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"We wanted to make a record that would actually feel like your life." — Bono, on Pop

U2 at Philips Arena Friday night

- November 19, 2005


Theres a fine line between being the most charismatic rock star working these days and a fairly large serving of ham, and reasonable people can disagree on which side of the line Bono falls.

Of course, if there were any reasonable people heading into Philips Arena Friday or Saturday night for back-to-back, sold-out concerts by U2, there werent any going out, because U2 just flat-out put on a synapse-frying show. One of the most intense rock n roll light shows ever and a barrage of decibels combined for sensory overload.

Beaded curtains of light hung above the stage in sheets, flashing and showing shimmering images. The stage was surrounded by a huge, egg-shaped catwalk, which was itself lit with pulsing lights around the perimeter. It allowed the band members mainly famous frontman Bono to get off the stage, into the arena, and play to the crowd.

And play to the crowd he did, with as much showboating as Wayne Newton working a lounge in Vegas.

Friday night, he got a young woman out of the audience for a long slow dance to With Or Without You. He donned a blindfold and pretended to be a political prisoner. He gave one shout out to Americas military, another to New Orleans clean-up volunteers. He threw a few bars of Georgia On My Mind into the staggeringly propulsive opener City of Blinding Lights.

He talked about his dad, and how he died recently, but was always asking Bono to take off his sunglasses. So anyway, this is for you, dad, he said, taking off his ever-present shades, as the band launched into its recent hit Sometimes You Cant Make It On Your Own. And its you when I look in the mirror, he sang, to everyones aging or dead parents. And he even hit the high notes.

That ham metaphor isnt a knock, more a nod of respect. U2 could charge triple digits for tickets (which they do), come out, play the tunes and move on, but they apparently want their fans to experience everything from emotional turmoil to a political awakening to partial hearing loss. (Man, were they loud.)

Theyve always been this way, more or less, for 25 years, with some slight missteps in the 90s when they got a little too cutesy, some felt. Theyve long since ditched the irony; Bono in concert these days is as serious as a biopsy report. The self-described Irish megalomaniac donned a headband with a Star of David, a Christian cross and a Muslim crescent moon on it for the anti-violence anthem Sunday Bloody Sunday, announcing that We are all sons of Abraham.

He promoted the One campaign to make poverty history, got in a plug for his efforts on African debt relief, and scrolled the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the Jumbotron.

What U2 has gotten really good at, though, is integrating all that into two hours-plus of rock n roll kick-in-the-head catharsis. That Jumbotron was frequently divided into four panels so all four band members were on display: Guitarist the Edge, with his stocking cap and array of killer licks, chiming, chopping, soaring and just filling Philips; bassist Adam Clayton, as stoic as Bono is histrionic; drummer Larrry Mullen, shown in close-up so you could see the tendons popping on his forearms.

Opening act the Institute suffered the same fate of most acts that have to go out in an arena of people still trickling in to see the headliner: Hardly anyone cared. Singer Gavin Rossdale, formerly of Bush, tried a little showboating himself, and hes got some moves, but after 45 minutes, the band hadnt really moved the needle.

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