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[T]he hardest place in the world for what we try and pull off as U2 . . . is the U.K., where the arts and politics are very separate. -- Bono

Beautiful Night at the Astoria

- February 07, 2001

by Max Bell

Watch out for the Waterloo Sunset, in case U2's snake oil-selling front man, Bono, starts to charm you with a line about his bass player's appendage, and then refers to his songwriting partner, yer guitarist "the Edge", as a "Zen Presbyterian". It appears that bonhomie is abroad in the corporate world of rock music. But hand it to U2 - when the celebrity chef says that the greasy chips are halfway down, they deliver.

Last night's Astoria show was the third in a triumvirate of small theatre events - Paris, New York, London - all drawing music-industry people, clinging to the Dubliners' hems, and a healthy cross-section of real-time fans. They stood by their posts because U2 still encourages that level of support. Outside, in the wet Soho streets, supplicants begged for access.

It has to be said, Bono carries a stage-side manner that acknowledges both camps. The palpable excitement that greeted End Of The World caused him to fling himself, with fantastic restraint, into the pit. His easy exit, within seconds, indicated that a few pacts have been made where U2 is concerned.

But the palpable excitement in the lower decks, coupled with interested involvement aloft, couldn't account for the brilliant garage rock of Elevation. Scampering across the Monkees and Jimi Hendrix references, Bono and Edge switched the agenda sideways to Stuck In A Moment ... with oblique nods at Michael Hutchence and Paula Yates.

That's another U2 trait. They pull names out of the bag, and they have some to mull over. Bono's boys are always intellectual, but they ain't snobs. After all, when you've just been humiliated by Atomic Kitten, it takes a certain spirit to bounce back à la U2.

An oddball Desire and a dodgy Salman moment aside, the band translated from the marketed world that all rock business inhabits to the nitty gritty that inspired One and Discotheque. When other rock groups are struggling for a following, U2 won't be.

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