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"I think that love stands out when set against struggle. That's probably the power of [War] in a nutshell." — Bono



by Ahmadsquad

Some people don't like U2's sound nowadays. They would rather U2 revert back to the simpler, rootsier sound of their early albums. They believe U2 has lost their musical direction, as they have pushed the limits of their playing and their sound. These people feel as if U2 become loud, arrogant, obnoxious, and irrelevant. 

Just before singing "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" Bono addresses the band's everchanging spirit, saying, "We keep it [the music] interesting for us so it won't be bullshit for you." Indeed, U2's performance at the Astrodome the day after Thanksgiving embraced all of their musical catalog--from the rough-n-tumble kickstep of "Mofo" to the simple, embryonic riff of "I Will Follow."

First, let me say that Larry Mullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton are perhaps the most underrated rhythm section in all of rock'n'roll. Without them, the Edge's signature echo would ring hollow, and Bono's vocals would sound melodramatic and uninspired. They are the sonic foundation of the band, and they work together as a perfect unit. At times, it's hard to know when Larry's drumming ends and Adam's bass begins.

The Popmart show itself has changed since I last saw it in Dallas. For one, the visuals accompanying the songs seem much more relevant. During "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," a cameraman zooms inches away from Bono's face. The effect reminds me of Big Brother in "1984"--Bono is the ubiquitous rock star, with his face looming over countless adoring fans. And during "Pride," burning crosses and Klansmen share the screen with Martin Luther King and Civil Rights protestors. By juxtaposing these images, U2 show both the angels and the demons of the history of the American South.

U2 has also changed their musical approach in their concerts. "Staring at the Sun" has been stripped of its sonic layers, revealing the stuff of all of U2's greatest songs: simple chords, complex harmonies, and compelling lyrics. But the most compelling change by far has been the Edge's rendition of "Sunday Bloody Sunday." In Dallas, he sang a kitsch and playful karaoke version of "Daydream Believer." In Houston, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was stripped down to sound like a lullaby with a painful message. Edge's guitar shimmered in the dark as he sang "How long must we sing this song?" in whispered tones. In _War_, the power of the song was in the driving rhythm and Bono shouting "Wipe your tears away." Now the power of the song lies in the understatement--three chords and the truth, if you will.

It seems to me that U2's quietest moments carried the show. Like when the crowd hushed when Bono scatted an impromtu melody during "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Or when the band stopped playing a searing version of "Please," leaving only Bono's wonderful falsetto. He held that note forever as he slowly sank to his knees. Or when Bono and the Edge played "Wake Up Dead Man" below images of Michael Hutchence. Hutchence had passed away just days before, and he certainly signified the"dead man" of the song that night. Or when the band stopped playing altogether during "Pride," and allowed the audience to sing the song. In all of these instances, the simplicity and purity of the music overpowered the 100 foot arch, the millions of dollars put into the tour, the meagre audience turnout and critical backlash. I loved those quiet moments, because I heard U2's music louder and clearer than I ever could. 

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