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I'm only one member of this band, and Edge is three. -- Bono

U2 eclipse the competition

- March 26, 2001

by Neil McCormick

Neil McCormick reviews a resurrected U2 at the National Car Rental Center, Miami

MIAMI is currently the setting for an electronic dance-music conference, a four-day event during which thousands of exponents, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts of the dance-music scene descend on the city to debate and celebrate the high-tech, high-fashion genres that they believe represent the future of popular music. On the opening night, however, the ravers were put in their place by a hoary old four-piece guitar band.

U2 have already sold more than 10 million copies of their current album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, and have been making bullish remarks about reclaiming their position as the world's greatest rock band. Launching their latest world tour in front of 20,000 enormously enthusiastic American fans, the Irish superstars proved that this was no empty claim.

When U2 launched their last tour in Las Vegas, they ran into criticism for being over-ambitious and under-rehearsed. Yet, if on that occasion U2 fell flat on their faces, this time singer Bono actually fell flat on his back - but he still came up trumps.

Dancing backwards around a narrow, heart-shaped walkway at the start of the two-hour set, the vocalist missed his footing and collapsed into the photographers' pit. He quickly scrambled back on stage, where he lay dazed for a moment while guitarist the Edge distracted attention with a blinding solo. But, within a minute, Bono was back on his feet, and, as if to recover his confidence, he continued to reverse around the walkway. His lack of embarrassment in a potentially humiliating situation seemed only to add to the audience's admiration as they cheered his every step.

I have seen U2 make the tranNAMEon from playing bar-room dives to the biggest venues in the world, continually upping the scale of their operation along the way. With the flawed but none the less spectacular Pop tour (with its giant levitating lemon, among other attractions), they seemed to have taken the rock extravaganza just about as far over the top as it could go. In their latest incarnation, U2 have avoided self-parody by relying more on themselves. They take the stage with the arena lights still on, four diminutive figures almost overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the setting, kicking straight into the pile-driving Elevation as if to establish that they are just simple rockers at heart.

Of course, given the budget and audience expectation, this is "back to basics" in only a relative sense. Halfway through the opening song, the auditorium plunges into darkness and the stage suddenly flashes, giving notice of the spectacle to come. But restraint is the order of the day, with imaginative and technologically impressive changes in lighting effects and stage setting that maintain visual stimulation throughout, while never distracting from the band.

Musically, it is certainly a stripped-down show. Forsaking much of their latter-day reliance upon sequencers, the rhythm section of drummer Larry Mullen and bassist Adam Clayton create a rumbling wall of sound to which Edge's guitar adds melodic adornment. He plays as much with his feet as with his hands, constantly stepping on effects pedals to change the texture of his instrument. Playing punchy rhythm and fluid lead at the same time, Edge utilises the electric guitar's sonic possibilities better than any rock guitarist since Pete Townshend of the Who.

There is little doubt, however, that the star of the show is Bono, and after his spectacular early collapse he really rose to the occasion. His singing, hampered in recent years by throat-constricting allergies, reached heights (and notes) that he has not scaled before. His twisting falsetto throughout the romantic In a Little While was a soulful show-stopper, while on the apocalyptic Bad he roared like John Lennon in primal-scream therapy. For someone more celebrated as a great showman than as a great singer, this was a two-hour tour de force - I've never heard him sing better.

At the end of the set, after a barnstorming version of The Fly, Bono suddenly launched himself into the crowd, much to the evident surprise of his band mates and bodyguards. The star's minders trailed helplessly in his wake as he ran through his overjoyed audience, eventually emerging unscathed on the other side of the venue as the band brought the show to a powerful conclusion.

It took Bono quite a while to find his way back to the stage for the encores, but when U2 and their audience joined together on the chorus of their classic song of unity, One, it has probably never had more meaning. "How was the first night for you?" inquired Bono. Everyone present knew they had participated in something special and they were still cheering, yelling and singing snatches of U2 songs as they filed out of the venue half an hour after the finish.

© Daily Telegraph, 2001.

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