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As a soloist, I'm average at best. But with the band? There's nothing better, I promise you.-- Bono, 2004

U2 worthy of No. 1 band status

- March 26, 2001

by Vit Wagner

SUNRISE, Fla. - ''Have we got the job?'' asked Bono, teetering with exhaustion and doing his best to sound humble as he and his mates took their bows after the blistering opening night of U2's new North American tour.

The job in question is Biggest Rock Band In The World. And the answer, judging by the roar that rang through the sold-out National Car Rental Center in suburban Miami Saturday night, was a resounding, ''Duh!''

If not U2, who? Radiohead? Too arty. The Stones? Emeritus. R.E.M.? Have never even bothered to apply.

On a good night, Bruce Springsteen can still stir an arena full of adults into equal paroxysms of abandon, but the irregularity of his appearances and the want of recent hit material suggests he's not up to the task, either.

No, there really isn't anyone else. But it was nice of Bono to ask, all the same. After nearly a quarter of a century in the business, it seems the Irish icons aren't taking anything for granted, a determination to be tested nightly - including May 24 and 25 at the Air Canada Centre.

After 1997's PopMart stadium extravaganza, U2 has scaled things back to a more modest arena spectacle, an impulse that suits the title and theme of its current album, All That You Can't Leave Behind.

Even so, U2 apparently couldn't leave behind enough lights to blind a small city, a half-dozen huge scrims, a large, heart-shaped runway encircling many of the fans who paid general admission to stand up front, a dozen giant monitors suspended above the stage, a phalanx of glass boxes used for projections, and of course, Bono's ego, which sucks up a significant amount of psychic space all by itself.

That said, the current outing is a veritable club tour compared to the '97 event, during which the band made its entrance from inside a giant lemon. This time, Bono, guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen ambled casually onto the stage with the house lights up, laid hold of their instruments and ripped into ''Elevation,'' followed by the Grammy-winning hit, ''Beautiful Day,'' as if there was nothing to it.

For all that, there was little that took place during the next two hours that smacked of genuine, out-of-the-air spontaneity. Every gesture, including a somewhat preposterous introduction of the band that concluded with the singer saying, ''I'm Bono,'' was calculated to give the impression that these were just regular guys communing with their fans. (That Clayton and Mullen are regular guys, we'll buy; they even have real names.)

The never-seated audience sang along and pumped its fists euphorically during a set in which a half-dozen tunes from All That You Can't Leave Behind were judiciously blended with cherished fan favourites, including ''Where The Streets Have No Name,'' ''With Or Without You'' and ''Sweetest Thing,'' the latter situating Bono at the electric piano.

All 21 songs in the set received robust and polished treatment from an outfit that knows how to fill an arena, with The Edge's guitar lines providing a driving, sonic backdrop to Bono's tortured antics. The mid-set combination of ''I Will Follow'' and the anthemic ''Sunday Bloody Sunday'' was particularly bracing.

Throughout, Bono roamed the edges of the runway, reaching into the standing section of roughly 1,800, the most devoted of whom had started lining up at 6 a.m. The tousled, black-attired singer reached into the waving outstretched arms, kissing a woman's hand at one point and wrapping himself in an Irish flag that was offered to him during another.

While there was no actual moshing, Bono waded into the throng a couple of times. At the end of the show, before the band returned for its encores, he made his way to the exit, with security detail parting the seas.

It seems that being the lead singer in the Biggest Band In The World, while simultaneously presenting yourself as a populist who hasn't lost the common touch, is trickier than it looks.

No wonder there are so few applicants.

© Toronto Star, 2001.

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