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"I'm not on this trip as a tourist, and if I thought that this was just show business from the White House, then I'd be out of that plane." — Bono, on his 2002 trip to Africa with U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill

U2''s concert tastefully minimalist and as good as it is . .

- April 16, 2001

by Kerry Gold

U2's concert tastefully minimalist and as good as it is going to get

If you got caught in the heady spirit of U2's Elevation concert and succumbed to the purchase of a T-shirt and program, on top of the ticket price, you would have shelled out more than $200 by night's end.
With those kind of prices, expectations for quality entertainment Friday night at GM Place ran high.
Opening act Polly Jean Harvey beat a hasty retreat following her rather unanimated and uninspiring guitar-fuelled performance. Although she rocked out in sparkly gown and stiletto boots, and dutifully delivered pummelling power chords with great rock-chick moxie, not even a blistering rendition of Down By the Water could move her audience beyond polite applause.
It was a crowd that belonged, heart and soul, to the Irish mega-rockers who've come to dominate the food chain of self-aggrandizing celebrity rockers. Rock stars who carry the old fashioned uber-star mystique capable of packing stadiums.
Following their Popmart tour, which was only marginally less bloated than the egos of the band members on stage, U2 decided to redeem itself with a smaller, "intimate" arena-sized show. The decision had no correlation with sales of their last album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, which were massive enough to warrant three Grammys and an embarrassingly conceited all-about-me thank you speech.
U2 must have done some heavy duty soul searching to come up with the stripped-down version of the big-time rock 'n' roll extravaganza. Out with the garish banks of giant videotron screens and the big lemon thingy and the ridiculous superhero costumes, and in with a tastefully minimalist stage that artistically utilized simple lighting effects and black and white video screens and film footage.
Prior to the show, the sold-out crowd had pressed itself together into a dense mass outside the giant heart-shaped catwalk that surrounded the stage. The lucky 300 or so fans inside the heart had lots more room -- a clever guard against crowd-crushing disasters that are always a risk when the floor crowd isn't seated.
Looking like any other giddy fan, Sarah McLachlan caused a bit of a commotion when she rushed up the steps to take her seat among the crowd.
Around 8:45 p.m., the band appeared, eschewing the usual glammy rock show entrance, and choosing to simply amble on stage with the overhead house lights on. While Larry Mullen Jr., Dave "The Edge" Evans and Adam Clayton could individually inspire screams on their own, it was the screams for frontman Bono that tested the ear drums. Dressed in black, wearing the trademark shades, one of the world's most famous rock stars sounded clear, strong and confident.
U2 opened with Elevation off the new album, and headed straight into the skimpy, middle-of-the-road single, Beautiful Day. Some time in to Until the End of the World, Bono deep kneed it out on the catwalk to bestow a kiss on a fan's hand, while The Edge picked off one of his wiry rock solos.
Fired up with the intensity of mass devotion, Bono lavished attention upon his devotees. Jesus walked on water, Bono walked on the crowd. He didn't perform miracles, but you got the feeling that with a little encouragement, he'd certainly try. Not to take anything away from the well-intentioned Bono and his mates, but up to this point in the concert, they'd done little to dispel suspicions that over the years they've mistaken enormous celebrity for superhuman strengths. When Bono does that exaggerated, inflated-chest swagger of his, it's hard to tell if he's doing a send-up of a pompous goof or just being one.
With the familiar bass guitar intro to New Year's Day, the mood shifted to the glory days of early U2. Bono's voice soared around the chorus, The Edge kicked in beefy guitar lines. After 20-plus years, the foursome function flawlessly, a super tight band.
Once the deafening applause settled, the band lowered the momentum with a string of newer songs, proving how quickly mediocre material can make the superstar lustre vanish. So intense was the overall response from the audience, however, they could have played Air Supply covers and gotten applause.
But a rock concert acquires a necessary rhythm, and the evening soared upwards again with Even Better Than The Real Thing, I Will Follow, Sunday Bloody Sunday (the crowd joined in on this one), Sweetest Thing, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Mysterious Ways. Huge cheers for Where the Streets Have No Name, with the chuggy guitar and Bono's sudden sprint around the catwalk, hair already slick with sweat. Even a security guard standing nearby busted a few moves on that one.
Predictably, all the oldies got the biggest cheers.
Throughout the set, U2 shook things up with flourishes of Young Americans, Whole Lotta Love, Sexual Healing, and ended on a big, brash wall of sound, punctuated by piercing, racing guitar. The hour and a half set was merely a warm up for the politically charged encore, it turned out.
Film footage of Charlton Heston saying something stupid about guns was shown, a sharply pointed message at the National Rifle Association, for which Heston is a spokesman. A bank of video screens showed horrific images of violence and animal cruelty during Bullet the Blue Sky, while Bono walked along the dark catwalk shining a spotlight into the crowd. It was the most powerful moment of the night, and an admirable effort to restore rock 'n' roll's original rebellion. By the time they launched into In the Name of Love, it truly seemed that goodness would prevail.
Prior to a rousing rendition of One, however, the fighting Irishman got another kick in. Bono, thanking Greenpeace for bringing the so-called great bear rainforest issue to light, took aim at the provincial government for the timeliness of its decision to preserve the area. (U2 had been campaigning for its preservation throughout the tour).
"That was a win, wasn't it?" he said. "Amazing what you can do when there's an election coming up, right?"
As for the band redeeming itself, this pared-down effort is probably as good as it's going to get.

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