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"A lot of people have nothing to say, and they say it all the time." — Bono

Bono displays his showmanship

- April 26, 2001

by Jeffrey Miller

He's no longer an eager lad out to change the world, but a
well-schooled entertainer.

He was a grizzled gent in his late 40s, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a funky
beige fedora, looking every bit the aging, would-be hipster.

As he climbed the stairs from the floor of the Arrowhead Pond before U2's
performance Tuesday, the person next to me gave him a dismissive glance. "The
hat doesn't work," he said.

Elvis Costello had walked by, not just unrecognized but the target of derision.
Middle age can be unkind to once cutting-edge performers.

Bono seems to know this. The U2 singer isn't the fresh-faced, eager-to-inspire
leader of a ragtag outfit from Ireland, nor the newly crowned heir to the rock throne,
nor even the postmodern superstar who turned stadium extravaganzas into an
ironic commentary on pop-culture idolatry and excess. He's outgrown all that.

He's a battle-tested showman, packing the full arsenal of entertainer's tricks. He
knows he doesn't need to incite the crowd. Sure, he might break a sweat jogging
around the enormous, heart-shaped catwalk of the band's Elevation tour set. He'll
reach out to accept a fan's offering of a rose, a necklace or a spangled cowboy hat,
allowing a momentary illusion of contact. Then it's on to the next move.

It's a time-honed technique: coaxing and then withdrawing, teasing but never
really putting out. Forget the Rock Star 101 ploy of thrusting the microphone into
the air to get the audience to sing along. U2's fans do so without prompting, freeing
Bono to lean back and bask in the adulation.

It helps that the band he fronts has raised the arena-rock spectacle to an art form
with brilliantly conceived set design, lighting and video screens. Then there are the
musicians - The Edge churning out his trademark riffs, Larry Mullen Jr. providing
brisk, workmanlike drumming and Adam Clayton doing his nightly bit as the
anonymous bassist, plunking root notes and doing his best to stay out of the way.

Combined, the performance and presentation transformed the sterile,
air-conditioned expanses of the Pond into a sweaty roadhouse, with all
18,000-plus fans - even those in the rafters - on their feet throughout.

Those familiar with the band's set Monday would have found few surprises here.
The quirky choice of "Kite" was jettisoned in favor of more familiar tunes, "Even
Better Than the Real Thing" and "The Sweetest Thing," as well as "Gone" from the
"Pop" album.

At the prescribed point in the evening, Bono and The Edge marched to the front tip
of the catwalk to perform as an acoustic duo. This time they did a refreshing "Angel
of Harlem" and "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" instead of "Desire" and "Stay
(Faraway, So Close!)." Oh, and they dropped "I Remember You" from the final

Beyond that, it was the same show as Monday - indeed, the same as any other
date on the tour. Hardcore fans will take note of minute differences, like Bono
slipping a slice of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" into "Mysterious Ways." But for
anyone else, it was the same.

And sameness is not necessarily bad. Listening to the band blast its way through
"The Fly" at the end of the main set left no doubt that this was as good an
arena-rock show as people around here are likely to see for a while. Whether it's
worth $130 is a matter of personal choice (and one's tolerance for living off nothing
but ramen for several months).

Through it all, Bono entertained the crowd with subdued assurance, appearing to
expend no more energy than was essential to complete the band's mission of
sending the folks home happy. It wasn't a spill-your-guts-on-the-stage,
try-to-change-the-world performance.

Maybe it's because he's almost 40, an age when such idealistic fervor might look a
bit silly.

Sort of like if the guy in the fedora were still trying to be an angry young man.

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