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"You need this period before you make a record of just playing, as in playfulness." — Bono

It could have been sexier, but the energy's still there

- November 13, 2006

by Bernard Zuel


Telstra Stadium, November 10

IT IS a unique position to be in, touring on the back of your weakest album since 1981's October, and still attracting about 75,000 people. Outdoors. In the rain.

If you stage it, we will come; if you sing it, we will sing along, too.

And for good reason. Notwithstanding Bono's patchy singing on this night and the relative weakness of 2004's How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, whose songs provided the flat moments in the middle of a set geared towards U2 first principles (rock songs with kick-starting choruses; irony out the door, thank you), any U2 show starts with an advantage over other stadium acts. They know how to put on huge events so that even without the giant lemons, multimedia assaults and character costumes of previous tours, your senses are stimulated.

There were attractive and occasionally thought-provoking elements on the vast video screen; the simple but effective tool of sending band members into the audience on pincer-like runways suggested some intimacy; they play so well together; and, never to be underestimated as a factor in our enjoyment, they looked like they were having fun.

(Mind you, none of this expertise could prevent the inevitable variable sound quality of an outdoor performance: there were some crisp tones while others were muddy and boomy, which dimmed the effect of the guitarist, The Edge.)

And, crucially, they can draw on more hits than a Paris Hilton video page. Of course, this comes with its own problems: what do you leave out, or which version of U2 is it this time? Without a central theme such as media overload or pop commercialisation, this tour's approach is simplicity, which is perhaps why the set list leans towards the stylistically and emotionally similar bookends of the '80s albums and 2000's renewing of that sound, All That You Can't Leave Behind.

There's nothing wrong with those songs. Sunday Bloody Sunday is as energising now as it was the first time I saw it played some 20 years ago; the chorus of Beautiful Day is one big rush; Bullet the Blue Sky hasn't lost its anger; Angel of Harlem with the audience singing is like the best kind of church; and there is still no space for cynicism in With or Without You.

However, what was missing this time was the playful U2, the sexy U2. The dance-oriented and often provocative songs that marked their 1990s albums were relegated to the first encore where Zoo Station and The Fly briefly changed the dynamics, and the graphics as the relatively sedate screens suddenly went into text-driven hyperactive mode.

I would have liked a bit more of that, more of their personalities, too. A bit more light for the shade maybe, to take it from a very good U2 show to something exceptional again.

U2 play at Telstra Stadium tonight.

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