Joey reportedly heard days before his death, and a cover of the Ramones’ “I Remember You.” “Where the Streets Have No Name” galloped gallantly while a glowing red backdrop reminded of “Joshua Tree” days. “Bullet the Blue Sky,” introduced by a laughable Charlton Heston speech and the chilling image of a child picking up a handgun, was just as harrowing with its meaning directed at gun control as when its target was El Salvador. And “New Year’s Day” was unusually sensual.
But forget the songs - the staging was fantastic. You want U2 up close and personal - as up close and personal as you can get in a hockey rink - well, this couldn’t have been better. Prancing about a huge heart-shaped catwalk with four black-and-white video screens hanging overhead, hambone Bono and ever-cool The Edge worked the arena from every angle.
In short, it was a visually arresting concert whose minor but clever gimmicks didn’t distract from what the fans demanded: U2, without costumes, in a small(er) venue, playing the hits.
Yet it fell short of restoring U2 to its past glory. Indeed, for the first time it’s painfully obvious that the band is following their fans’ lead, not the other way around.
In retrospect, the PopMart monstrosity seems less like a bold move than U2 giving its legions what it thought they wanted - more of the same, which at that time was over-the-top Zoo TV madness. With this show, they are just as pandering, right down to entering like old war heroes (to the charging tune of “Elevation”) with the house lights still on - as if to say, “Hey, we’re serious. There’s no giant, mirrored, lemon-shaped disco ball anywhere in this building.”
They call it a thank you to fans, I call it an apology - and it’s both. Either way this isn’t the maverick that U2 can be. The band simply seems bored with the routine, and Bono is becoming the definition of lethargic; compare his exhausted shtick and mugging to the steady swagger of Springsteen, who has 10 years on him but moves with twice as much robust energy.
Often you could hear it in the delivery. “I Will Follow” was so sluggish it made “Bad” seem speedy. (Though “Bad,” extended with a touch of “40,” brought goosebumps to anyone with a pulse.) “Mysterious Ways” was so dispirited you could barely discern the melody. And a crawling “Sunday Bloody Sunday” proved only that the rousing Irish anthem should be put on a shelf, only to come down for special occasions, lest its meaning be devalued entirely.
That speaks to the catch-22 that traps U2: It can’t put away those classics for fear it will lose fans; lose fans and there goes clout needed to wage key battles, like its current cause, getting First World nations to forgive Third World debt. “An entire continent is being flushed down the toilet,” Bono said before playing “One,” “and it isn’t even on page 3, 2 or 1.”
U2 - and particularly Bono - needs minions to back a message of peace and love. Only, it seems like they’re itching to take that message to the next level, that maybe it’s time to leave certain “masterpieces” behind and write new ones that might stir more than the usual fan base.
It’s time, then, for them to stop pleasing us and please themselves. Let’s make a deal: They vow to trust their instincts and plow ahead into the future, we will follow. Like the man says, “We get to carry each other.”
If there is one thing that U2 did right, it was hiring PJ Harvey as opening act, providing the cult figure with an opportunity to widen her appeal. Tough and glittery in a silver sequined dress and black boots, the darkly intense performer made the most of her plum spot, delivering 40 minutes of leathered, ideally oversized rockers, notably “Sheela-Na-Gig” and a riveting, almost disquieting solo reading of “Rid of Me.”
Perhaps she baffled most of the crowd - at least the lukewarm response indicated as much - but even if only a fraction of U2’s audience was intrigued by Harvey’s biting work, it was time well spent.
Contact Wener at (714) 796-2248 or [email protected]
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