"Music expresses the inexpressible. All our songs are about that, about inarticulation."
U2 Soars with Peace Banner
Chicago Sun Times,
October 17, 2001
Even before U2 took the stage Monday night at the United Center, the crowd had whipped itself into a frenzy, thanks to the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" blaring over the loudspeakers. Searching for something, fans found it in that classic song, but they knew more healing was to come.
As U2's Elevation tour returned to town for a two-night sold-out stand, all the familiar trappings were in place. The heart-shaped stage, the understated light show, the great songs, the heartfelt performances were the same as they were in May, when the Irish rockers last played the United Center. Yet much was different. It was as if the venue existed in some sort of a parallel universe haunted by an overwhelming feeling that everything and nothing had changed.
For two hours, the stadium resonated with the group's music -- the urgent delivery of the lyrics receiving an added measure of desperate acceptance from the band's always-devout fans. Bono has always worn his convictions on his sleeve, and ever since the events of Sept. 11, he and his bandmates have provided a compassionate voice through their concerts and participation in benefit performances.
The easy camaraderie and innate showmanship of the Dublin foursome -- Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen -- are genuine. With crackling resolve, they eased into the show with two songs from their latest platinum album, All That You Can't Leave Behind. First out was a blasting version of "Elevation," but it wasn't until Bono passionately sang "Beautiful Day" ("It was a beautiful day, don't let it get away") that the evening's tone -- redemption and hope -- was set.
Announcing that he felt blessed and humbled to be touring North America at this time, Bono added that Chicago always feels like "a hometown gig." As he swaggered down the catwalk that stretched into the main-floor audience, the Irish rock star looked like a leather-clad prophet testifying to a sea of true believers. With vocal help from the Edge, "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" became a soulful message of hope and friendship. Strapping on an acoustic guitar, Bono introduced "Kite," one of the finest songs on the new album. It's a song written for his kids, but he added, "Maybe my old man wrote it for me."
Audience participation always factors heavily into U2 concerts, and that was especially evident on the trademark anthem and anti-war protest "Sunday Bloody Sunday." As signs bearing peace symbols bobbed in the crowd along with American and Irish flags, a fan handed Bono the Stars and Stripes, which he gently cradled in his arms during the song.
Bono has a unique knack of interacting directly with his audience -- in the spirit of respect, goodwill and, often, a bit of fun. Out of the mosh pit Monday night, he plucked a young man who claimed to know the chords to Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready." "Are you telling the truth?" asked Bono good-humoredly as he handed the stunned fan his acoustic guitar. To thunderous applause as the soul standard rang out, the fan skillfully strummed and strutted with the Edge and Bono back to the top of the stage.
With its exhaustive selection of hits, the band's songbook once again proved to be a beautiful thing. U2 satisfied fans with steady and inspired versions of many standards, including "Where the Streets Have No Name," "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Angel of Harlem" and "Staring at the Sun."
On the band's previous high-tech tours, Zoo TV and PopMart, the glitz and eye-popping effects often detracted from the music's power. In contrast, the Elevation tour is simply about the music, and now, as U2 tours North America for the third time, about the renewed message of Bono's lyrics.
Throughout the concert, the subtle light show often illuminated the crowd as if Bono wanted to connect on an even more immediate level with his fans. But the United Center itself provided its own eerie special effect. After "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Bono pointed to the stadium's top tier, where not-quite-closed curtains formed a stunning series of crosses. The sight added to the distinct revival vibe of the band's inspired performance.
It was one of several understated touches that spoke volumes.
A soulful version of Marvin Gaye's poignant wakeup call, "What's Going On," really hit home with the line "Brother, brother, there's too many of you dying." Without sounding preachy, Bono talked of changing the world "into a place we all want to live in." "New York" became a powerful tribute to the heart of a transformed city.
But the most powerful moment came during the final encore medley, "One" and "Peace on Earth"/"Walk On," a tribute to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, as names of airline passengers scrolled across video screens behind the stage.
As U2 took its final bow, Bono slipped out of his leather jacket and turned it inside out to reveal a lining in the red, white and blue of the American flag. Even after he draped it over his microphone stand and walked off, the fans continued to roar for their rock 'n' roll prophet and his disciples.
Opening the show was the alternative-pop band Garbage. Scottish-born lead singer Shirley Manson was a whirlwind of attitude and talent. A sneering punk tomboy with her new short haircut, she stormed through hard-edged versions of new songs -- "Silence Is Golden," " 'Til the Day I Die" and "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)" -- and fan favorites including "Only Happy When It Rains."
© Chicago Sun Times, 2001. All rights reserved.