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"I distrust anything that's obvious, like someone saying, 'Let's be original.'" — Bono

U2 from the heart

- April 10, 2001

by Mike Bell

First Dome show a stunner

Saddledome, Calgary
Monday, April 9, 2001

CALGARY -- When it comes to U2, for most people,
bigger is better.

But for others -- admittedly, myself included -- as the
Dublin act has increased the size of its sound, stature
and stage show, the level of interest has responded

The band's Popmart tour, which waddled its bloated
self into Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium for two
shows in 1997, signalled the pinnacle of that apathy.

The over-the-top extravaganza with its enormous
lemon, disco ball and huge jumbo screens was entirely
about ego and spectacle with the music acting merely
as a soundtrack.

Which is fine. Some of the best concert acts (Pink
Floyd, Kiss) have successfully incorporated theatricality
into rock 'n' roll, but the fact that U2 had purposefully
distanced itself from the music -- even as an exercise in
"irony" or a comment on the coming millennial Zeitgeist
or whatever -- was tough to swallow.

That's why last evening's sold-out Saddledome show --
the band's first-ever in Calgary, as well as the first in a
two-night stand -- was a refreshing re-introduction to
what first made U2 so exciting.

To everyone.

Front and centre, for the most part, was the music --
over two hours of material from the past two decades of
the Irish group's up-and-down, nine studio-album
career (not including Rattle & Hum).

And everything about this tour is about enhancing the
power of that music in order for the quartet to reconnect
with its audience, not alienate them.

The rush seating, the minimal light show and the stage
itself -- a heart-shaped area which includes a section
for 300 lucky fans to get even more up close and
personal -- enhance that back-to-basics approach.

To further that, they took to the stage with the Dome's
houselights up full and to a recorded version of the
tour's namesake, Elevation, from their latest album, All
That You Can't Leave Behind.

And the moment that frontman Bono, guitarist The
Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen
Jr. took over from the recording and made a little
Elevation of their own, was more than a little symbolic
and a whole lot electrifying.

They raised the roof with the sweet, simple, pure power
of rock 'n' roll.

From there, the veterans slid into a surprisingly
effective version of All That You Can't Leave Behind's
first single, Beautiful Day.

After hearing it incessantly on radio and Much Music, it
was quite a feat to make it fresh, but that's exactly what
they did.

For the remainder of the show, the band pulled out the
obvious (the anthemic New Year's Day from 1983's
classic War), the surprising (In A Little While, one of the
best songs from their latest release) and yes, even the
ill-advised (New York, one of the worst).

What was most striking about last night was the sense
of unscripted fun the band brought to the show, and
subsequently, the music.

Watching Bono play bull to The Edge's electric guitar
matador came across as off-the-cuff and playful, and
not manipulative and rehearsed.

And Bono worked the room -- all sides of it -- and
walked the heart-shaped catwalk like everyone's
favourite uncle at a family wedding.

Maybe that's because it was only the eighth show into
the world tour and they're still feeling loosey-goosey,
but it's also probably, thankfully, something more.

You get the sense that U2 no longer feel the need or
the pressure to go out of their way to stiffly prove that
they have a sense of humour about themselves and
their music.

At times, Bono's rock star antics can wear a little thin
(especially during his faux guitar-playing during I Will
Follow -- is that thing even plugged in?), but for the
most part he just gave everyone what they were
looking for: A focal point and, again, an easy conduit
inside the music.

Sure, the band and the media proclaiming the quartet
saviours of rock 'n' roll -- while for the past decade
they've been more than active participants in the
collusion to kill it -- is still a little hypocritical.

But after last night, U2 has come a long way towards
getting unstuck out of that moment and leaving it all

U2 Elevation Tour poster -- $15 (CDN)
Pins and/or buttons -- $3
Key chains -- $12
Luggage tag -- $16
Belt buckle -- $30
Mouse pad -- $16
T-shirts -- $46
Large baby blue T-shirt featuring Bono -- $62
Toques -- $40
Baseball T-shirts -- $70
Hooded sweatshirts -- $100
Elevation Tour program -- $30

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