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"(Zoo TV) is a means for us to plunge 20,000 people in confusion." — Adam

The Greatest Show on Earth

Cecil Hollwey sees U2 in Seattle
Hot Press
A city built on hills, surrounded by snow-capped mountain ranges, lakes & the Pacific Ocean; blazing sunshine all day long, lying in a park with a cold "Bud" in one hand, just people watching: roller skaters, skateboarders, joggers, windsurfers, canoeists and sail-boats on the lake -- everyone's smiling, tapes blaring out from portable stereos or Walkmans, boogying along at a leisurely pace.

In the evenings the bars fill up, one place even has great draught Guinness! Paradise, but Seattle just needs that little injection of the fast life, to liven things up a bit, and last night it certainly got it!

U2 have hit the U.S. in a way nobody could have foreseen. After about 25 dates in one month the show has been polished to virtual perfection, reaching a high I haven't seen in a live performance for a long time. Every date has been a sell-out: venues have ranged in size from 2,000 to 12,000 seaters and everywhere the story has been the same -- crowd reactions comparable in emotion to Springsteen at Wembley.

But before you think this is yet another U2 fanatic who never said a bad work about the band, let me make my position clear. I've seen U2 fairly regularly since the Buttery days along with D.C. Nien; those smaller gigs were great but since then I haven't seen a U2 gig that could be described as classic: I've seen average shows, promising shows, but nothing spectacular. I posses only one U2 album, and a couple of singles. I follow them with interest and hope as I follow any Irish band -- but that's the size of it.

Tonight's venue was similar in style to the Olympia theatre in Dublin, with seats and a capacity of just under 3,000; my first reaction was that it wouldn't work but after about three songs, seats were the last thing on anyone's mind -- the place just literally shook with excitement, inspired by Adam and Larry's thudding bass and drums. The Edge's harmonics responding to every signal from Bono -- the band were giving absolutely everything they had. At this stage, halfway through the tour, they should be exhausted, cutting corners and playing songs as a matter of form rather than feeling, but not a chance; every note, every beat had a sense of vibrancy and commitment. They pranced around the stage as if it was only their second night on the road.

About halfway through the set Bono used the familiar introduction "This song is not a rebel song" and the band lurched into "Sunday Bloody Sunday" -- the response at the end was thunderous. Then into "New Year's Day," probably their best-known song on this side of the Atlantic, and the reaction again was unbelievable.

Bono added a few deft touches to make a "show" of it first giving one of the by now familiar white flags into the audience; it was duly passed up to the people on the balcony, to the back of the hall, and back up to the stage again. At another point Bono stopped everything and mentioned that someone had been ringing him in his hotel all afternoon, claiming to be from Seattle's greatest band -- was this guy in the audience? It turned out he was and Bono invited him onto the stage; he was the drummer so some extra drums were brought on stage, and one extremely happy Seattleite played percussion for a couple of songs. Later Bono disappeared from the stage and suddenly reappeared in the centre of the crowd, microphone in hand, and continued singing there; he was lifted up by the crowd and lying on his back carefully passed back up to the stage. At the end of the show during an encore, he asked a girl up for the audience and they performed Bono's version of a "jig." He then sat her at the front of the stage, borrowed her friend's camera and proceeded to take a few shots of her.

Each one of these acts turned the audience to virtual hysteria: Americans love participation and they love a performer.

Closing the show with "I Will Follow" and "Gloria," U2 left an audience which was now riding in overdrive the first encore was one I hadn't heard before, a quiet ballad, with the Edge playing a semi-acoustic. They bounced back with "Two Hearts Beat as One," leaving an audience still screaming for more -- and finished with another slower number, the Edge playing bass and Adam on guitar. The band left the stage one by one Larry filing off last with the sound of his snare drum still pounding through the P.A. and the crowd still roaring. A tape of Clannad's "Theme From Harry's Game," followed by Stockton's Wing, meant the end of the show and dripping, exuberant crowd quietly weaved their way back onto the streets.

Seattle will not forget them for a long, long time!

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