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"[I]n the early '80s ... there was this rather ridiculous idea ... that if it was big, it was bad. Which of course rules out Elvis." — Bono

Zooropa Tour: Style, Sex and Self-Assurance

Rock critic Dave Fanning reviews U2's multi-media spectacle in Pairc Ui Chaoimh
The Irish Times
Maybe the most impressive thing about this Zoo monster -- a monster so big it boasts aircraft warning lights on top of its digiwall vidistacks -- is the complete ease with which the four dwarfed members of the band not only conduct themselves onstage, but also manage to blend with the technology simultaneously, and I suppose paradoxically, infusing the music with real humanity.

It's hard to know what to make of this supposed desire to dismantle the standard rock cliches of the past. Using rock's own mythic gestures to mythologise rock stardom is a subject that has already turned one too many observer into a pretentious prat.

It's better to join the fans and celebrate this sort of homecoming in all its technological glory, visual estravagance and musical excellence. Of course, interruptions to link up with U2 pal Bill Carter (who, incidentally, was at the gig last night) in war-torn Sarajevo can jar with the best of us. Bono's naivete has never been known to suffer a breathing problem in its efforts to keep up with his sincerity and open-mindedness.

But those who balk are outnumbered a thousandfold by those who arc stirred, even if not shaken. Last night it wasn't an issue, U2, have made their point, and the link-up is a thing of the past.

From the first flickering image of the drummer boys from Triumph of the Will to the final strains of the King singing "Can't Help Fallin' in Love" some two hours later, there is a spirit of play in Zoo TV that stands as the perfect antidote to the urban tensions of the early 1990s and the often self-aggrandizing mini-dramas of the late 1980s. If this is the show by which all other rock circuses must be measured, then God help the new music. Better that it should be celebrated as something positively groovy and quite simply the biggest and best from the biggest and best.

That already-famous opening is so cool, so dead-on. Like a hundred Laurie Anderson performance art backdrops, the videos vomit so many subliminal nothings in your face you hardly notice Bono shaping up like John Cleese in the Ministry for Silly Walks. But he's not wearing a pinstriped suit and bowler hat. He's wearing those shades and that suit, and as he glides nonchalantly under the Edge's radar, "Zoo Station," Achtung Baby's opening track, in one split second, cuts a swathe through 18 months of expectation, and we're off on a daft rollercoaster that gets better as it gets darker. Literally.

Keeping up the barrage, the second song, "The Fly," is as good as 1990's rock 'n 'roll gets. Media madness, estrangement from the self, irony as transcendence, cyber-anarchy pop for the sake of pop if you caught all that in the first ten minutes I won't argue.

During these early numbers, Bono shone with style, sex and self-assurance, and though he swaggered he did so with unfeigned delight in his vampish moves. Calculated, yes, thrilling, definitely. As ever, Edge's often electronically-agitated guitar lent shape and shadow to every song. On into the set from Mullen and Clayton at the back, there's a nonchalant, loose-limbed elegance which allows Bono to echo the sometimes exquisitely subtle funk with falsetto vocals. The presentation of new songs ("Numb" is solid enough, "Stay" benefits from an almost Unplugged rendition at the end of the catwalk) doesn't look like a different gig, but it does feel like one. It's funny that a tour which inspired an album (i.e. Zoo TV spawned Zooropa) can falter, or at least move slightly off-kilter, when a handful of the very songs which grew from it are eventually pumped back into it.

When Bono emerged in his MacPhisto garb, he came over as some sort of Michael MacLiammoir caricature, caught in the flashing lights of pub closing time with hypocrisy, hedonism and self-importance topping the list of descriptions. "Who can take us back from the brink?" he feigned. "The GAA, that's who." With the Devil's music pumping in the background, he rang Frank Murphy, secretary of the GAA, but there was no answer, because he was at the gig. MacPhisto finds Bono living out his darker side without having to own up to it, thus allowing fans to take U2 as unseriously as their Nineties' image demands. Or something.

With "Love Is Blindness," the show ends on a sombre note, while the Elvis Presley bit (he takes over from Bono) acts as a sort of calming coda. At this stage it seemed sort of irrelevant to ponder the exam question posed in last week's NME. Bono himself replied with real hatchets, the letters page will surely have to be extended for at least a month, but whether Zoo TV is a "subversive, ironic, multi-media bombardment and situationist statement" or a "two-hour post-modernist pot noodle advert made by politically naive, culturally unaware squares with the help of some cool, arty people" is open to interpretation. As Elvis croons over the Lee, one thing's for sure. Zoo TV is a bloody great big thing of a yoke.

© 1993 The Irish Times. All rights reserved.