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"I laugh when people talk about a U2 masterplan; I think people helped us because they took pity on us." — Larry



U2 stays within its limits

- May 05, 2005

by martin turenne

U2

At GM Place on Thursday, April 28

Given the thick glaze of spectacle and social activism that characterizes late-era U2, it is easy to forget just how inventive this band once was. Over the nine-year span bracketed by 1984s The Unforgettable Fire and 1993s Zooropa, the Irish quartet was Generation Xs answer to the Beatles, a group capable of expanding both its fan base and its formal repertoire at the same time. Arena rockers only by necessity, U2 is perhaps best labelled as the ultimate post-punk outfit, the sole thread linking the Clash to New Order to Coldplay.

As biggest bands in the world go, then, you could do a lot worse than U2. That is to say nothing of the groups much-publicized commitment to worthy social causes, all of which turned last Thursdays GM Place show into something more like a political convention than a rock concert. By now, you will have heard that Bono rapped Paul Martins knuckles for the prime ministers flagging dedication to foreign-debt relief, but you will perhaps not have considered how this squares with his bands many corporate sponsorships and predatory merchandising strategies. Thinking too hard about such contradictions would have put a damper on U2s solid if not particularly dazzling performance last Thursday night.

Aware that the groups two Vancouver shows were being filmed for possible DVD release, the fans on hand were in especially high spirits, singing along in all the right places and generally basking in the megawatt glow Bono casts so effortlessly.

As with 2002s Elevation tour, the players opted for a minimal and elegant setup, spending most of the show on a club-sized stage and occasionally venturing out onto an elliptical catwalk to exhort the faithful. Where the Zoo TV and Pop Mart tours were meant as elaborate commentaries on consumer excess, this years version brings the quartet about as close as possible to its humble roots, relying on a few simple objects (like the beaded curtain of lights behind the stage) to set the mood.

This straightforward approach paid highest dividends at midset, when, after wrapping a white bandanna around his head during Love and Peace or Else (a rollicking glitter-beat track from last years How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb), Bono turned the cloth over to reveal three religious symbols representing Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Segueing from Sunday Bloody Sunday to Bullet the Blue Sky, the frontman then pulled the cloth over his eyes, dropped to his knees, and placed his hands over his heada subtle and haunting reenactment of the Abu Ghraib prison abuses.

But how, the music fan might ask, was the music itself? Although there were hints of virtuosity all night longwhether in the Edges Jimi Hendrixlike solo during Bullet the Blue Sky or the complexly propulsive rhythms conjured by bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. during the encore-opening Zoo Stationthe U2 machine is clearly not pushing itself to its musical limits these days. The arrangements, for example, were uninspired, and with the notable exception of Sometimes You Cant Make it On Your Own, Bono rarely ventured out of his vocal comfort zone. With almost a million more concertgoers to serve before years end, hes making sure his campaign doesnt peak too soon, doling out just enough effort along the way to keep his disciples, if not his critics, onside.

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