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"[I]t's part vanity, it's part privacy and part sensitivity." -- Bono, on why he wears sunglasses

Pomp and Circumstance

Review: London, Wembley Arena
The mantle of born-again prophet sits uneasily on Bono's broad shoulders tonight. His trimmed-down theatrics, passionate singing and rants against the world's troubles underline the point that he's a sincere kinda guy...the trouble lies with the sheer immensity of the scale he's communicating on. When he talks about Ireland and England as divided nations, checks Thatcher and Reagan as the greatest of all evils, and advises us not to vote Tory in "Maggie's Farm," one wonders how much this mixed crowd of upwardly-mobile yuppies, old-time denim freaks, headbanded sweatshirts and middle-class family men are actually digesting. How long can the community feeling of unity and purpose built up through this man's uncanny charisma last once the chill night air takes its toll? The Joshua Tree might well be the most radical, soul-searching and incisively honest album from a band of U2's stature released for years, but its live translation is one of mere chest-thumping, confusion (the band's own struggle to come to terms with its status) and blind acceptance -- and don't believe anything else you might hear.

To follow in Springsteen's footsteps as the most successful stadium act EVER, U2 tread an extremely narrow line between the ponderous and the purposeful, between folk idealism and slick homeliness, between the naive and the worldly. The power afforded their songs is scary on occasion: when the band comes on and crashes into "Where the Streets Have No Name" and the arena ERUPTS; when the crowd starts to sway and chant even before Bono opens his mouth in "Sunday Bloody Sunday"; when during one of Bono's drawn-out diatribes in "Bad" the entire auditorium hangs on every word, one can't help but shudder at the naked massed emotion. The individual loses all identity and simply becomes one heaving pulsating amoeba, with arms and legs for brains.

It isn't the easiest task in the world playing the stadium rock game without taking recourse to the overblown pomp of so many, and it's to U2's credit that they tread mostly on the right side of ordinary. The Edge's guitar playing never slips into being unwieldy, but is straightforwardly powerful enough to cope with any demands that Bono's whims place on it, and the other two members fulfill their parts stoically enough.

U2: the religious zealots. Composition: one wheat thrasher rolling helplessly through air on drums, one baseball cap with mouth swaggering close behind, one running bass, one pair of inverted v-shaped Levis complete with floppy hat, several thousand armpits and one genuine classic, "I Will Follow." U2 are without doubt the most successfully ordinary band in the universe.

© NME, 1987.