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"We chose the name U2 to be ambiguous, to stay away from categorization." — Bono

U2 provides the expected visual, aural spectacles

- December 13, 1997

by Bruce Rushton

The 7,500-square-foot video screen takes up more room than many houses.

The giant, yellow arch above the stage - central symbol of the U2 tour that stopped Friday at the Kingdome - towers nearly as high as a pop foul.

The bank of speakers doesn't entirely overcome the trademark echo of a dome show - but comes respectably close.

No fewer than 30 portable toilets grace the dome floor.

Welcome to U2's Popmart, the ultimate in conspicuous consumption. No prop too big, no hue too bright. Costs a reported $250,000 a day to keep this show on the road.

Do the math: At a top ticket price of $52.50, that's more than 5,000 fans who forked over their green Friday just to pay a day's worth of operating expenses. Figure three days or so between each show on this 80-city tour scheduled to last 14 months. It must add up awful quick.

The audacity of it all starts sinking in as you walk past a dozen or so nondescript semi-trailers parked outside a Kingdome loading ramp. There's a veritable fleet of rental vans shuttling road crew members in and out of the building.

One guy's just back from the hardware store. Even Friday, the last stop on the band's North American tour that began in April in Las Vegas, there's always more last-minute stuff to buy. It takes him four trips to transfer the bagfuls of hammers, nails, screws and other gear from the van into a waiting cart. He hustles.

Showtime, after all, is just 90 minutes away.

The mood is less frenetic in the seats, which are more than half empty when warmup band Smashmouth takes the stage. When the lights come up 45 minutes later, the dome's 300 level is still mostly empty. They also weren't packed particularly tight on the floor; there was nearly as much walking space as there were chairs.

It wasn't so bad that U2 staged a spectacle and nobody came (and make no mistake, Friday's show was a spectacle). Just not as many folks as Bono and his bandmates would have liked, especially after Zoo TV, the band's early '90's tour that set a new standard for gee-whiz gadgets and that played sold-out shows and back-to-back concerts in some cities.

Now it's what-can-they-do-to-top-that time.

The task is made harder by the fact that "Achtung Baby," the album that put Zoo TV on the road, is much more popular than the current "Pop," which hasn't sold well compared with past multiplatinum sellers such as "Joshua Tree," released a decade ago.

Nonetheless, band manager Paul McGuinness has called Popmart "twice as spectacular" as Zoo TV. Whether U2 has succeeded depends somewhat on your tastes.

If you like cocktail condiments, the Kingdome was the place to be Friday.

Stage left was decorated by a giant orange toothpick that speared a larger-than-life olive ringed Saturn-style by neon tubes. A behemoth pale green lime sat at the tooth pick's base.

The dull orange bank of speakers perched just beneath the top of the yellow arch resembled a picnic basket. A small Christmas tree placed atop the arch lent a festive holiday touch.

Perhaps in recognition of the challenge of living up to the past, the theme from "Mission Impossible" played just before the band went on.

They didn't just hop up there. Walking through the crowd escorted by dozens of yellow-jacketed security employees who kept fans at bay, guitarist The Edge looked more like a determined boxer than a rock star as he strode toward the gigantic stage.

Lead singer Bono emphasized the point as he wore - and quickly discarded once behind the mike - a red silk boxer's robe. A regular old Rocky from Ireland.

The techno-beat of "Pop" showed how far this band has come from earlier material such as "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

The acoustical properties of the dome made the older anthems sound particularly good. Cartoons interspersed with live footage of the band on the video screen and neon that flashed on the arch kept the visual side moving right along, especially during the newer numbers. On "New Year's Day," the bells and whistles went silent, and the band opted for simple white light and the always popular fog effect.

Those who came for a spectacle certainly got what they paid for.

© 1997. Tacoma News-Tribune. All rights reserved.

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