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"A band is like a street gang. It makes sense when you're 20 and gets harder as you get older." — Edge

Night One: Heart-Shaped Rock

- June 14, 2001


"'The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World,' you know what that's
about, don't you?" asked Bono on night one of U2's sold-out four-night
stand at the FleetCenter last week. "It's about growing up in the worst
part of Dublin, where there was no chance. It comes from being uncool.
The Irish aren't cool. They're hot." This last bit provoked a cheer from the
audience, which seemed to obscure the point the singer had begun to
make. And though the language was muddled, this was as close to an
apology for his vanity as he would muster.

A few weeks ago, on the occasion of U2's sweep in the annual
Phoenix/FNX Best Music Poll, I mentioned that I detect in All That You
Can't Leave Behind a profound empathy that trumps the self-satisfied
sympathy I've always associated with the group. But that empathy just
doesn't come to them naturally. The monster ego -- be it born of poverty
or of wealth -- is U2's driving force, and it was present in their
performance from the moment they took the stage.

It was a good stage: stripped to basics, with the band playing in the
round, the sole design gimmick being a valentine-shaped catwalk that
reached out to hug a portion of the general-admission audience on the
floor. The tour has been dubbed "Elevation"; a better title, to paraphrase
a song that opening act PJ Harvey didn't play, might have been "To
Bring You Our Love."

U2 strode out to an adoring welcome while the house lights were still
on -- a rare and simple gesture, the implications of which were as easy
to read as Bono's puffed-out chest and exaggerated swagger. A loop of
the song "Elevation" was already playing, and the band took it from
there, laying into the song's four chords with the cockiness of a gang
who still feel they has something left to prove.

If there was any complaint to be made, it was that U2 oversold
themselves. But that's what makes 'em work. Plenty of bands can fill
hockey rinks, but few can command them in the manner of U2. The
two-hour set was doused with two decades' worth of hits anchored by
the new album: Behind's transcendent first single, "Beautiful Day,"
then back into the catalogue for "Until the End of the World" and
"Mysterious Ways," forward to the new gospel-tinged "Stuck in a
Moment" followed by "Kite," then back to "Gone." Only a too loose
rearrangement of "One" in the second encore disappointed, and that
might just be because I've been listening to Johnny Cash's version
a lot lately.

Bono kissed everything in sight, from the hands of the girls in the
front row to the Edge's prickly face. There was a moment during the
rapturous melancholy of "With or Without You" when time became
confused: spinning floodlights gave the illusion of a massive forward
motion even though everything else was standing relatively still.
Bono caressed a note with his arms outstretched as the crowd roared
and reached for him in uncanny unison. Like a lover's kiss, it seemed
to go on forever.

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