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Larry is really the Pete Best of U2. We should have thrown him out the first month. He was much too good-looking then and still is. We never found our Ringo. -- Edge

Legendary U2 solid, not stellar

- April 21, 2005

by Matt Sebastian

A quarter century into its career, U2 stands alone in the rock'n'roll pantheon: a band with no true equal, past or present.

Sure, the Beatles saw more success and certainly contributed a more roundly beloved songbook to the rock canon; yet the Fab Four splintered after a few short years.

The Rolling Stones? Still monsters of the concert circuit, no doubt. But Mick and Keith haven't cranked out an album that mattered since the members of U2 were Dublin school kids.

Led Zeppelin and the Who, staples of classic-rock radio, each saw its legacy cut short by tragedy.

That leaves U2, the only act among rock'n'roll's true giants to keep its lineup intact for 25 years and continue to make music that's not only important, but commercially successful as well.

So when U2 -- riding high on the back of hit single "Vertigo" and the chart-topping How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb -- pulled into Denver on Wednesday for the first of two sold-out concerts, its only real competition was itself.

And that's why the band's solid -- at times, even, thrilling -- performance at the Pepsi Center was merely good, not great. Despite strong playing, and an absolutely ecstatic crowd, the band's set seemed to be lacking the emotional heft, the unbridled joy, of its now-legendary 2001 tour.

This had much to do with the two-hour set's pacing, plus Bono's slightly worse-for-the-wear voice (which, at times, wasn't loud enough in the mix). The show began on a subdued note, as the band slowly eased into the grumbling Bomb track "Love and Peace or Else" -- an odd choice for an opener, and one that didn't quite work. Thankfully, the garage rock of "Vertigo" kicked things into gear.

Much of the first half of the set was devoted to Bomb -- U2's throwback to its '80s sound -- and its 1979 debut, Boy. For diehards, the resurrection of that album's "An Cat Dubh" and "Into the Heart" were true delights; much of the crowd, though, seemed lost.

Then came the hits: rote renditions of time-to-be-retired staples such as "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Years Day." It wasn't until later in the set that the band really impressed, tearing through "Bullet the Blue Sky" and a surprisingly fresh "Pride (In the Name of Love)." And hearing 18,000 fans singing along to "Running to Stand Still" was positively spine-tingling.

Still, much of the night's set seemed too anchored in the past, a surprising development for a band that once prided itself on reinvention.

The stage setup -- with its overhead video screens and elliptical catwalk extending out into the audience -- was nearly identical to the one used on the band's last tour. During the encore, U2 even resurrected some of its ZOO TV staging, ripping through "Zoo Station" and an otherwise staggering version of "The Fly." And the show closed with the oldest of U2 stand-bys: the sing-along, slow fade of "40."

It's a shame Bono and Co. have so much to live up to; not many bands can match a brilliant U2 performance. Sometimes, even U2 has a little trouble doing that.

Copyright 2005, Boulder Publishing LLC

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