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"Rock & roll music — the noisier the better — is still my alarm clock. It still keeps me awake. It's a hymn to the numbness, a reasonable response to the way we live." — Bono

U2: Fusing the spectacular and intimate at the Linc

- July 16, 2011

by Dan DeLuca

You might think that Lincoln Financial Field, an open-to-the-heavens football stadium with room for more than 67,000 souls on a flawless summer night, would be big enough to contain U2, the four-man Irish rock group that finally brought its outrageously staged "360 Tour" to Philadelphia on Thursday.
Not a chance. For more than 30 years, U2 has aspired to be the biggest band in the world. (It had been slated to play the Linc in July 2010, on a stop that had to be rescheduled because Bono required emergency back surgery in Munich. "My back has been rebuilt," the singer said, "with German engineering.")

These days, the world is not enough. The centerpiece of the "360 Tour" is a 168-foot-tall four-legged stage set known as "The Claw," which looks like an oversized alien from the South African sci-fi movie District 9, with a radio tower for a top hat and a circular, ever-shifting high-definition video screen for a face.

In a 21/4-hour set that began with the one-two greatest-hits punch of "Even Better Than the Real Thing" and "I Will Follow" - and closed with an elegiac reading of "Moment of Surrender" from 2009's No Line on the Horizon and an a cappella "Happy Birthday" sung to Nelson Mandela, who turns 93 on Monday - Bono and the boys were both global and local in their outreach.

During "Real Thing," the proudly self-righteous activist-singer, who received the Liberty Medal here in 2007, referred to Philadelphia as the "city of 'Love Train,' " referring to the O'Jays' 1972 hit written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

"Where you gonna take us?" he asked the crowd.

And then he brought the intergenerational audience along on a tour through the band's back catalog. The tour expertly used music - Larry Mullen Jr.'s martial drumming, The Edge's jagged, jabbing guitar lines, Adam Clayton's rubbery bass - and video to link decades-old songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which was recorded in 1983 to commemorate the death of protesters in Northern Ireland in 1972, with up-to-the-minute events like the Arab uprisings in spring 2011.

Speaking of trains, Bono, who was in fine leather-lunged voice all night (and displayed an effectively grainy falsetto on an encore of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"), seems to be spending time taking public transportation to-and-fro the Linc.

He became perhaps the first rock superstar to pander to the Philadelphia audience with references to not only the Eagles, Flyers, and cheesesteaks, but also the names of stations on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines. Hey, Fern Rock, you just got a shout-out from the Dublin Messiah!

And the 51-year-old singer was not just thinking locally and acting globally, as he demonstrated when bringing out a cadre of candle-holding Amnesty International member during "Walk On," and ceding the video screen to a recorded message from freed Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, who told the crowd: "Your voices are louder than any rock band."

Along with trying to use music to make the world a better place, Bono was also busy demonstrating his interstellar ambitions. The band took the stage to the strains of David Bowie's "Space Oddity." And in the night's most winning gambit, the foursome brought off a gleaming, life-affirming "Beautiful Day," dedicated to recovering Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, with the aid of her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, in a video clip recorded in outer space.

"Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows," Kelly said, speaking a Bowie line that Bono then sang as U2's song segued into Bowie. It might sound corny, but it made my hair stand on end.

And it wasn't the only moment like that. The impressive show had more than its share - though the song "Magnificent" wasn't quite. Tops on the list, along with "Beautiful Day," would be "One," the most perfectly realized example of the U2 strategy of forging an emotional connection with the listener on a scale that's both effectively intimate and transcendently grand.

When that happens, U2 can't be beat. It is the last enormous, unifying rock band, and its communal powers will probably never be duplicated, thanks to a music industry and pop-cultural landscape that the Internet has fractured into a million little niches. (And for all of U2's power to unite, the multitudes gathered at the Linc did not appear to include many nonwhite fans.)

Of course, when projected on a giant video screen atop a stage so big that the four men playing music on it appeared no larger than ants, that marriage of the human and operatic was not always achieved. (Not even when Bono sang Pavarotti's parts in "Miss Sarajevo," which the crowd took as a signal for a bathroom break.)

There's a conflict inherent in U2's intention to "only connect," E.M. Forster-style, while overloading football stadium crowds with a visual assault that means to comment on - and yet cut through - the digital overload we face in our daily lives. To paraphrase "Vertigo," it doesn't always give you something you can feel. But when it works, it's spectacular.

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/dan_deluca/125677633.html#ixzz1SI2agyis
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