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"He is a brainy man and he thinks extreme poverty is stupid." — Bono, on Bill Gates


- March 26, 2001

by Greg Kot

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The last time the Irish rock juggernaut U2 went on tour, Mick Jagger watched a show to get a few pointers. Even the Rolling Stones acknowledge that when it comes to putting on a mega-production, Bono and his band have set the standard.

So with the dramatic launch here Saturday night of U2's first tour of the new millennium -- which includes four instantly soldout shows in Chicago -- the nation not only is witnessing a state-of-the-art rock concert tour but also an unprecedented phenomenon in the music world.

Twenty years after the band first appeared on the scene, they are not remotely headed toward the embarrassment and irrelevance of the oldies circuit. In fact, singer Bono, guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. are again peaking in popularity and still putting out cutting-edge music. They were the hands-down stars of the latest Grammy Awards, sweeping song and record of the year with the hit single "Beautiful Day" from the 2-million-selling album "All That You Can't Leave Behind."

Saturday's show attracted a who's who of the rock world, with guests ranging from Elvis Costello and Lenny Kravitz to the owner of Chicago's Metro, Joe Shanahan.

Outside a 20,000-seat suburban sports arena on a typically balmy South Florida day, fans began camping out at 4 a.m., not to buy tickets but to get in first for the closest view of the band.

Tony Collier, 25, of Liverpool, England, had surprised his wife, Kathy Yardley, for her 30th birthday by arranging a trip to Miami for the concert.

"Unbelievable," said Collier of the show. "They're not only great storytellers and lyricists but great entertainers as well. No other band compares."

Patty Culliton of Chicago was attending her 52nd U2 show. "Somehow they fill my spirit," she said.

Commercial success

While many rock acts, including the Stones and Bruce Springsteen, have remained best-selling concert draws, none combines commercial success, artistic daring and cutting-edge credibility quite the way that U2 does. The quartet gathers a following that ranges from MTV-watching teens to middle-aged Baby Boomers and spans continents.

As for the show itself, U2 may have set another standard by making a U-turn from its signature high-tech production and instead creating a sense of clublike intimacy with an ingenious stage setup that put them virtually in the middle of the crowd.

In the course of the show, Bono repeatedly waded into the audience and once tumbled from a walkway onto the floor, rising quickly, unscathed.

Coming to Chicago in May

The tour will reach 34 cities, including those in Chicago, at the United Center, May 12, 13,15 and 16. Tickets remain for only 12 of the 50 dates on the North American swing. Every other venue has sold out within minutes.

"They set the standard, the rest of us have to keep up," said Billy Corgan, formerly of the Smashing Pumpkins, which recently announced its breakup after more than a decade of performing.

As for Jagger, in an earlier interview with the Tribune, he said he uses the U2 shows as a benchmark for the Stones' own tours. He added, "First of all, we're friends, and, second, a lot of our personnel and design people are the same as theirs. When their show works, it really really works."

The tour isn't without controversy. U2 has been criticized for ordering that the floor seats be removed at the arenas they will play. Fans will pay $45 for standing room, $85 or $130 for seats surrounding the stage. Such so-called festival seating has been uncommon at arena shows in the United States since 11 people were trampled to death at a 1979 concert by The Who in Cincinnati. The issue was revived again last summer when eight people died at a Pearl Jam concert in Denmark.

But the crowd at the National Car Rental Center was well-behaved, and the concert came off without a hitch in part because of the stage design -- a heart shape encompassing the main stage and a cluster of about 200 fans, outlined by a narrow walkway for the performers that extended to the middle of the floor. The stage put more fans closer to the performers than at a traditional arena show while also serving as a barrier to divide the audience into more manageable proportions.

In a phone interview before the show, Bono commented: "Our band came out of punk rock. So I don't do this for the warm fuzzy feeling you get in a hippie band. I do this for the roar that you get from winning -- the band, the audience, everybody, together.

"That's why I'm in a band. You play football stadiums and win every night."

© Chicago Tribune, 2001.

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