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I'm not sure the Vatican people have as much of a sense of humor as the pontiff. -- Bono, on the Vatican not releasing photos of his visit with the Pope

The Unforgettable Fire

U2 goes forward with tour in the face of national tragedy
Las Vegas Sun
It was almost a month to the day of Sept. 11 when a semipopular rock act canceled its Las Vegas show. Something about logistic problems with all the travel restrictions, and not being able to get everyone in the band to town on time.

A call to the group's publicist further clarified the situation. The band was indeed having issues with traveling; more specifically, it didn't care to be on the road at that time along with many other Americans.

"A lot of bands are canceling right now," the publicist said. "After Sept. 11, no one wants to be touring."

She then paused, before carefully adding: "Except for U2. They're the one band who can't cancel their tour. If they do, everyone will wonder what's going on."

So far, no one has had cause for concern.

True to form, U2, which performs to a sold-out audience Sunday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, has not canceled any concerts, and recently added even more U.S. dates to the final leg of its Elevation Tour, which wraps up Dec. 2 in Miami.

"It's remarkable the kind of business they've done," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a weekly trade publication in Fresno, Calif., that covers the concert business.

"Just about everyone is struggling. U2 is the only exception when it comes to the current state of (concert) business right now," Bongiovanni said. "Theyre certainly the top touring act in the world."

The band's success in the states isn't a coincidence.

The country seems to need someone to grieve with, comfort its citizens and eventually coax us into getting back on with our lives. We need someone to make us smile, make us laugh and maybe for a brief moment make us forget.

Simply put: We need U2.

A group as well known for its musical legacy as its unyielding faith, the band was founded in 1976 in Dublin, Ireland, by five high school friends: Bono (given name Paul Hewson), the Edge (Dave Evans), his brother Dik Evans (who dropped out of the band a year-and-a-half later), Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr.

U2's first two albums -- 1980's Boy and 1981's October -- gave the quartet its first taste of credibility. But it was 1983's War that earned the band its reputation for being politically and socially conscious, based mainly on the passionate singles "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year's Day."

This distinction continued well into the band's next two albums -- The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree -- even though U2's fiery anger had all but been doused, with the notable exception of "Bullet the Blue Sky."

Instead a maturing band found its angst replaced by a sense of loss -- "Bad," "Mothers of the Disappeared" -- the nobility of self-sacrifice --"Pride (In the Name of Love)" -- and even questions of its own spirituality -- "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

In many ways those are the same issues the United States is grappling with in the post-Sept. 11 world.

In that light, recent reviews of the band's concerts have pointed out the new connection U.S. audiences have discovered in both U2 and its music, as songs such as "One" ("We're one, but we're not the same/We've got to carry each other...) and "Please" (which Bono indignantly dedicated to religious fundamentalists during a recent show) have taken on new associations.

"It was silently felt by many in the arena that they now, sadly, understood the songs as never before. And that was one reason people came -- to release their sorrow. And, of course, to rock, too," opined Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Daily News music critic, about U2's concert Monday at the Staples Center.

The communal sense of rediscovery is also apropos of U2's latest disc, All That You Can't Leave Behind. Featuring titles such as "Walk On," "Peace on Earth," "When I Look At the World" and "New York," the album would seem to be a direct response to Sept. 11, when in fact it was released nearly a year prior.

This uncanny ability of almost universal identification -- perhaps at the heart of the band's success -- is why the band is so important today, maybe more now than before.

U2 is a reflection and extension of American ideals. Through the band's countless charitable work and contributions, we're reminded of what needs to be done. Through the band's various political causes, we're reminded of how it might get done.

Just as we need U2, however, the band needs us, as proven by its 1997 misstep Pop.

A flawed album lacking much of the lyrical and musical depth of the band's best efforts, the subsequent PopMart tour, which opened in Las Vegas in May of that year, only exacerbated the record's problems.

The band opted to stage a show, rather than a concert, and played the part of a larger-than-life rock band as a larger-than-life rock band. The irony was lost on most fans, given the fact U2 was performing in stadium-size venues, and by the end of the tour the shows were often at half-capacity.

But that's a mistake for which the band can be forgiven.

Wrestling with its reputation as "rock 'n' roll saviors," Pop was U2's attempt at what could best be called a "youthful indiscretion," similar to the altar-boy temporarily taking leave of his image while at a keg party.

It was curious, painful and ultimately regretful, but the band walked away wiser, more humble and with a determination to make things right again.

"I think they've been wearing crowns that fit a little too tightly and they took a little too seriously," said Melinda Newman, West Coast bureau chief for Billboard magazine in Los Angeles. "(Now) they have decided to have fun again without shirking their responsibility. They realized they want to have fun, and if they have fun, the audience will have fun."

To that end the band unquestionably succeeded. All That You Can't Leave Behind was the return to form the majority of fans wanted and the band needed. To date the album has sold 4 million copies in the United States, and its first single, "Beautiful Day," earned U2 three Grammies.

Alan Light, editor in chief of Spin magazine, likened the band's success to that of a great athlete who always finds a way to come through with the game-winning play.

"It starts to sound cliche, but greatness is the ability to step up in times of adversity. That's what the great ones do," Light said from his office in New York. "When the stakes are higher...they) go up another notch. That's the reputation U2 has always had."

So in October, when other bands were canceling or postponing concert dates, is it any surprise the band "that can't cancel its tour" didn't?

Instead, as Newman said, U2 simply went about its business as "one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands of all time...who's trying to make a connection with its audience every night."

And after Sept. 11, there's no one better for the job.



© Las Vegas Sun, 2001. All rights reserved.