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"When people are screaming in some stadium or arena, they're not screaming at you, they're screaming at themselves and the moment that song represents." — Bono

U2 kicks off ''Elevation'' tour with a blast

- March 26, 2001

by Steve Morse

Liftoff was attained, and then some, at U2's stunning ''Elevation Tour 2001,'' which kicked off in this Miami suburb on Saturday. The band played its most anthemic, fan-friendly show in a decade, as it ripped through a series of old-school classics while singer Bono ran around with an Irish flag as in the days of yore.

Forget the Spinal Tap overkill of the previous PopMart Tour, where U2 slogged around with a $6 million, light-emitting diode screen and popped out of a giant lemon at the end. This time, the staging was more subtle and the focus was back on the songs, as U2 proved during a two-hour mega-blast for 18,800 fans at the National Car Rental Center, where the Backstreet Boys and Elton John have also launched tours.

Going back to its roots, yet still neatly incorporating six new songs from the double-platinum album ''All That You Can't Leave Behind'' (which has already doubled the sales of the last release, ''Pop''), U2 hit numerous highs with such vintage entries as ''New Year's Day,'' the shimmering ''I Will Follow,'' the moody ''Bad,'' and the antiwar anthem ''Sunday Bloody Sunday.'' That song made a welcome reapperance and ignited the loudest, most passionate sing-along of the night.

The key to the show was a new, heart-shaped ramp that extended from the stage into the crowd. Bono often walked and ran around the ramp to spur fans on. He slapped outstretched palms, played off of guitarist Edge (who walked out with his wireless instrument), shone a spotlight at fans, and accepted a bevy of goodies handed to him, from an Irish flag to pink panties and a sunflower. Bono also danced beside scrim curtains dropped from the ceiling over the ramp, and through which lights were flashed to simulate 3-D graphics and later, molecular-structure chart that lent a trippy, Pink Floydish atmosphere.

Safety concerns about the general-admission floor were quickly abated. A small, tightly packed crowd of 300 fans (chosen on a first-come, first-served basis) stood in the interior of the heart-shaped ramp, but the layout discouraged moshing and there was none during the night. Nor were there many fans in this mostly older, couples-oriented crowd who tried to jump from the loge to the floor, which is de rigueur at gigs by younger acts like Limp Bizkit and Korn.

Wearing a black leather jacket and shades (with none of the garish, Las Vegas-like costuming of the last tour), Bono set the more minimalistic, club-oriented tone of this tour with the opener, ''Elevation'' (''I need you to elevate me!'' he shrieked), and the recent Grammy-winning ''Beautiful Day.'' But then came the hard-rocking chestnuts ''Until the End of the World'' (during the excitement of which, Bono fell off the 5-foot-high ramp) and ''New Year's Day,'' with Edge switching seamlessly from keyboards to guitar, while the rhythm section of bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. churned behind him.

Newer songs followed: The soulful ''Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of'' and a ''Discotheque/Staring at the Sun'' segue, leading to the multicultural anthem ''New York.'' But then came a blistering tear through ''Sunday Bloody Sunday'' and ''I Will Follow,'' capped by Bono improvising into Bob Marley's ''Could You Be Loved'' and ''Get Up Stand Up,'' which he also sang at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony last Monday in New York.

The only awkward moment was going from the stirring ''Sunday Bloody Sunday'' to ''The Sweetest Thing,'' a ballad tribute to his wife, Ally. It was just too jarring and wasn't helped when he flippantly joked that she wanted the publishing rights to the song: ''And that's OK, because it was just a B side.''

Otherwise, Bono was on his game. He recovered with the gentle ''In a Little While'' and the unplugged ''Ground Beneath Her Feet'' (sung with just Edge on acoustic guitar), before gearing back up with the galvanizing ''Where the Streets Have No Name'' and ''Mysterious Ways,'' with the image of a belly dancer projected on a hydraulically lifted screen (though no live belly dancer as on 1992's ''Zoo TV'' tour).

The encores were the searing ''Bullet the Blue Sky'' (with Bono adding snatches of Led Zeppelin's ''Whole Lotta Love'' and David Bowie's ''Young Americans'') and the more peaceful ''With or Without You,'' ''One,'' and ''Walk On.'' Avoiding any long-winded speeches, Bono concluded, ''Thanks for following us around for years and giving us a great life.'' The feeling was mutual.

The candied pop of the opening Corrs suffered by comparison. Scheduled opener PJ Harvey, who was down with a viral infection, should return by the four Boston shows in June.

© Boston Globe, 2001.

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