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"His last performances showcase a voice even bigger than his gut, where you cry real tears as the music messiah sings his tired heart out, turning casino into temple." — Bono, in a tribute to Elvis Presley

Battle Hymns

- February 28, 1983

by Karen Swayne

After going well and truly over the top a year or so ago when I last reviewed U2, I was determined that this time I wouldn't get too carried away. Problem is, I'd forgotten how overwhelmingly good they can be: their ability to send tingles down my spine remains undiminished and their skill at breaking down barriers between band and audience has never been better.

The fervour with which they approach their live performances can occasionally backfire when they're unable to reach the heights they strive so hard for, but more often than not the sense of involvement carries them through and it all comes together perfectly.

Tonight was one such occasion, a time for champagne and celebration - "War" had just gone straight into the charts at numero uno - and U2 have never sounded stronger.

It must be said that the evening was not without the occasional hiccup, invariably due to newer numbers clumsily breaking the mood that had earlier been created with consummate ease. The current critical backlash isn't just an inevitable result of U2's new-found commercial success; none of the songs on "War," apart from the superb "New Year's Day," can match the brilliance of the best tracks on "Boy" or "October."

Even so, U2 have such a wealth of great material that from the distinctive opening chords of "Gloria" to the sheer inspirational power of "I Will Follow," their set is mesmerising. Bono is not just a stunning vocalist, he's a charasmatic presence, a true performer whose passion and conviction is uplifting.

The urgency swept through "A Day Without Me" and "I Threw a Brick," but the momentum was temporarily halted by a couple new songs. "Seconds" saw Bono and The Edge sharing vocals, and featured a rap-like chorus of "they're doing the atomic bomb, they want you to sing along," which seemed somewhat out of place. Likewise, "Surrender" had a similar funky beat which burst into disco in a bizarre moment when Bono launched into a quick snatch of "Billie Jean."

Such rum goings on quickly passed, however, as U2 powered through "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" and then delivered "October" and "Tomorrow" with a simplicity and sensitivity that was genuinely moving.

Against a backdrop of three white flags and the face of the Boy (in 1983 his eyes are suspicious and fearful), U2 rejoiced in life and love. They conveyed a warmth that is increasingly rare in these cynical times where a worthless bunch of singing hairdo's can hit the top of the charts. U2's honesty alone makes them a band to trust and treasure.


© 1983 Sounds magazine. All Rights Reserved.

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