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"The fact that we're not easy to digest means we're a lump in the throat, and a lump in the throat has far more guts to it." — Bono


- May 10, 2001

by Rob Thomas

It was 20 years ago this week that U2 first played in Wisconsin at a now-defunct Milwaukee nightclub called the Palms.

At the Bradley Center Wednesday night, U2 came as close to being that earnest, brash young band as they have in a decade.

With a basic but clever stage set, a set list crammed with memorable songs and a rededication to the power and passion that have defined the band's music, U2 showed that it never really forgot how good a band it is. Any bad memories of the band's 1990s forays into electronic music, kitsch and irony (did they really do an in-store appearance at a Kmart?) faded fast.

When U2 played at Camp Randall Stadium in 1997, the band made its entrance by emerging from a mirror-ball lemon-shaped spaceship. By contrast, the band simply hopped on stage at the Bradley Center without introduction and launched into the first crunching chords of "Elevation." The house lights even stayed up for most of the song.

The stage itself was bare bones, suggesting a Thursday night at the Annex. The one striking feature was a red, heart-shaped walkway that extended about a third of the way into the audience.

The walkway allowed Bono to get into the thick of the audience, whether he was racing laps around the heart during a raunchy "The Fly" or crouching down, clasping outstretched hands of fans as he wailed the chorus to "Bad."

But the best was when the Edge joined Bono at the very bottom of the heart. Facing each other, up close like two buskers on the subway platform, they played "In a Little While" in honor of Ramones leader Joey Ramone, who died recently. And their stripped-down "Desire," just vocals, guitar and a little harmonica at the end, was truly memorable.

The band only played one song each off the "Zooropa" and "Pop" albums, instead focusing on new songs and classic hits from the 1980s. No complaints were heard from the audience, who sang along lustily to songs like "(Pride) In the Name of Love."

For a guy who turns 41 today, Bono is still mesmerizing as a lead singer. He seems completely at ease with the eyes of 20,000 people upon him, whether he's earnestly singing a ballad like "One," leading the crowd in the politically charged anthem "Sunday Bloody Sunday" or goofing around with the Edge on "Until the End of the World."

He even poked a little fun at himself. "I would like to do something that is very difficult for a singer to do," he said. "I'd like to introduce the members of the band."

As each band member strode down the walkway to the cacophonous cheers of the crowd, Bono gave each a hug. This is a band that has logged a lot of miles together and done the near-impossible. It has managed to mature into one of the best and most popular rock bands in the world without losing its grip on its reasons for starting the band in the first place.

Capital Times, 2001.

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