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One part of his brain is a genius, but he can only focus on one thing. He wasn't able to negotiate his way through school, but he can sit and read seven books in a day. -- Ali, on Bono

It''s a b-U2-ful day

- June 06, 2001

by Larry Katz

Nobody will ever mistake the FleetCenter for a nightclub.

But for fans of U2, which played the first of its four Boston shows there last night, the band's Elevation Tour 2001 felt intimate and almost cozy, at least in comparison to the giant stadium shows the Irish rock stars have given for the past decade.

Gone were the giant props - the golden arches and three-story lemon of 1997's PopMart tour - that filled the stage and dwarfed the band at its '90s shows.

Simplicity is the new rule. The band - singer Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. - worked from a small stage inside a red, heart-shaped catwalk that allowed Bono and Edge to stroll into the audience jammed both within and around it.

Of course even relative intimacy comes at a price: up to $130 plus service charges for seats overlooking the floor, where seats had been removed to allow holders of $45 general admission tickets to stand.

But the payoff was some sense of closeness with U2, which did its part by delivering new hits and old with a steady intensity. And if you happened to be stuck in the upper reaches of the FleetCenter, well, at least you could watch each member of the band at work in black-and-white on the video screens hung high above the stage.

The night began with a bracing opening set by P.J. Harvey, whose combination of sex appeal (low-cut blouse, thigh-high miniskirt, black boots) and abrasive guitar rock was terrifically alluring, if not readymade arena fare.

With the house lights still on from the intermission, U2 casually walked onstage, picked up their instruments and raised the seated portion of the audience to its feet with ''Elevation.''

Few bothered to sit down after that. ''Elevation'' was followed by ''Beautiful Day,'' also from U2's current CD ''All That You Can't Leave Behind,'' whose songs dominated the early portion of the 130-minute set.

Memorable moments included Bono and the Edge singing ''In A Little While'' nose to nose, and Bono recalling the ''25 nights we've played (Boston)'' before launching into an a cappella verse of the Beatles ''In My Life.''

But it was U2's hallowed hits of the '80s that galvanized the crowd and, it seemed, the band, too. Before returning for the two encores that ended the show, U2 turned the FleetCenter into an ecstatic mass of waving arms with ''Where the Streets Have No Name'' and ''Pride (In the Name of Love).''

If the band's political message only surfaced briefly with an anti-gun message before ''Bullet the Blue Sky,'' its personal message was ever present: Music can bring us together.

It can even make the FleetCenter feel like home.

© Boston Herald, 2001.

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