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I hear so many songwriters describe their songs as their children. . . . They're your parents, they tell you what to do. -- Bono

by Deb

[Spoiler alert: this is long and detailed. If you can't see a show, please read it; if you are going to one, maybe wait 'til after. --with affection, DebD] copyright debdenman 2001

Bono is a man on fire. But with a very different flame from the dazzling, unpredictable one that made his reputation. The Bono I saw Friday night at GM Place in Vancouver moved deceptively slowly, he seemed, not mellow, but...pensive. He burned inside with a very deep and steady light that grew brighter and warmer with his ever-more frequent smiles. He enjoyed himself, and thanked us profusely for our support and thundering appreciation; then took his leave with a final shout over the din to thank The Almighty. Maybe I'm imagining it, but it sounded like the audience did, as well. This is U2's Elevation 2001 Tour, but it struck me in those bottomless eyes that maybe it's a bit of a Gratitude Tour, too.
The electric counterpoint, of course, to Bono's sweet vibe was the nuclear power plant of a rock band that looks like three skinny guys in t-shirts. While their singer was out front working the crowd at the tip of a heart-shaped runway, the Edge, Adam, and Larry were clustered inside it -- at the heart, indeed -- making a noise like an army and a music like avenging angels. While pretending no objectivity, I can still agree with the critics who suggest they just might be the best arena band, ever.
The sound was impeccable, and the lights and stage were elegant, rich enhancements of the songs -- no longer the (brilliant) multimedia barrage of the last decade, but a pared-down presentation that nonetheless revealed the theatre in its blood, and established the intimacy that only sound theatrical instincts can.
The boys covered the whole of their career thus far, reaching all the way back for a note-perfect I Will Follow and the early anthems, New Year's Day and Pride. They dipped (too briefly, for this fan) into Pop for Gone, into Rattle and Hum for a sexy acoustic-blues Desire, and more deeply into the Joshua Tree and All That You Can't Leave Behind for six of the new songs. The pivotal Achtung Baby was well-represented, too, with a steamroller Even Better Than the Real Thing, Until the End of the World, and an effectively scaled-down Mysterious Ways, which found Bono lifted, on his back, by a video wall rising from the floor and then himself reaching out in breathtaking silhouette against its projected shadow of a dancing woman. Late in the show, an emotional highlight was One, a ballad characteristically invested with more urgency and fire than most bands' full-on rockers; "one life, ya got to do what you should..." was heavy with Bono's spiritual desire, and by the time he got to "...with each other, sisters...brothers!" you could hear that exclamation mark, as he threw open his arm with each word in an invitation as humble as a monk's, as passionate as a preacher's.

Bullet the Blue Sky also provided powerful theatre even as it evolves with the years. Where does Edge go when he plays that song? Like a great actor, does he visit that pain and black rage every night? The apocalypse is now, baby, and Edge won't let you forget it. Bono wielded a spotlight throughout the guitar solo and spoken coda, just as on the JT tour, but with the same new deliberation that marked his whole performance -- he aimed and hit every section of the audience all around the arena (who rose on cue on the wave of the beam, of course), and in an inspired stroke, found the upper VIP suites in his sights just as he growled the words, "...peelin' off those dollar bills--ONE hundred! TWO hundred..." The final irony, as we Canadians hung on every detonation out of Larry's drums and Adam's bass, was Bono's intoning, "...outside is NOT America..." No one gets away clean, indeed.
But that song, as much as any gentler number, was powered by love. Such can be said of U2's entire repertoire, of course (look closer: "irony" was a 90's hallmark of the shows, but never the songs. Okay, Zooropa notwithstanding...Achtung Baby and especially Pop dug deep into the scariest places), but seldom as explicitly as the new album. The great, booming Elevation opened the show, and the quiet prayer that comprises the bridge on the CD became a brief but soaring hymn at the heart of a funky celebration: "Love, lift me out of these blues...I believe in you." Bono tells us that Stuck in a Moment was written for Michael Hutchence, the sharing of which illuminates the dark battle we all wage, whatever our philosophical stripe: why pain? why evil? why me? why my children and my friends? when I really want to believe in love??
U2 continues to matter because they know these questions in our heart of hearts, and they sing them. Eighteen years ago, to a martial beat, they sang, "The battle's just begun to claim the victory Jesus won." Friday night, they proclaimed that beginning yet again, a perpetual beginning perhaps, which may explain the undiminished conviction in the evening's delivery of Sunday Bloody Sunday, touched now with a humility and faith in the face of disillusion that they could not conjure in 1983. "Thanks for spending your hard-earned cash on a rock show," Bono told us, like we might merely be indulging in an expensive night out without the kids. (Or without the parents.) As if, Bono.
Not when, on Good Friday, he can moan in an almost private aside, "Jesus...I'm alone in this world/and a fucked-up world it is, too/Wake up! Wake up, dead man..." Not when Edge and Bono can duet with equal parts beauty and desperation, "and if our way should falter along the stony pass..." or when they implore us in the closing song, "I know it aches, how your heart it breaks/you can only take so much/Walk on..." Not when With Or Without You has grown from a silky hit single into a swelling tide of longing and surrender and yes, lifts us to a nourishing moment of respite and maybe even peace.
Having established their place in the rock & roll firmament, I'd like to think U2 is carving out a place in the cultural landscape, like Dylan, the Beatles, and Springsteen before them, for taking "pop" music and its mass audience to a place well beyond its mandate. Their mission is compassion. Digging up my soul, the goal is elevation.

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