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I also have enormous respect for my friends who are atheists, most of whom are, and the courage it takes not to believe. -- Bono

U2 still playing with passion

- October 30, 2005

by Hector Saldana

There are a lot of things wrong with the world today, plenty of reasons to complain. But in a universe of put-down artists, U2 offers a different message: love and hope.

The iconic Irish band perhaps more worthy than the Rolling Stones of the title of the world's greatest rock band performed to a sold-out house at Toyota Center on Friday, with its heart on its sleeve but with a wry sense of humor, too.

At the center of it all is Bono, the face and mouthpiece in this Grammy-winning rock democracy that also includes guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen.

Bono is at once preacher and politician. He blisters and soothes. At one point, he even praised the Bush administration and America for its relief efforts abroad and at home. Americans, Bono said, "are capable of thinking of problems far away."

Just as Bono is capable of bringing global issues closer to home. He spoke of strife and human misery in Africa. He spoke of war and of love.

It is a universal vision transformed from the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" to U2's more modern vernacular, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb."

Although the concert stage was stripped down by U2 standards, it still provided lovely visuals. Protruding from either side of the stage were glowing catwalks that came together to form a giant ellipse to the front. Above the band, a vertical video screen gave us the band in stark black and white.

It was their own Milky Way, a ring of fire, from opening number "City of Blinding Lights" to "With or Without You" to generous encores that included the rare "Fast Cars" and "Yahweh."

To one side, the Edge ruled over his own universe of blinking lights in his amp rack, creating a whoosh of processed sound but at its root, the classic 4/4 spank of rock 'n' roll.

On "One," the guitarist added a steely, almost Chuck Berry-ish counterpoint chop to the epic ballad. It plays against his usual wall-of-echo style.

In a sense, this remains founder Mullen's band (symbolically, he is the last man left standing onstage at the end of the night) and Clayton's. The rhythm section not only anchors but also adds counter melody to the spiritual, sonic maelstrom.

There were goofy moments as well, with Bono's peculiar and sentimental rendition of "Old Man River" to close the set. At one point, he pulled up a female fan to dance cheek to cheek, shanghaied a Mexican flag and draped it as a cape to dance a Mexican hat dance, and donned a fan's glittering cowboy hat.

They still haven't found what they're looking for, but U2 remains in top form, quite lovable, too, and capable of the hunt.

(c) Express-News, 2005.

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