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I might just stay in Dublin. Dublin knows how to drink. -- Bono, on how he would greet the new millennium, 1999

beaU2ful days: Irishmen become Texans for a week

- April 05, 2001

by Matt Dentler

There was a moment in the first half of U2's sold-out show at Dallas' Reunion Arena when lead singer Bono made a comment to the crowd that the Irish are much like Texans. Well, sure, Texas was largely settled by Irish immigrants. But what he seemed to really mean was that U2 were like Texans: sometimes proud, sometimes criticized, always polite, humble when we have to be and never, ever willing to settle for anything less than the biggest and best. Appropriately, that was evident during the band's amazing two-night stay in the Lone Star State.

The legendary band, currently on their 2001 Elevation Tour, played a sold-out show in Houston on April 2 at the Compaq Center, followed by the aforementioned show on April 3 for their Texas comeback. Come back they did as they took the stage surprisingly with the house lights still on to the sounds of a remixed version of their song, the tour's namesake, "Elevation." Suddenly, the remix ended and the band launched into a live version of the real tune, with its soaring "Woo-woo" refrain getting the audience to its feet.

Allowing the house lights to stay on for much of the opening is practically unheard of for a major rock show, and this aspect only made good on the band's promise that this tour would be about the fans, about the music, and about reconnecting. The band reconnected further with its stage setup, having no seats on the floor, giving it that much more intimacy. U2 is a rare beast, still going strong after 20 years. In fact, they're one of the only rock bands in history to make one of their most viable records last year's All That You Can't Leave Behind two decades after forming. This degree of experience and time hasn't hurt the band much at all. They're still a tight and, quite frankly, rocking bunch of guys.

Amongst current hits like "Beautiful Day" and "Stuck In A Moment" (which Bono dedicated to late INXS singer Michael Hutchence), U2 tossed in several of their many hits. And they still sound magical. "I Will Follow," their first single ever, still has the same sense of post-punk urgency and emotion. When the band launched into "New Year's Day" you could feel the energy rise off of them and onto everyone in the crowd. Even their "non-rebel" rebel song, "Sunday Bloody Sunday," had the entire arena singing along and not missing a beat. Bono's voice, very much aged over the years, can still deliver. He has, arguably, the greatest singing voice in any rock band today. His range is immaculately varied and he rarely disappoints, even splicing in a few impromptu falsetto notes to the opening of "In A Little While."

Added to the mix were charged new takes on some older favorites. For the show, the band unraveled a more rock-oriented version of "Discotheque," a song often criticized for its reliance on techno programming. This version was much harder, crunchier, and proper as The Edge punched his guitar with fiery energy. Soon, that song segued into a few verses of "Staring at the Sun." A surprise way to end it, but a nice one. For "The Fly," Bono saved his voice from the high-pitched strain of that song's chorus, opting to try it straight. It gave the song a very impressive new life. Adding new breath to old songs was a motif for the whole show, as Bono did his best to provide the right touches from other famous bands' catalogs.

Within "Bullet the Blue Sky" he added Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," due to the song's similar guitar sounds. Similar guitar sounds in "Elevation" and Radiohead's "Creep" called for a little quoting at the Dallas show. For "Sunday Bloody Sunday," he threw in a few bars of Bob Marley's "Get Up Stand Up," the call-to-arms for everyone to defend their lives. For "Discotheque," he sang the chorus of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" at the Houston show and snippets of INXS's "Devil Inside" for the Dallas gig. At the Houston show, the crowd was enticed by bits of "Unchained Melody" thrown in with U2's "One."

As a whole, the Dallas show was much stronger than the set the night before it. The band was great at both, but truly dynamic and in the moment for Dallas. They even cut loose, sharing stories about their first ever live concert in Dallas, opening for a wet T-shirt contest. Later, Bono would go on to don two different cowboy hats taken from the audience. There just seemed to be little denying that they were having a blast. But nothing garnered more audience applause or acceptance than when Bono introduced his bandmates, a first for any U2 tour. As Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, and The Edge waved and took their appropriate bows, we were all reminded of the great chemistry and energy that make U2 one of the world's best rock bands.

Bono shared stories at both shows: applauding Larry for being the one who formed the band back in high school, thanking Adam for serving as the band's first manager and calling The Edge a "scientist," while also kidding about his many bastard children around the world. "This is the 'Reapplying for the Job Tour,'" Bono joked before the introductions, referring to a statement he had made to Rolling Stone magazine regarding the band's attempts to retake the "Best Band in the World" throne. The reception in Houston and Dallas would suggest that, at least in Texas, they're hired.

They performed new songs like "New York" and infused them with just as much excitement and insanity as they did songs like "Mysterious Ways." Plus, they know what they're doing onstage; they've been at it long enough to learn a few entertaining tricks. And that's what the U2 shows this week were about, the tricks that these four Irishmen could play. The show relied little on video projection, a far cry from their effects, props, and monitor heavy tours of the 1990s. Instead, they had a few simple black and white screens, and then a small video wall used for abstract images on the backdrop. It was subtle, and allowed the music to speak for itself. Which is great, because the music still has a lot to say.

Opening both shows was acclaimed indie rock princess PJ Harvey. Harvey missed the first few dates on the tour due to illness, so the Houston show was her first time before Elevation Tour crowds. She did a great job, though she did seem a bit timid on that first night. Plus, there were apparent sound problems during some of her songs. For the second show, she wowed Dallas. All technical glitches were fixed, and she treated everyone to her classics "Rid of Me" and "Down By The Water," plus several cuts from her excellent new album, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea. She was the personification of a new wave punk-rocker, like Patti Smith for the MTV generation.

The feeling of a U2 show, and the feeling at both Texas gigs, is that of a religious awakening. Bono does his best to play evangelist, saving our souls from the demons of bad music. It feels like a spiritual revival, perhaps due in part to the band's early religious history, but nonetheless still an amazingly rock 'n' roll time. He even brings audience members onstage for hugs. It's that kind of contact, that kind of passion that converts us all. And that has made U2 a must-see every time they tour. It was fitting that Bono sampled from Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" as the final bit of music for the night. A song of praise and sadness, it had a new meaning. At the Elevation Tour, it's about forgiveness, the ability to come back. And not in that "retro is hip for now" kind of way like Duran Duran did in the 1990s, but in that sincere sense that U2 never left us. We left them. All the attention or success of this new album is not their comeback, it's ours. They weren't asking for OUR forgiveness at these shows, we were asking for theirs.

"Hallelujah" was tacked on to the end of U2's "Walk On," which closed the show with an amazing array of lights projecting the words "leave it behind" all over the arenas. It's an incredibly sweet and supportive sentiment, and most importantly, a genuine one. The U2 shows were emotional rides often hitting complete joy. It makes sense to be emotional, generous, and subtle in the most titanic proportions. After all, they are U2 and this is Texas.

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