Opening Act(s): PJ Harvey
Elevation, Beautiful Day, Until The End Of The World, Mysterious Ways, Kite, Gone, New York, I Will Follow, Sunday Bloody Sunday, In My Life-Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, In A Little While, Desire, Stay (Faraway, So Close!), Bad-Wild Horses-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, Walk On.
Bono dedicates ‘Stay (Faraway, So Close!)’ to Baz Luhrmann, director of the movie ‘Moulin Rouge’, who is in the arena tonight.
Elevated By The Band That’s Never Out Of Style
by Ryan Jones
Their names are Marisa and Jackie, they’re 15 years old, and they’re pressed against the metal barrier that separates the paying customers from the rock stars. About five feet in front of them, crouched and crooning on a heart-shaped catwalk, Bono works his way through the soaring single “Beautiful Day.” Just two songs into his band’s set Thursday night at Continental Arena, the second-to-last night of his group’s U.S. tour, the charismatic U2 frontman has the packed house exactly where he wants it, happily in his grasp.
Marisa and Jackie are no exception, clearly enjoying their first U2 concert, singing the words to all the new songs and some of the old ones. Standing a few feet from them, equally enthralled, I can’t help but wonder: What are these kids doing here? I don’t begrudge them the experience. It’s just that I’m 27 years old, and I’ve been listening to this band since the mid-Eighties, half my life, basically, buying every record, seeing it live six or eight times over the years. I grew up on this band, but these girls? The first time I saw U2 in concert, Marisa and Jackie were a year old.
Yet here we are, sharing a railing, watching a quartet of forty-something Irishmen who reportedly spent the past decade drifting slowly but steadily toward irrelevance. And yet here they are, seemingly relevant as ever, playing to the latest in a three-month string of energized, capacity crowds.
Having loudly advertised its desire to reclaim the title of “World’s Greatest Rock Band,” U2 used the “Elevation”tour as proof it still deserves it. Judging by Thursday night’s effort, Bono, Larry, Adam, and the Edge are as worthy as they’ve ever been.
Taking the stage with the house lights up, the band literally leaps into “Elevation,” the buoyant track from last fall’s multiplatinum album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” Following with “Beautiful Day,” the first single from that album, U2 reiterates what the album has confirmed since its release: that, despite signs to the contrary, the band never forgot how to craft lofty, soul-searching, life-affirming arena rock. Nor have the members forgotten their youth. In faithful treks through early- and mid-Eighties classics like “I Will Follow,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and “Pride (In The Name of Love),”the band effortlessly summons the raw, punkish energy that made those songs so good in the first place. Neither time nor use has deadened their effect.
Start to finish, the 140 minutes of music showcase every era of U2’s divergent history. Among the highlights: an incendiary version of “Bullet the Blue Sky,”in which Bono invokes Charlton Heston and Mark David Chapman (John Lennon’s assassin) in a vicious anti-gun rant; a rollicking take on “Until the End of the World”; the never-disappointing live standard “Bad”; and the rarely performed “Gone,” from 1997’s “Pop” album. All of those complement a heavy dose of new songs, none better than the sad, beautifully poignant “Kite.”
Throughout the set, each band member dependably plays his long-defined role. Drummer Larry Mullen remains stoic and steady.
Bassist Adam Clayton, the other rhythmic rock, constantly gives away his faux-indifference with that casual smirk. The Edge, still the effortlessly cool guitar wiz, sports his ever-present skullcap and a contented grin. And Bono, black-clad from his custom-made leather jacket to his clunky Prada boots, is alternately lusty, romantic, high-minded, teasing, and political. Regardless, he never forsakes that cool, earnest magnetism.
For those who’ve never liked the band, too preachy, too arrogant, too married to the easy outs of anthemic riffs and Big Question lyricism this show makes no efforts at conversion. This is what these guys do, and despite their much-maligned musical experimenting during the Nineties, what they do has never fundamentally changed.
All they’ve done, really, is get older, and think a lot about it, apparently. Mortality is an overriding theme on “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” and a sense of hopeful fatalism permeates the show. “Walk On,” another new track and the concert’s closer, is an ode to a friend who is “packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been.” As sad as it is reassuring, “Walk On” boasts a classic U2 sound with a decidedly late-model U2 perspective. The words have changed, but the sound and the feel and the heart are the same as they ever were.
And so, here we are, Marisa and Jackie and I, two different demographics amid what might be rock’s most generationally diverse fan base. I ask these two friends what brought them here, and Marisa tells me her parents are “obsessed” with U2 and she’s been hearing it in her house as long as she can remember. Then Jackie says, “I’ve been into U2 forever.” Asked to explain “forever,” she says she’s loved the band since she was 8 years old. Half her life, basically. Since the band is as good now as it.
All images are © Jim Lawhead; © Sascha Kremer