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"We can write songs about God and have them right next to songs about girls. I think we weave God, sex and politics together in a way that's very unusual to white music." — Bono

Rock the Hall: Elevation U2 tribute band set to play next weekend in Cleveland

The shape of the face is not quite right. That's the one difference. The profile is spookily similar, the chin is respectable (and the chin is very important), but if you were to compare a frontal view of Danno's face to Bono's, you'd be able to tell which was which. Seeing them in profile would be quite another story. It helps, too, that Danno is shortish, has blue eyes, and has made certain alterations to his hair.

Danno is the frontman of Elevation (or Elevation USA, to distinguish them from a Canadian group), the U2 tribute band playing Cleveland's Hard Rock Caf February 7th and 8th. His resemblance to Bono "is probably one of the greatest promotional tools that we have," he says between sets at a recent gig in St. Louis. To spread the word about Elevation, all the band has to do is "plop me in a well-populated situation."

He was out among the ideal population when he donned his camouflage hat, leather jacket with red star, and shades to patrol the GA lines at several stops of U2's Elevation tour. He gave out business cards that directed the curious to the band's website. There was just one problem -- there was no band. A little over a year ago a drummer, bassist, and guitarist were secured. Their debut gig in Chicago drew a crowd of Midwesterners who had long been denied the marvel that is a U2 tribute band. "I'll tell you what, we had no business being in front of 600 people at Joe's in Chicago," Danno says of their performance now. "I watched that video about to throw up."

Greg Flamm was in the audience that night. A veteran of this scene (he'd been with tribute band The Unforgettable Fire from 1988-90), he felt moved to "come out of retirement." So he began emailing Danno asking to take on Edge duties for Elevation. The group that will play Cleveland consists of Danno on vocals, Flamm on guitar, Dave Ambrose on drums and Chris Lambrou on bass. (Ben Rohan has Adam's job when the band is in St. Louis.) "There's a level of musicianship in the band right now that's pretty high," Danno says. "Not to say somebody who just banged [U2 songs] out in the garage couldn't do it either if they had the spirit of it and the soul of it, but I tell you what, it makes it a lot easier to have musicians in the band!"

"It's harder to be a cover band, really," Flamm says. "U2 did their own music because they couldn't play other people's music. Then, ironically, they became good enough musicians that they became a cover band on the Joshua Tree tour! It's harder to cover them note for note than to just play what's inside you sometimes. That takes a lot of work and effort."

It takes even more to call the group a "tribute band" instead of just a cover band, according to Danno. You have to get guys who look like U2 and who sound like U2. "You take the time to get things made," he says as he shows off the American flag lining of the jacket with the red star and the "2003" patches. "You put the money into it that needs to be put into it to create the illusion...I want as much U2 music to be played anywhere [as possible], I just don't want crap bands doing it and calling themselves 'tribute bands.' And they can talk to me if they've got a problem with it! We'll have a go!"

Danno's work at transforming himself into a faux Bono has led to some interesting moments.

At U2's Elevation shows, people were coming up to Danno to thank him for the music, even those who knew full well he wasn't the real thing. "[I'd say] 'Great, whatever, thanks, thank you. Here's my card.'"

He tells the story of walking down Bourbon Street in full Bono regalia when U2 played the Super Bowl halftime show. A man who followed him and his friends for several blocks finally pulled out his press tags and asked for an interview: "He says, 'I'm with CNN, I just want to get a couple of minutes with you if I could.' I'm thinking, 'Oh my God, CNN...prison...lawsuit...Bono, will you really be as loving a human being as you think you are when you hear me on CNN?'

"So he asked me, 'First of all, who are you for in the game?' I said, 'Well, I gotta go with St. Louis, because Edge used to babysit Kurt Warner' -- I told that. I did a little ten minute thing with him and that was it."

He never told the reporter about the mistaken identity. "I never heard anything about that interview either. I don't think it came out. I think his superior probably was like 'You idiot! That wasn't...!'"

If the sound of Elevation puts forward the illusion, and the audience is willing to act as if Danno might be someone else (which can happen after a few pints, he notes), the results can be euphoric. "It's definitely a high, no doubt about that," Flamm notes. "U2 is so special...The audience is the fifth member of U2. It's all about when you get a group of people around and they just take it from there. You play the music, we try our hardest to play well and everything, but the fans just take it to the next level."

"The spirit of the music and the honesty, the place U2 were in when they wrote the songs comes across," Danno says of a successful performance.

"Everybody's got to come to Cleveland. That's the main thing I want to say. It's going to be amazing."

[Visit Elevation's web site at www.theu2tribute.com.]

© Pancella/@U2, 2003.