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"The thing that's most oppressive in our era is celebrity. And that's why people want to burn my house down. I think I understand that." — Bono

U2 messages delight packed hall

- December 10, 1984

by Jane Scott, Rock Critic

Singer Bono Vox tripped over the mike Sunday night at Public Music Hall, but his recovery was worthy of a Doug Flutie. "This stage just isn't bit enough for this band or this audience," he shouted. Amen! The hall was a throbbing mass of waving arms and banners. Thousands of fans couldn't get tickets. And the Irish band, U2, was showing why it had sold out the concert in 13 minutes.

Last year Box, a.k.a Paul Hewson, had suddenly jumped down into the audience and was carried on his back as he continued to sing. He had even popped up in a balcony, high over the right stage. He didn't try those actions this time. Last time U2 was still building up its power here in the States. Now it's there.

"You've got to make your points with broad strokes at first," said Vox after the show. "Now we make them with the music. I don't want to distract from that." Smart move. There were few gimmicks to distract from U2's music - no outrageous outfits, no crazy hairdos, no special effects.

The stage was spare with only a plain backdrop, which made the lighting doubly effective. The stage went almost dark during the dramatic "MLK" (Martin Luther King), with strobe lights flickering over Vox as he sang "And may your dream be realized."

A picture of a lost child - the cover of U2's "War" album - flickered on the back wall during "Sunday, Bloody Sunday." The song, almost an anthem, tells of broken bottles under children's feet and bodies strewn across a dead-end street. U2 surprisingly debuted the political piece in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

U2 is a rarity among popular rock bands: It shuns "come play with me" lyrics that focus on love and lust and instead sings about peace and justice and understanding. There's a hunger in their music for things of the spirit - and you could feel that hunger in the youthful audience.

But U2 doesn't preach. It puts across its lyrics with standout musicianship. Appreciation rippled through the crowd as Dave (the Edge) Evans was spotlighted on the guitar. He played keyboards with his guitar still around his neck on "The Unforgettable Fire," then strummed almost triple time on "The Electric Co." On the finale, "40," the Edge had switched to bass, and bassist Adam Clayton was on guitar. Rounding out the ferocious rhythm section was drummer Larry Mullen.

Vox, fairly short, with long dark hair combed behind his ears, is an impassioned singer with a superb rapport with the crowd. He isn't irritable. He slapped hands with front row fans and hugged two young women who managed to pop up onstage without missing a beat.

With all its pow, U2 has memorable melodies, with intuitive songs like "A Sort of Homecoming," based on a quote from a Nazi concentration camp victim, slowing down the pace. U2 has a deep feeling for Christianity without taking any sides (Vox's parents are Catholic and Protestant). A surprising addition to "The Electric Co." was Vox's sudden swing into "Amazing Grace." Nice touch. Then at the end he saw a flag and motioned the fans to toss it on the stage. It was a green, orange and white Irish flag and he draped it over the mike.

The highlight, as you might expect, was U2's single, "Pride (In the Name of Love)" that had the fans singing and swinging in front of their seats. That, too, is a tribute to Martin Luther King, and his picture was flashed on the wall.

There was one drawback: "New Year's Day," a crowd favorite, seemed a little perfunctory, almost tossed off.

The concert's encores wound up with "40." Vox explained that title backstage. "We were in the studio and they were rushing us out. We had overstayed a week. We were supposed to do another song. But I just read from the 40th Psalm and we put it to music," he said.

Opening this show was Waterboys, a London band with a rather interesting record, "A Pagan Place." Talent is obvious in this young band on its first American tour. Singer Mike Scott was a strong, if frantic, frontman. But the group played so hard and so loud with so little variety that after four songs it because a bit of a bore."

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