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, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Desire-Gloria, All I Want Is You, Where The Streets Have No Name, Mysterious Ways-We Could Have It All, The Fly. Encore: Bullet The Blue Sky, With Or Without You, One, Walk On.
By Jim Walls
Early in the 2nd night at U2’s sold-out show at the F.U. Center in Philadelphia, Bono told the crowd that he was feeling “a little sick.” And the man looked like he’d been ploughed over by a hit-and-run driver: pasty white, squinty, and sweating a river.
He asked the crowd for help. And they were ready to chip in. But with the full weight of the band behind him—including the world’s most confident rhythm section and a guitarist with the kick of an Apollo rocket (and the technology to boot)—it was clear a few songs in that he wouldn’t need it. And even with a flu (or was it a hangover?) you can never count this showman out. The band and crowd together picked him up, and he wasn’t about to come down.
Make no mistake about it, U2 still is a corporate rock band, but with all the trappings and drive of four kids at a small club. And from inside the heart, you get the sense that you could very well be down at yer local, albeit with a few million quid in lighting effects.
Up close, you can see Bono’s versatility at working a crowd; sometimes gazing to the upper decks like he’s just spotted an old friend, other times whispering words of thanks to the diehards in the heart. Sick or not, the man was dead on.
They opened with house lights up, as usual, a fitting departure from the bombast of the 90s. They launched into a blistering “Elevation,” followed by a tight “Beautiful Day” that hit the right notes with the jubilant crowd. And the setlist soon took us all into familiar, but welcome, territory…”New Year’s Day,” “I Will Follow,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” complete with the passing to the stage of the Irish flag from halfway up the arena. Mixed in were a few haunting songs about love and loss that will hold their own in the years to come: “Kite” and “Stuck in a Moment,” the former hitting home with a little touch of Philly soul.
Midway through the show the band takes to the tip of the heart for “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” a request from a woman in the front row, (Nice, but it wouldn’t be painted on my request sign.) Before a bluesy “Desire,” Bono gathers the team together at midcourt
“Picture this,” he says, pointing to Larry. “He’s 14. Edge is 16. I’m 16. And Adam’s 66.” In those days, he confided, “we had nothing. But together, we had everything, because we had one thing…and that was faith.” Taking on the baby bands, the men score a point. If the goal truly is soul, count U2 up 1-0.
After a beautiful and well received “All I Want is You” (on which Edge did lilting justice to Van Dyke Parks’ string coda), the band weighed in with the heavyweight “Where the Streets Have No Name,” a song that, if you’ve ever seen it live, will instantly clue you in to why the band vows it will always be played.
During the final encore, Bono grabbed a cell phone from a girl in the front row. But even though Bush Jr.’s in the White House, this wasn’t a call to the seats of power. “It’s your ma,” Bono told the girl as he cradled the phone, before telling her mother “she’s gonna be alright.”
During the closer, “Walk On” Bono looks as if he’s ready for more. Without the fly shades or the caked on MacPhisto getup, sweat drips steadily from the 40-year-old’s tousled forelocks. From the heart, you can see the fire of Red Rocks light up Bono’s eyes as he scans the crowd one more time.
He’s playing for the first time. The medicine’s kicked in. And he’s 16 again.
All images are © Jay Yankowy