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If you believe in what you've just written, you ought to be willing to take it door-to-door, if that's what it takes. -- Bono

U2 no longer a cult item, 15,000 prove

- February 28, 1985

by Marty Racine

Date: THU 02/28/85
Section: 1
Page: 30
Edition: 2 STAR

U2 no longer a cult item, 15,000 prove


How long must we sing this song? Long enough to attract a totally different crowd to The Summit for a rock 'n' roll show.

U2, the impassioned "political-social" band from Ireland, made the quantum leap from the Music Hall to The Summit Wednesday night in only their second Houston appearance, and judging by the wild, arm-waving response from the sellout crowd of 15,000, this non-metal, non-funk band has struck a nerve that cannot be gauged by the mass media. It's not AOR or Contemporary Adult radio material. It's hardly the backbone of MTV. It's not even, why, "American". My goodness, these four guys two years ago were nothing more than a cult item raving about hope against all odds and waving the flag of their own version of justice. And here they were at The Summit stalking the screeching mob like heroes in the arena of rock 'n' roll.

It was a crowd knowledgeable about such bands due to college radio, even as guys and dolls in 97 Rock and K101 satin jackets made the scene.

Well, maybe the rock 'n' roll world is not all Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot.

U2, named after the U.S. spy plane downed over Russia in 1960, has always been one of those critics' bands since their first album, "Boy". But what do critics know? It took the momentum of three subsequent albums - "October, War" and "The Unforgettable Fire " - to establish them as a force in popular music.

American rock 'n' roll has been rejuvenated within the past few years in trends that have uprooted the best aspects of rock's influences, but here it takes a band from across the Atlantic to sing anthems about Martin Luther King (Pride In The Name Of Love), American patriotism (4th of July) and American musical values (Elvis Presley And America). I suppose the distant mirror relays the image.

But there is a trap here. U2 - "The Edge," "Bono," Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton - did not start out, as did so many others, to be a commercial rock band. They worked with a few ideas that happened to rise above the escapist songs of the day. But their fourth and most recent album, "The Unforgettable Fire ", was a straight attempt at delineating the dynamics of their sound. Gone was The Edge's fiery guitar leads. Gone was the wild passion that bled through the material. In their stead was a studied attempt at corraling their sound, a move to refine the nuances of their torrent of rage and urgency.

It was a compromise between the two at The Summit Wednesday night. U2 rocked like before, but hit the studio-perfect dynamics of "Fire ", even on one of their stormiest songs, "Sunday Bloody Sunday".

The stage was dressed in gray. The lights were used sparingly. The band members refrained from posturizing. There were no smoke bombs or dry ice or any of the accouterments of arena-rock. U2 kept fast to their ideals of visual minimalism.

And yet, they had to entertain, and so they did by dint of the surge in their music. They didn't really topple the potential of their recorded product, but they did manage to whip up excitement with their subtle presence. The Edge was hardly a sex-symbol, but he inflamed the room with soaring leads. Bono acknowledged the screaming welcome with aplomb. Mullen and Clayton kept to the rhythm, which at times struck deep with a surprisingly strong back beat.

U2 may not be capable of taking this any further, but they did show us that rock with a conscience can hit home. It took four albums and a who-cares-about-fame attitude to pull it off, but what the heck, they sang their song and it worked in the United States. That's more than I'm sure they even figured was possible.

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