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, Kite, New York, 11 O’Clock Tick Tock, Sunday Bloody Sunday, The Sweetest Thing, Desire, Stay (Faraway, So Close!), All I Want Is You, 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, Walk On.
Bono brings a fan on-stage towards the the end of ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ and shines the spotlight on the fan while they recite the end of the song.
By Sean Gates
Tonight, U2 taught the District how to rock and roll, and awoke the heart of this usually soulless city. Tonight, Washington got elevated, and the MCI center got leveled.
Washington DC is normally a pallid wash of greys. Dark-suited yuppies prowl the ever-shifting streets with cell-phones screwed in their ears and runaway taxis scatter pedestrians like so many pigeons, insignificant scavengers feeding on the bottom end of the food-chain. Everyone here has tunnel vision. But not me, I come from the outside. I’m a country boy and where I come from we hold doors, we smile and wave to perfect strangers and it’s not dangerous to spare a dollar for a guy who’s down on his luck. I come from a different world.
In downtown DC, the MCI center is situated on what used to be a city block. On one side is an upscale district full of fashionable coffee houses and parking garages, being built on top of the husks of historic buildings, row houses and shopfronts; on the other side is Chinatown, a whole country conveniently on your left. Most striking tonight is the crowd circling the block; all age groups are represented, teenagers to forty-somethings all with one goal. Every five yards someone asks my friends and I if we have spare tickets to sell.
U2 have arrived, and so at last have we.
An hour later, having seriously depleted our bank accounts on $30 t-shirts and $4 sodas, we find our way to our seats; high in the upper concourse and slightly to Adam’s side of the stage, though still frontal. PJ Harvey ripped through her set list, of which I only knew one song, which is probably because I only have one of her albums. The sound was way out of proportion for her, it was very difficult to hear (let alone understand) her over her band. But “Down By the Water” got me in the mood to rock, so despite the half-hour wait between her departure and U2 taking the stage, I was definitely ready when they finally made their entrance.
Almost comical watching stage hands rove the set like automatons, testing the instruments and mics to make sure they work properly. Someone in the heart had an inflatable lemon, but they kept bouncing it onto the stage until security took it away near show time.
The band was tight, and Bono’s voice was in good form. Until tonight I thought I had enjoyed POPMart four years ago, but tonight’s performance was vastly superior. Not overshadowed by a gargantuan stage set or the football stadium needed to hold it, seated instead at the center of a smaller arena, U2 got down to business and proved that it’s their music that fills the space, reaches and unites the crowd.
There was nothing from POP, curiously. Also surprising, there was no “goal is soul” in Beautiful Day, but he added something new to the end of Elevation (at least it’s new to me): it seemed spontaneous, so it’s impossible to remember all of it. “Elevation, elevate this nation, elevation, revelation, jubilation…” 11 O’clock Tick Tock turned up early in the set: “You don’t get to hear this very often, this was our first single.” Also, they played my favorite ATYCLB song, Kite. Sweetest Thing made my best friend and his wife very happy - this is the exact story of their relationship, right down to the eye colors.
Bono was very talkative tonight. He said they’ve been having a great week and the fans in Washington have just spoiled them. This was good to hear since their last two visits to DC (not counting the political crusading) hadn’t gone so well. In ‘97 a Memorial Day rainstorm wiped out the POPMart TV screen, and on an occasion years ago Bono broke his arm at a gig in DC. Tonight, however, the streak is finally broken: Elevation came to town, U2 played beautifully, nothing went wrong, both the band and the fans had a great time.
“Now I’m gonna, um, do something that’s hard for singers. I’m gonna introduce… the REST of the band.” Cheers flooded the arena. “Before we were U2, we had some other names. Once we were The Hype - long before we lived up to it. But for one lunch break,” Bono laughed, struggling to speak over the crowd, “For one lunch break, we were the Larry Mullen Band.” Larry takes a walk up the catwalk, and a stage hand gives him a drum. “Now, the man who eats the most exotic lunch. The best dresser of the band, the poshest member of the band… Adam Clayton.” Clayton gently thumping his bass, making his way to the tip of the heart to stand with Bono and Larry. “And now, wearing the number 55 shirt tonight… the man with more children than Abraham… even his mother calls him The Edge.” And as The Edge joins them at the tip of the heart, they rip into Desire, with Bono on harmonica.
“This next song we began writing in Berlin, at the start of the nineties. It was right about that time when a lot of American fans decided that we’d just gone completely batty. But I just want to say, we got a hotel… I mean we’re from the north side of Dublin - and we’re in Washington DC, you know. We were out there, floating around, and we found some really… interesting sh*t. This is a beautiful song.” Stay (Faraway, So Close!).
The Fly (“I like to have the lights off for this one… things look different in the dark…”); I heard they didn’t play this last night but I was pleased to see it return, it’s one of my all-time favorites and the new arrangement is just amazing. At the end of this song, Bono took a lap around the heart and then seemed to become one with the video wall. I’m not sure how that happened, but the whole show is full of optical tricks; words projected onto the audience, semi-transparent screens that descend from the rafters for certain songs.
The arena felt like it was going to break apart during Pride, just split open and crumble to the ground; disperse the soulful sounds across the city, from the Smithsonian to Chinatown, and for me that was the moment - the moment when I knew DC was alive.
In the last encores, One must have taken ten minutes to play - because Bono just kept on talking. He talked about his political visits to DC, and thanked the people who helped with the Jubilee project, talked about canceling third-world debt… then he started in on the subject of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and it got him preaching. “It’s on your shoulders, ‘cause Europe is waiting for America to take the lead here. We always thought America was a great idea. Is it still? Is it still a great idea?” Eventually he stopped himself: “I could go on for hours…” he joked. Finally he started singing One, and to my surprise, he went back to using the “lepers in your head” line… but it was so appropriate after the speech he gave.
This song just lit the place up. Somehow in the moment my friends and I all wound up arm in arm, singing along, “one life, with each other, sisters, brothers…” and everywhere I looked the same thing was happening with the rest of the audience. And as the last notes of “Walk On” faded away, it seemed that, for a few hours at least, the Capital Beltway had been like that heart-shaped catwalk, with all of DC inside it - and if the goal was soul, we got there. Sometime during the show, during one of his talkative moments, Bono said something that kind of sums up the theme for the evening:
“We like to mix it up a bit - Pop, Rock, Blues, Funk, Soul - we just blend it all together. Because that’s when it really gets exciting.”
I would that I could the words to record that feeling here… because “exciting” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
All images are © Bill Almoney; © Tim Johnson