Opening Act(s): PJ Harvey
Elevation, Beautiful Day, Until The End Of The World, Even Better Than The Real Thing, Mysterious Ways, In My Life-Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, Kite, Gone, New York, I Will Follow, Sunday Bloody Sunday, In A Little While, Desire, Stay (Faraway, So Close!), Bad-40, Where The Streets Have No Name, Pride (In The Name Of Love). Encore: Bullet The Blue Sky, With Or Without You, The Fly, One-She’s A Mystery To Me, Walk On.
Bono and U2 deliver a message of faith
by Craig Seymour, News Pop Music Critic
Irish rockers U2 brought its blazing brand of secular gospel to the HSBC arena Thursday night, marking the first time the band has played Buffalo since 1987. The band was on a singular mission to restore the audience’s faith in the importance of rock, humanity, of life itself.
A large chunk of the two hour show paid tribute to the group’s late friends and fallen rock icons. Bono paid homage to John Lennon, who was murdered on the night of U2’s first gig in Buffalo, by singing a verse from the Beatles “In My Life.” He also worked bits of classics by Marvin Gaye (“Sexual Healing”) and Bob Marley (“Get Up, Stand Up”) into the set.
The band performed “Stuck in a Moment That You Can’t Get Out Of,” from their latest album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” which is dedicated to ex-INXS fronman Michael Hutchence who committed suicide in 1997.
And the Southern Soul-inflected “In a Little While” was delivered by the band in recognition of New York’s own Joey Ramone, the former lead singer of the seminal punk group the Ramones, who died from cancer last month. Bono stated that “In A Little While” was the last song that Ramone listened to before dying. “Now when I hear this song, I don’t hear it as a song about a hangover. It’s become a gospel tune. That’s how cool Joey Ramone was.”
This song represented one of the night’s many moments that were devoted to the importance of people needing each other. “If I crawl/will you be there,” he crooned like an Irish Al Green.
He introduced his bandmates before bringing them down front for a rattling version of “Desire.” And there was something touching about him delivering introductions for people whom everyone in the audience knew. It served to represent another of the night’s inspiring themes: Don’t take anything you hold dear for granted.
It was called the “Elevation” tour, and the band’s intent was to uplift and enlighten. (Although, given the $130 tickets, $45 T-shirts and $20 programs, the tour’s name had an unintentional double meaning.) Even the background music played before the show had a spirit raising theme: Jackie Wilson’s “(You’re Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.”
The stage had a breathtaking simplicity. It was a hollow heart made with curved red catwalks. You almost expected to see a fashionista strut down the stage, and indeed Bono did ape the moves of a male supermodel at one point in the show. The earnest set-up could have come off as corny, but the stylish design made it work.
Fans stood in the middle of the heart and also surrounded the stage. And the people on the floor seemed to enjoy being physically close to a band with whom they’ve felt such a close emotional connection.
Despite initial concerns about the show’s general admission seating policy, the crowd was very well-behaved. There were some body surfing incidents. At one point, Bono even had to tell a particularly hefty crowd surfer: “You weren’t designed to fly, friend.” But, overall, you’d see more pushing, shoving and beer-spilling on any given night on Chippewa.
The last time U2 played Buffalo, Bono was having vocal trouble, but he was in fine form Thursday night. He growled, crooned and even worked up some sanctified falsetto swoops. His voice has the intimacy of a storyteller. He doesn’t so much sing a song as weave a heartfelt tale.
The rest of the band was also in top shape, as evidenced by the Edge’s propulsive guitar licks; Adam Clayton’s throbbing, sometimes funky, bass; and Larry Mullen Jr.’s steady, unfussy drumming.
Opening act P.J. Harvey delivered several hard driving tunes from her latest album “Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea,” which is all about falling in love. “Do you remember your first kiss,” she sang on “One Line,” with her voice sounding as edgy and straight-forward as the music. And the black and white projection of Harvey on the overhead monitor only added to the raw power of her set.
A lot of the thrills in U2’s show came from the backdrops and light displays. Large drapes that evoked skyscrapers came down during “New York City.” Rays of light splayed like blooming flowers. And the video screens showed silhouetted dancers swaying during “Mysterious Ways,” and flickering images of gun violence and grief during the impassioned “Bullet in the Blue Sky.”
Although U2 played their other social change anthems “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Pride (In the Name of Love,” which was followed by an impassioned plea from Bono on forgiving Third World debt, the night wasn’t really about politics. It was less about changing the world than treating life and other people more preciously.
All images are © Associated Press; © Buffalo News