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I've never been interested in fashion. -- Ali, on her Edun clothing line

U2 rocks the Wachovia Center (and tries to save the world)

- May 15, 2005

by Dan DeLuca

The Man Who Would Save the World brought a long to-do list to the sold-out Wachovia Center on Saturday:

Educate date-night U2 fans about the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Don a white headband that uses the Muslim crescent, the Star of David and a crucifix to spell out "CoeXisT."

Discuss how the July '85 Live Aid concert "changed [U2's] life, and set us on a course" leading to One, the organization that intends to "make poverty history."

And - lest even ardent fans get tired of the messianic preaching from a band built around the notion that rock-and-roll is not about rebellion so much as duty ("One life," the song goes, "you got to do what you should") - shut up every once in a while, and sing.

Check, check, check and double-check. At the first of U2's four Philadelphia shows on its Vertigo tour - the Irish rockers play the Wachovia again Sunday, then return Oct. 16-17 - Bono gave the people what they paid up to $160 for: two-hours-plus of rousing rock-star heroics, during which U2 revisited its back catalog and invested familiar anthems with enough fervent belief to give even the most skeptical observers goose bumps.

The show confirmed impressions made by last year's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and its predecessor, All That You Can't Leave Behind.

After spending the '90s gamely trying to explode their self-made image of pompous sanctimony by experimenting with irony and electronic dance music, U2's musicians have gotten back to what they do best: singing and playing heart-on-their-sleeve songs like they mean them, man.

At the Wachovia, that meant connecting new material such as the opening "City of Blinding Lights" and "Vertigo" with the kinetic, early-1980s songs "The Electric Co." and "The Cry."

While standbys such as "I Will Follow" have been jettisoned, they've been replaced by new songs of spiritual seeking such as "Yahweh," or nearly forgotten tunes such as the stately sing-along and show-closer "40."

Of course, U2 isn't entirely about the guy who introduced himself to two young girls - brought them on stage for "Into the Heart" - by saying: "My name's Paul, but I call myself Bono." He got a little help from the locked-in rhythm section of Adam Clayton and the martial beats of the band's Dorian Gray drummer, Larry Mullen Jr.

If you shifted focus from the bloke who dropped bits of Frank Sinatra's "Send in the Clowns," and the Beatles' "Blackbird" into the set, you'd have noticed the guy who calls himself The Edge. He was the one with the skullcap, shooting off sonic projectiles "Bullet the Blue Sky," playing roiling slide-guitar licks on "Beautiful Day" and switching to piano on the fragile "Running to Stand Still." And making it clear that - despite the outsized ambitions of its grandiose front man - U2 is, first and foremost, a great rock-and-roll band.

© Philadelphia Inquirer, 2005.

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