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"In my head How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb is about my father, Bob, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bob. His demise set me off on a journey, a rampage, a desperate hunt to find out who I was." — Bono

Tour Debut Falls Into Place for U2

- March 26, 2001

by Robert Hilburn

The band turns in a commanding performance at kickoff in Florida; festival
seating works flawlessly.

By ROBERT HILBURN, Times Pop Music Critic

SUNRISE, Fla.--After all the talk about crowd safety on the new U2 tour, ironically, the only one who seemed in danger at the opening concert here Saturday was the band's singer.

Early in U2's dazzling two-hour set before some 19,000 fans at the National Car Rental Center arena, the energetic Bono fell backward into the crowd as he walked along one of the two narrow, 5-foot-high ramps that extended from the stage into the middle of the audience.

The crowd gasped, but after several seconds the singer crawled back onto the ramp and continued walking--more carefully, to be sure--to the stage, where he rejoined the rest of the Irish rock quartet.

Questions had been raised in recent weeks about the band's utilizing festival seating on the tour--i.e., no seats on the main floor.

Though the format is used widely around the world with few incidents, it has been associated with isolated cases of injuries and even a handful of deaths. The approach is popular with younger rock fans because it gives them more freedom of movement than fixed seating, and some fans here lined up as early as 4 a.m. Saturday to get places closest to the stage.

U2, which has used festival seating often in Europe but not previously in the United States, said it would take security precautions to minimize the chances of injury.

A key aspect of those precautions is the two ramps, which extend in a V-shape from the sides of the stage to a point in the middle of the arena floor.

About 300 fans were allowed inside the ramp area at the front of the stage, while 1,800 more stood outside the low ramps. By dividing the audience in this way, the design reduces the chance of a crush against the main stage.

The first-aid station at the arena, which is near Fort Lauderdale and Miami, reported no incidents after the show.

Because it was the opening night of a three-month tour that reaches Southern California in mid-April, fans had traveled from around the U.S. and from Europe. More than a dozen waved Irish flags.

The tour, which includes a total of four dates at the Arrowhead Pond and the San Diego Sports Arena, is a crucial one for U2, whose last U.S. stadium tour, 1997's "PopMart," was widely viewed as a disappointment.

Whereas its 1992-1993 "Zoo TV" stands as the most spectacular rock stadium tour ever, thanks to all sorts of high-tech features, "PopMart" felt undernourished conceptually. The band even seemed lost at times in the giant setting.

No such problem Saturday.

U2 set the tone by opening with superbly confident versions of two songs from its current "All That You Can't Leave Behind" album. "Elevation" is a statement of almost unchecked joy, characterized by glistening guitar lines by the Edge that echo the soaring spirit of such lyrics as, "You make me feel like I can fly."

* * *

The same soul-stirring sense of human resilience was showcased in "Beautiful Day," which recently won Grammys for best record and best song of the year.

The audience was ecstatic.

You have to be more than gifted to be the best rock band in the world. You also have to be competitive. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones didn't strive to be just great bands, but the biggest bands.

U2 has also been fueled by those twin ambitions, and this tour and the latest album show them at their most competitive.

In the album, U2 returned to its classic, guitar-driven sound after years of sonic experimentation that took it far from that core feel. But the band added just enough new touches, both sonically and thematically, to keep the album from seeming a retreat.

Similarly, the "Elevation Tour 2001" sets aside the recent emphasis on staging effects. Aside from the ramps, which allowed Bono to create a dramatic intimacy by moving close to the fans, the chief visual feature was four video screens above the stage.

Instead it relies on the power of the music, which was generally inspiring Saturday.

After the two opening numbers, U2--which also features the seamless contributions of Larry Mullen on drums and Adam Clayton on bass--drew on hits (including "I Will Follow," "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "One") and less familiar album tracks.

Some of the most touching moments were provided by these less obvious selections, including a strikingly personal treatment of the ballad "The Sweetest Thing," with Bono on electric piano. Another highlight was a greatly revised rendition of "Discotheque," a goofy look at the riddles of romance that segued into "Staring at the Sun," one of the band's most extravagantly designed anthems.

Despite having several hits left, the band turned for its closing number to "Walk On," another tune from the new album.

It was a perfect choice, a song whose self-affirmation not only summarizes one of the band's most consistent messages, but whose confident strains also toasted what is likely to be the band's own triumph on this tour. Bono once said the difficult thing in rock isn't just maintaining popularity, but also maintaining relevance. With "Elevation Tour 2001," U2 manages to do both.

LA Times, 2001.

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