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"'Elevation' came from a sound, that abrasive guitar: 'We've really got to do something with that.'" — Adam

U2 Opens Big, Not Bombastic

- March 26, 2001

by Deborah Wilker

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Though there had been much talk about how best to safeguard general-admission fans at U2's new Elevation Tour, it wasn't the fans who needed protecting as this road show made its debut. Rather it was the band's frontman, Bono, who took the most serious tumble Saturday night.

The show, which launched at the National Car Rental Center arena, was just over three songs in when Bono lost his footing midway through "Until the End of the World," stumbled backward off a ramp and crashed to the floor. The ramp — a huge, heart-shaped platform that encircled the stage and fans, was indeed designed to bring him closer to his devotees. But not this close.

After security guards applied a Secret Service-style tackle, they hoisted him back onstage, where Bono laid himself out in an effort to regain his bearings, all while valiantly continuing the song.

Apparently it all looked worse than it was. Within a minute or so he was back on his feet, the remainder of the two-hour evening all straight-ahead raging rock, and far less pomp than the band employed throughout the '90s.

In fact, this back-to-basics show is as intimate and real as an arena concert could be. Featuring just a few simple stage effects, the evening stands as an unabashed apology to the faithful, many of whom tuned out during the over-the-top excesses of the band's 1997 PopMart Tour.

The cold shoulder was something U2 could not have envisioned just a few years before that, when its delightful Zoo TV tours were all the rage. While other bands were laying on the costumes and dancing girls, U2 was having a field day with high-concept TV screens, flying cars, and novelty moments like phoning the White House every nig=6>
As one might expect, muscled rock classics like "With or Without You," "Mysterious Ways," "New Year's Day," and "Where the Streets Have No Name" have only grown dearer with years of familiarity. But it was also a night for new music from the band's well-received album All That You Can't Leave Behind.

Opening with the trippy "Elevation" and then right into the swelling Grammy-winner "Beautiful Day," the guys left no doubt that their recent commercial resurgence has been well-earned.

While the sell-out crowd of more than 19,000 went wild for the biggest, loudest songs, there was also great passion for two quieter, older numbers: "The Sweetest Thing," which featured Bono on keyboards, as well as the aching "One," which is easily among the great rock ballads of all time.

Bono and mates Adam Clayton (bass), Larry Mullen Jr.(drums), and The Edge (lead guitar) also had fun with some freewheeling homage to Bob Marley, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin, injecting their pioneering riffs into "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Bullet the Blue Sky."

If there was a lapse it was the band's strange insistence that it was performing in Miami, though the show actually took place just west of Fort Lauderdale. From the first press release, through to U2's web site ("Elevation lifts off in Miami"), and Bono's clueless comments from the stage ("So, Miami, we've been here before …"), the sheer hubris of insisting he was in another county did not play well. It was an odd transgression for a man who typically makes much public ado about his close rapport with audiences.

As for the foray into festival seating — rare these days for big American rock tours — it was hot, sticky, and a bit disorganized, but not the disaster some security experts feared. Whether it will remain safe as the tour progresses is impossible to say. But hardcore, populist U2 fans would seem to have a better chance of making this work than would the fans of many other groups.

While scheduled opening act PJ Harvey nursed a viral infection, the long-running Irish sister-brother act The Corrs pinch-hit Saturday and will again tonight. (Canadian upstart Nelly Furtado fills in on the next two dates). Minus their usual staging and lights, and given the last-minute nature of the gig, The Corrs could be forgiven the slightly bland feel of their 40-minute set. Their airy break-out hit "Breathless" sure is pretty, as are the ladies in this group. But inside this big arena the band suddenly seemed much smaller than it does during all those photogenic TV close-ups.

© Wall of Sound, 2001.

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