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"[I]t's an attempt to paint a picture that is real, that is not advertising. You enjoy the light by contrast with the dark." — Bono, on Pop



U2 Kicks Off Tour With Unadulterated Rock

- March 26, 2001

by Neil Strauss

SUNRISE, Fla., March 25 -- U2 had nothing to hide when it opened its
Elevation world tour on Saturday night at the National Car Rental Center
here. The concert, which sold out its 18,800 tickets just minutes before
showtime, began with the house lights on and the members of U2 casually
walking onstage. With the bright, unflattering lights still blazing, the
band began to play "Elevation."

The concept was that there is no concept to U2's new tour and album, and
that's a brave thing. It leaves no way to hide from mediocrity: if an album
or concert fails, the band can't fall back on the old excuse that the fans,
the media, the record company or radio programmers didn't get it. After all,
there is nothing not to get about the latest version of U2. It's pure,
simple, it's-a-beautiful-day rock 'n' roll. And there's nothing mediocre
about it: "All That You Can't Leave Behind" is the band's best album in at
least 13 years and the concert proved it, because new songs like "Beautiful
Day," "Walk On," "Stuck in a Moment" and "In a Little While" (which the
leather-jacketed Bono dedicated to his wife as an apology for not being
around for her birthday last week) held their own as classics next to the
band's older material.

The tour itself, though a far cry from the spectacle of the group's
"PopMart," "Zooropa" and "Zoo TV" stadium shows, was superior in many ways
because it involved the audience instead of simply distracting it with
gimmicks. U2 must agree, because the band is currently accepting offers on
its Web site, u2.com, from parties interested in purchasing the giant
mirror-ball lemon used on the "PopMart" tour.

At Saturday's two-hour-plus show, the major prop was a red heart-shaped
catwalk, which encircled the stage and 300 audience members, placing them in
the very bottom of U2's heart, which Bono ran around and posed on all night.
Instead of hiding behind the veneer of irony and flash, the band made an
effort to make rock 'n' roll a communal experience, not of a narcissistic
one.

Bono ran through the sea of fans on the floor of the arena (which the band
is insisting be a standing area that is ticketed general admission), carried
a searchlight that he shone on each section of seats, and when the show
ended, asked with as much humility as a Bono can muster, "Have we got the
job?"

This back-to-reality approach almost resulted in a real disaster for Bono,
because while flirting with the audience on the raised catwalk three songs
into the set he tumbled off the back of the platform onto the floor, where
he lay dazed for several moments before he was able to start singing again.
For the band, returning to the roots of its music simply the ardent wail
of Bono; the sputtering, ringing full-bodied guitar playing of the Edge; the
puissant, rumbling bass work of Adam Clayton; and the march-meets-rock beats
of Larry Mullen Jr. on drums meant revisiting early songs live.

In a move uncharacteristic of recent tours, the band loaded its set with
early singles, including "I Will Follow," "New Year's Day" and "Sunday
Bloody Sunday" (into which Bono inserted a brief Bob Marley medley and waved
an Irish flag a fan handed him).

By returning to the basics with such success, the band has forever labeled
its 90's work as having made a wrong turn after "Achtung Baby." But U2
refused to disavow the material. It almost seemed to go out of its way to
give a nod to its past tours, performing weaker songs like "Discothque" and
appropriately adding extra visual effects to the songs like videos by the
Irish artist Catherine Owens.

Fortunately, U2 is not a band that heeds its own advice. "All that you can't
leave behind, you've got to leave it behind," Bono sang in an added coda to
"Walk On" to close the show.

But in returning to what it left behind (not a bar-rock band, which U2 was
never really meant to be, but an earnest arena-rock band that believes in
the power of a right-headed song that tens of thousands of people can sing
along with), U2 succeeded in making opening night of its Elevation tour,
despite Bono's difficulty getting comfortable onstage at first and his
ensuing accidental stage dive, one of the best big rock shows of the past
year.

NY Times, 2001.

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