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"A performance must be larger than life, but to be worthwhile you must have an element of humanity."

-- Edge

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U2 dazzles in Pittsburgh during last U.S. stop on bar-raising 360 Tour

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, July 27, 2011
By: John Soeder


PITTSBURGH -- A U.F.O. landed here Tuesday night. It wasn't from another galaxy, though. It was from Dublin.

Fittingly, U2 made its entrance at Heinz Field while David Bowie's "Space Oddity" blared from the stadium-rattling sound system.

In the middle of the Irish rock quartet's opening number, "Even Better than the Real Thing," singer Bono asked some 64,000 fans: "Where are you going to take us tonight?"

Answer: Out of this world!

The drama unfolded in the round, on a futuristic stage known as The Claw. With four huge metallic legs supporting a giant cylindrical video screen and a central pylon towering 150 feet into the night sky, the monstrous structure resembled an H.G. Wells space invader.

No wonder U2 has conquered the planet. The home of the Pittsburgh Steelers was the last stop in the United States on the band's 360 Tour, the top-grossing tour in history, with $700 million in ticket sales. It concludes Saturday with a show in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.

This was the closest U2 got to Cleveland. The tour skipped Ohio altogether.

Not to rub it in, but we're talking about a 21st-century rock extravaganza that was not to be missed.

And Bono (Paul Hewson), guitarist The Edge (Dave Evans), bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen were just the lads to pull it off.

Occasionally, they cavorted on a long runway encircling the main stage or across a pair of moving bridges. Bono and Clayton are 51; The Edge and Mullen turn 50 this year. Middle age didn't stop them from carrying on like kids on a very expensive playground.

"You paid for it!" Bono told concertgoers.

True to form, U2's charismatic frontman struck a few messianic poses. Yet he wasn't above poking fun at himself, either.

"I was proud of my mullet," he declared while reminiscing about the group's early days.

Granted, the acoustics weren't exactly conducive to savoring the nuances of U2's distinctive sound. But when the lights went down and an electrifying roar greeted Bono and friends as they emerged from a dense theatrical fog, who really cared about nuances?

You go to a stadium concert for a uniquely communal experience, a chance to lose yourself in something much larger than the sum of its parts. On that count, the 360 Tour has set a dizzying standard that future stadium tours will be hard-pressed to top.

Transcendence on such a grand scale requires grand showmanship, and U2 delivered.

It didn't hurt to have a songbook full of chiming anthems from which to choose. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Pride (In the Name of Love)," "City of Blinding Lights," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "One" and other epic tunes were ready-made for massive sing-alongs.

"Beautiful Day" featured a recorded video cameo by astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He was shown reciting a verse of the soaring hit aboard the International Space Station.

For "With or Without You," Bono pulled a couple attending its 60th U2 show from the audience. As the man and woman swayed in each other's arms and the band played on, spotlights reflected off a mirrorball at the very top of the mammoth stage, creating a swirling galaxy of tiny lights inside the venue. It was a magical highlight.

Little moments meant a lot, too.

The haunting ballad "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)" was stripped down to a duet. Bono's impassioned vocals and The Edge's no-frills accompaniment on acoustic guitar were the only ingredients required to enthrall the entire stadium.

During the encore, Bono fleetingly stood just behind Mullen's drum kit, with The Edge and Clayton on either side in tight formation -- four pals from Dublin's Mount Temple High School who started a band in 1978 and ended up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Their 2 1/2-hour show retraced the musical journey that got them there, from the punk surge of their breakthrough hit "I Will Follow" to horizon-broadening experiments such as "The Fly" and "Zooropa" to the back-to-basics crunch of more recent favorites such as "Vertigo" and "Get On Your Boots."

Throughout the evening, Bono slipped teases of tunes by other artists into the mix. The Rolling Stones' disco-era gem "Miss You" gave way to a booty-shaking mash-up of "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" and "Discotheque." Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" dovetailed perfectly with "Where the Streets Have No Name," a rock 'n' roll hymn if ever there was one. And a nod to Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" found its way into the final number, "Bad."

During the latter song, Bono gave a shoutout to Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol, who probably was doing a quick recalculation somewhere.

With this stunning performance, U2 proved that its fame was built to last a lot longer than 15 minutes.

© The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, 2011.

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