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"I try not to point the finger because I usually associate myself with the accused." — Bono

U2 Brings Down The House In New York

- December 06, 2000

by Barry A. Jeckell

Following in the recent steps of fellow superstars Madonna and Ricky Martin, U2 played a rare club gig Tuesday (Dec. 5) night in New York. The group performed an hour-long set of new songs and classics for an audience of 1,000 contest winners, music industry insiders, and celebrities at the city's Irving Plaza.

Sponsored by New York's K-Rock (WXRK) and broadcast on radio stations nationally, the show was undeniably the hottest ticket in town. For every Billy Corgan and Zack De La Rocha (to whom Bono lamented the recent end of their respective bands from the stage) sighting inside the venue, there were also rumors of notable figures -- MTV News mainstay Kurt Loder and actor Matt Damon among them -- who were cut from the list, which was strictly held to 1,000 by local fire officials.

The novelty of the night was the opportunity to see a band of U2's stature -- whose spectacular multi-media tours routinely sell-out arenas and stadiums worldwide -- performing in an intimate live environment it has been far removed from for many years. The situation seemed to fit well with guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen Jr., all of whom looked relaxed and content throughout the set. The same cannot be said for frontman Bono, who appeared uncomfortable and confined, as if the small stage didn't offer enough room for him to prowl and preen before his adoring audience.

The band kicked off with what are arguably two of the strongest tracks on its latest album, "All That You Can't Leave Behind" (Interscope) -- "Beautiful Day," and "Elevation." The former served to explosively announce the band's return, as it was delivered with a ferocity that placed it squarely among the band's substantial arsenal of anthems. Throughout the song, a manic Bono teased the audience, crouching, lunging, and stretching his hand just out of reach of the fans squashed against the security barrier in front of the stage.

Another new album song, "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of," which Bono dedicated to late INXS singer Michael Hutchence, followed, offering the Edge a welcome chance to deliver a falsetto verse. After explaining the influence the music of the city had u2 as a young band, Bono dedicated "New York," the last new song of the evening, to Joey Ramone.

From there on out, the band ran through a litany of some of its biggest songs -- including "I Will Follow," "Desire," "One," and "All I Want Is You." Save for a few jumbled lyrics, and the unnecessary inclusion of refrains of the Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" (during "Bad") and Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" (during "Mysterious Ways"), each was memorably and excitingly delivered, pushing the crowd into a near frenzy.

Dressed in a leather blazer and pants, Bono's sweaty, rock star posturing was in stark contrast to that of his comfortable, t-shirted bandmates. The inherent pretension we've come to expect from this man -- who compared being in the band to the Mafia, saying, "you don't get out of it while you're alive" -- seemed to melt away only sporadically during the set. Remarkably, one of these moments came during his heartfelt and humorous introduction of the band that was laughingly interrupted by an audience member seeking three seconds of fame by yelling, "Yankee baseball!" during a quiet passage, to which the singer reacted with an "only in New York" grin.

Another vulnerable moment came during "Mysterious Ways," as Bono perched himself on the security wall, leaning on a barrage of outstretched arms to support him. While at first it looked as if he was looking for the other 15,000-to-70,000 people usually in front of him during a performance, the human connection briefly accomplished the goal of bringing Bono and U2 back to the emotion of the music that made the night such a unique and special experience.

What was an event most will speak of with reverence for years to come ended on a sour note, as the band followed a stellar encore performance of the rarely performed "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" with what now seems to be a rock concert requisite Who cover. The band ran through a sloppy rendition "Won't Get Fooled Again" that saw Bono obviously reading the lyrics from the stage floor. With a history of so many great songs, the forced inclusion of the homage to Townshend and company was indeed a poor decision.

The show was opened by an hour-plus DJ set by the Chemical Brothers, who were warmly received, but found their considerable talents reduced to that of a jukebox. The duo received far more response for slipping in a snippet of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and an unembellished full version of the Clash's "Train In Vain" near the end of their set than for several passages of innovative mixes and rafter-shaking beats.

© Billboard magazine, 2000. All rights reserved.

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