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"I think God gets annoyed with the gifted. We should know that our work is no more important than a plumber's or a carpenter's." — Bono

U2 is over-the-top yet intimate in big venue

Minneapolis Star Tribune

It was the beginning and the end in the same night.

U2's concert -- nah, the Bonolicious spectacular -- Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium ushered in a new era of big-time outdoor stadium concerts (after a 33-year, Metrodome-dominated hiatus). It was also one of the last nights on U2's record-setting two-year, 110-concert (only two more to go) 360° Tour, which will gross an unprecedented $717 million.

"I think this is the place to begin the end of the tour party," said Bono.

Funny thing about the 360 Tour in Minneapolis -- it went full circle in the Twin Cities outdoor stadium concert history. The last biggie in 1978 at the old Met Stadium featured the Eagles and a hard-driving rain during Steve Miller's set in front of 65,000 people. On Saturday, the drizzle eventually turned into a deluge, and Bono and the boys played on, getting pelted by the downpour, along with nearly 60,000 jubilant fans.

"Unbelievable," Bono declared after "Walk On," "I cannot get over this."

Yes, it was an unforgettable show -- for U2's unstoppable fortitude, uplifting music and the invigorating rain.

Despite having the most expensive touring production in the history of popular music, the $25 million stage came with no roof. So U2 improvised with equipment (Bono held a U.S. flag umbrella for a bit and bassist Adam Clayton took his shirt off) and in song (with snippets of the Beatles' "Rain," "Singing in the Rain," and, of course, Prince's "Purple Rain").

Before the rain came, it almost felt as if the much-hyped stage was going to be the star of the show, not Bono or the music. Dubbed the Claw, the stage looked like a collision of a spider and a spaceship or a crab and a cathedral. The mammoth four-legged monster afforded the fans a 360-degree view of the band.

Despite all the bells and whistles, U2 gave a performance that was both over-the-top and intimate, both epic and informal, both highfalutin' and fun. The quartet kept it intimate by playing on a relatively small (for a football stadium) stage, surrounded by a circle walkway that every band member (including Larry Mullen Jr. on conga once) used to good effect.

Moreover, there were quieter musical moments, most notably "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," a duet by Bono and the Edge (who unleashed a stunning falsetto). In introducing the song, Bono mentioned that it was written for INXS' late singer Michael Hutchence but on this day, it would be dedicated to British pop star Amy Winehouse, who died Saturday.

Just two voices and an acoustic guitar made it feel like a living room performance -- inside a football stadium.

The Edge's wondrous electric guitar framed every song. Often sounding like a one-man orchestra, his vibe was less majestic than on previous tours but just as potent. He went for wah-wah funk on "Mysterious Ways," chilling sweetness on "Beautiful Day," punky slashing on "The Fly."

Bono, 51, came on like a rock icon, in leather jacket and pants, with his Tom Hanks hairdo and tinted glasses. But he was also very in the moment. The Irishman was well aware of where he was, acknowledging the new stadium and bringing out a former Twin Cities resident, Somali rapper K'naan, to sing a bit of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" at the end of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

The set list was heavy on hits, with a few tunes from 2009's No Line on the Horizon sprinkled in. There were many highlights but none brighter than the closing "Moment of Surrender." Bono asked for all the lights in the stadium turned off, as he delivered the soulful hymn, which took on a new meaning on this night, about U2 and their fans refusing to surrender to the rain.

© Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2011.