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"For a lot of bands it seems to be all important to get their single into the Top Ten. I guess we've always felt ourselves to be more of an albums band anyway." — Edge




by Matt McGee

On a clear night in the city of brotherly love, U2 reminded me why I started loving this band like brothers way back in the days of smaller arenas and $17 tickets.

It was the first POP Mart show I'd seen since opening night in Las Vegas, and this one was worlds away from that concert. I left Franklin Field feeling almost embarassed for U2 -- from start to finish, this show put Las Vegas to shame and they must know it. I can only imagine how bad they feel about how this tour started.

But that's ancient history after Philadelphia. This was the same U2 I saw on April 24, 1985, a few miles down Broad Street at the Spectrum. The songs were different, the hair shorter, the stage more surreal ... the energy, enthusiasm, the Passion (with a capital P), was all back, front and center. Bono sang with everything he had (3-4 days off before a show is always a plus!), Edge was up to his old tricks, Adam (gasp!) even moved away from his security blanket at stage right for a few moments, and Larry was ... Larry. Preach on, brother Mullen.

A point of reference before we go further: the more I got away from the Vegas show, the less I liked it. In the immediate aftermath of opening night, I was filled with the expected dose of euphoria. I was willing to overlook the mistakes. But as time went by over the past six weeks, the misses of that show stood out more than the hits. The more I thought back to April 25th, the more questions I had about what U2 was doing ... and the less likely I figured U2 actually had the answers. They seemed overwhelmed, overhyped, and hopelessly unprepared for Las Vegas in specific, and POP Mart in general.

And then there was Philadelphia. Cheese steaks, soft pretzels, Tastykakes, and POP Mart.

I went in with floor seats -- 21st row in section A5, Adam's side, on the outside of the catwalk/B-stage. I never made it to my seat. As the Fun Lovin' Criminals played (not badly, I might add), I veered to the catwalk instead of my seat. God bless security for never clearing us out between shows! I ended up front-row right next to the B-stage, with Henry Wagner and Bob Reck (who needed little coercing before deciding to ditch their 2nd-row seats to join me!) behind me. I'll be the first to admit that location biases this review ... but not much.

Certainly not as much as an incredibly tight set. "Mofo" rocked, enough said. "Gone" had a new transition (at least not on record) before the "You're taking steps" lyric, and unlike Vegas, it didn't bother me that Edge wasn't playing piano. "Last Night On Earth" was a highlight: Bono sang/mumbled the intro from the album version (I don't think he did this in Vegas, did he?), and as the song climaxed at the end, Bono swung his guitar at the mic stand (gasp!) slamming it to the floor and breaking a guitar string in the process. He took the busted guitar back toward Larry, and stopped just short of slamming it into the drum kit -- the energy was amazing! This version of "Last Night" needs to appear somewhere in video form. Bono's speech prior to "Still Haven't Found" was long, and beautiful. He was standing literally six feet in front of me, but I couldn't manage to snap a picture. Had to listen. Wow. Preach on, brother Hewson. "Staring At The Sun" was done acoustically, just Bono and Edge on the B-stage. What a brilliant idea! Whomever suggested that deserves much praise.

One note: U2 needs to have a pre-"dance with Bono" test, because the lucky lady this night was way too reserved to make it work during "Miami." I could've done better, but I suppose I can understand why she'd be nervous. Second note: Already heard "Daydream Believer," Edge ... let's change the karaoke song more often, 'kay?

Back to heaven: "Please" was phenomenal. The lighting has changed slightly, God bless Willie Williams. May he live long and replenish the earth. The orange and green are now slowly filtering their way up and across the arch the entire length of the song. Just beautiful. And rather than play the drumbeat of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" as a coda at the end of the song, Larry is now playing that beat the entire second half of the song! Major shivers, goosebumps, and all that jazz. Brilliant. If this isn't the most amazing moment of the show, what is? Well, maybe "Streets" which remains the best live song U2 has ever done. If there was just one song left on earth, may we be blessed with "Streets."

The encore set remains the same. "Discotheque" was bizarre to hear -- we were so close to the whole band that we heard Larry's drumming before it reached the speakers! So there's a half-second delay that the rest of the band has to fight through to stay on time. How they manage to do it I'll never know, but I'm sure it's why Sparky (read: Adam) is wearing those mongo headphones during "Discotheque." One other note from the encore: There are new images on-screen during "Hold Me, Thrill Me" -- right when the "alive at 33" lyric hits, the screen flashes with images of stars and celebrities who died too young. I noticed the likes of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and many more. It wouldn't surprise me if Jeff Buckley was there ... if not, he'll be there soon. Bono finished "One" with another tribute to Buckley, adding the chorus of "Hallelujah" as the band's Last Goodbye.

Hallelujah, indeed. U2 are back, and they're better than ever. One night in the city of brotherly love and my faith is restored. Two hours of pure magic. Preach on, brothers Hewson, Evans, Clayton, and Mullen. Preach on!

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