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I peak early in the morning. It's downhill from there.-- Bono, 2004

U2 -- Opening Night, National Car Rental Center

- March 30, 2001


Sweat poured off Bono's face. He kept that damn Matrix coat on all night, despite
Miami heat made all the more intense by the 20,000-strong throng at his feet. He
looked up at the crowd and smiled, "Thanks for following us around all these
years, and for giving us a great life ..." He paused. The crowd roared. "I hope we
don't fuck it up! How was the first night?"

Bedlam. Laughter echoed through the din as the sated audience relished the lead
singer's irony -- a flavor purportedly absent from this elemental, "back-to-basics"
tour. Bono shook his head, obviously pleased with himself, and grinned at his own
understatement. Hell, the man had given his all, falling into the audience once,
leaping into the audience a second time, and running laps around the heart-shaped
ramp that carried the band members out into the lucky few thousand on the arena
floor . The only thing "elemental" about the Elevation 2001 Tour is that the band is
smack-dab in their element, right at the heart of the fans who love them.

Sadly, PJ Harvey, the mercurial British singer-songwriter scheduled to open the
tour's American dates, was stricken with a viral infection requiring three weeks of
recovery; as of press time, she is planning to join the tour in Houston. Ireland's
Corrs were a last-minute addition brought in to warm up the sold-out crowd. As it
turned out, the ABBA-infused young band was a perfect match for club-soaked
Miami. Their infectious world pop splayed from salsa to Southern rock, with a
few jiggy nods to the homeland whenever slinky lead singer Andrea Corr whipped
out her tin whistle.

As the lights came up, the remaining empty seats filled quickly and folks on the
general admission floor vied for choice spots. A number of seemingly Irish flags
unfurled during the Corrs' set, but the house lights revealed some to be, in fact,
similarly hued Mexican and Italian banners. People were here from all over.
Nervous anticipation began to erupt in small pockets of applause, the crowd
perhaps hoping to will their heroes onto the stage.

The first bellowing keyboard bursts of "Elevation," the song, officially launched
Elevation, the tour, and made U2's case, loud and clear, now and forever -- that
Rock is back and never really went that far away. The sonic depth-charge pings
rang throughout the sports arena as the crowd became one writhing mass under
full-up lights. The stage exploded in a bath of white as the band sauntered out
casually. People looked at each other and held on tight with every communal
bounce and leap, arms up and out to welcome the boys home.

While Edge somehow crammed the entire "Elevation" wall of sound into one guitar,
bassist Adam Clayton grinned like a kid, and Larry Mullen Jr. furrowed his
patented buzz cut into a serious drummer-face. Bono, meanwhile, took the
opportunity to vogue and vamp for the audience, striking different heroic rock
poses to the hiccupy beat. Oh, he milked it, stretching out his arms and wiggling
his Elvis between lines. Offering no quarter, U2 next launched into their most
recent mega-hit, "Beautiful Day." Full-disclosure time: the band was blowing their
figurative load, as it were. By this point, the crowd was maniacally pogoing as one.
As each chorus hit and harmonies soared heavenward, the stage sparkled. Then
more electric baths of white and full-blast house lights, and the ramps lit into rows
of strobes. It was "Until the End of the World," and only the night's third song.
Edge took the far ramp and Bono took the other, teasing and urging the audience
with every step. At one point, he began worshipping Edge as delayed power
chords tripped and rippled from his Les Paul. Bono lay flat, allowing the crowd to
bask in the understated excellence of the guitarist who has influenced more bands
and car commercials than most contemporaries.

As Bono recovered, he blew little kisses into the crowd and fell backward off the
stage toward the best "seats" in the house: inside the ring made by the ramp-heart.
It was clearly unintentional, as teams of yellow- and black-shirted staff dove in
after him and pushed him back up to the ramp. He lie there for an uncomfortably
long moment before making his way back up, only to be chased backward to the
main stage by Edge.

Themes of redemption and returning prodigal sons recurred throughout the evening.
The band ripped through most of the best of their quarter century: "New Year's
Day," "One," "I Will Follow," "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of,"
"Staring at the Sun," "Bad" -- all of which have their moments of moving on with
life and leaving the past behind. More specifically, the night emphasized the band's
taking the past to heart and returning to rock -- everything the press has been
heralding since the release of U2's 10th album, All That You Can't Leave Behind.

It could all seem a bit deliberate to those of little faith. After all, this is a band
whose last two ventures out into the great big world brought giant lemons and
ordering pizza for thousands. Gone are the excesses of propaganda-themed Zoo
TV and gluttonous, irony-clad PopMart, the prank calls to the White House, and
jillion-dollar pyrotechnic setups. Of course, relatively speaking, Elevation 2001 is a
lean touring machine, but don't let the pundits fool you: This is no bare-bones,
stripped-down deal.

The lighting design is ingenious in its simplicity, with different configurations of
blistering strobes and gentle pop-art patterns used as mood highlighters for certain
songs. The heart-shaped stage and simple, four-panel close-up projections of the
band, sends a message that U2 belonged down with the crowd, up close and
personal. Scrims, abstract projections, and a brilliant digital lightboard were used
with amazing tastefulness. The lightboard itself seemed a bit of an homage to the
last two tours, especially on "Mysterious Ways," as Bono playfully lounged on
one panel as it grew from four to about 12 feet while displaying color silhouettes of
what appeared to be a 007 opening-credits dancer. (Maybe that belly dancer Edge
ended up marrying?)

Advance word intimated Bono was nursing sore vocal cords. It did seem
compression and reverb were employed at key points throughout the set, but for
the most part he wailed sans embellishment, no holds barred. If he had a tender
throat at the beginning, what he did to it though the course of the evening surely
left it in tatters. During the part dedicated to his wife, Ali ("The Sweetest Thing,"
"In a Little While," "The Ground Beneath Her Feet,"), Bono sliced through notes
like James Brown or Sam Cooke.

Ultimately, U2's most anthemic material earned the most reaction, not surprising
for a band with causes like Drop the Debt and Amnesty International tabling at
their shows. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" required no backup singing as the crowd
stepped in with almost religious fervor. (What a relief Bono, Edge, Adam, and
Larry are rock stars and not figureheads for some whacked-out nationalist
movement.) "The Fly" featured Zoo TV-like word deconstructions on the
digi-screen, "lie" becoming "believe." "Bullet the Blue Sky" was most powerful, as
Edge's screaming solos hit their marks as surely as our godforsaken planes did over
those Salvadorian villages.

Throughout the evening, Bono seemed driven to free-associate and establish U2's
place in the rock pantheon as often as possible, inserting lyrics from David Bowie,
Lou Reed, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, and even Donna Summer into appropriate
places. Near the end, a young guy up in the nosebleed seats, in the aisle between
sections 419 and 420, was dancing his ass off -- rocking out, way up there, where
nobody could see. "With or Without You" splashed across the fans like the
twinkling star-map projected onto the scrims. He was partying like it was 1987,
the end of the world, and his last night on earth.

At one point, the screens came down and the stars were projected directly onto
everyone. Thank you, Mr. Hewson and friends, the message was not lost. We
know who the true stars of your evening were. "How was the first night? Have we
done the job?"

Do you have to ask?

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