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"When people ask us what our influences are, we always say, 'Each other.'" — Bono

U2 and 360 degrees of entertainment

- October 15, 2009

by Joey Guerra

Three songs into an epic, grandly entertaining set, Bono summed up his --and U2's -- enduring connection with fans with a succinct lyric.

"I was born, I was born to sing for you," he proclaimed during Magnificent.

Bono and, by extension, U2, have taken their celebrity status far beyond record sales and chart positions. But Wednesday night inside an enthralled, open-roof Reliant Stadium, U2 showcased what first made the band iconic: music.

After a lengthy buildup and a curiously subdued entrance, kickoff tune Breathe segued directly into the clanky Get On Your Boots. The two-hour-plus set then shimmed quickly into Mysterious Ways, which blossomed into early standout Beautiful Day.

"We feel right at home here in Houston. Home of space stations," Bono said after inviting a giddy female fan onstage to dance.

He was referencing the band's mammoth, sci-fi stage. Depending on your viewpoint, it looked like a video-game controller, the underside of a spider or a moonwalk. Lights whizzed over the crowd. Disco balls swirled. Bridges floated above fans on the floor.

The band also spent Tuesday fiddling around in Mission Control at Johnson Space Center and chatting with astronauts.

"Houston, we have no problem," Bono said.

But for so much over-the-top spectacle, what came into sharpest focus was U2 and its bulletproof canon of songs. Bono has tempered his rock-star stylings with real charm, and there's no sound, or sight, quite like the Edge on guitar. Every song was given equal billing, every moment felt brisk and bright. It was a perfectly balanced dynamic of economy and extravagance.

By the time U2 launched into I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, the crowd was in full sing-along mode.

There were quick snippets of Stand By Me, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) and Amazing Grace weaved into songs. Vertigo and Elevation were confident and thunderous. I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight was recast in a pulsing house remix. Hard-charging drums from Larry Mullen, Jr. and searing guitar work marked Sunday Bloody Sunday.

It's not a U2 show without politics, and the most overt moment came during Walk On. Bono dedicated the song to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Burma and has spent 14 of the past 20 years in detention. Volunteers from Amnesty International flooded the stage, holding up Suu Kyi masks, which were also distributed to the audience.

Most concerts do well to have one "moment" -- that song or scene that stays with you long after the show. U2 can claim several: the bittersweet sting of One; the anthemic cry of Where The Streets Have No Name; the ballroom swirl of With or Without You (aided by Bono's glowing microphone and LED-lined jacket).

"Texas, to me, is the center of the world right now," Bono said before launching into gorgeous set closer Moment of Surrender.

"I don't want to leave. I don't want to go home."

Muse lack the mass-appeal hooks and grand choruses that mark the best of U2's catalog. But the disheveled outfit still proved a solid opener, dousing fans with moments of epic, theatrical rock. Not magnificent, but still a nice warm-up.

(c) Houston Chronicle, 2009.

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