The Rock Show
The Number U and The Letter 2
By Peter Koht
Whatever else you wish to say about Bono and his Secretariat-sized ego, the man can make an entrance. To begin the group's performance on Nov. 8 at the Oakland Coliseum, he burst forth from the top of the long circular catwalk that snaked out from the stage just as thousands of pieces of confetti rained down from the rafters while the band struck up "City of Blinding Lights." Liberace would be proud.
From the very beginning of the set, it was clear that U2 has perfected the art of arena rock. After almost 30 years of touring, they've learned how to conduct each gesture so that it is made not to the front row, but to the third deck. At this point, the group has integrated video technology into its presentation to such a level that its Zoo TV era forays into the medium seem almost contrived at this point. Not as contrived as the giant lemon on the Popmart tour, but still.
But for all its technological wizardry, U2 remains all about the human connection. During "Mysterious Ways," Bono picked some girl out of the crowd and carried her around the stage on his back before sharing a quick booty shake. He handed the mic to a little girl to shout "No More" during the peak of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and they actually took a request, throwing in a snippet of "The Black Hills of Dakota" at the end of "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own."
Bono even had the good sense to mock himself during the set. He shared the fact that during the last 10 years of his life, Bono's dad, Bob, started most conversations with his son by saying, "When are you going to take those fucking sunglasses off?"
But while most of the night was a lighthearted love-in, the group isn't afraid of stirring some controversy into its set. About two-thirds of the way through the concert, the band unleashed a trio of dark songs, "Love and Peace or Else," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Bullet the Blue Sky." During "Sunday Bloody Sunday," a tune originally written about the troubles in Northern Ireland, Bono took an Irish flag from a fan, discarded it and grabbed an American flag, declaring, "This is your song now." Apparently meeting with Bush last month hasn't sold Bono on the merits of the war on terrorism.
Segueing directly into a chilling, almost scary version of "Bullet the Blue Sky," a song originally written about U.S. interference in Central American politics, the band included a snippet of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and dedicated it to all the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Most rock stars who reach this level of fame could give a rat's ass about the power of their voice, but U2 has done a damned decent job of using its fame to popularize political causes. Once can't imagine Mick Jagger pausing midset to talk about debt relief, and there is no way that Gwen Stefani is going to spend part of her stage time playing a video presentation about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Like their music, U2's politics is catered toward mass consumption and grand, overarching gestures, but at least they want to stand for something.
All the politics was offset with a nearly orgiastic pair of three-song encores. "With or Without You" made its obligatory appearance at the end of the first, but the real highlights came during the second encore.
"Yahweh," from their latest release, proves, with its message of understanding among religions, that rock bands can write hymns. The band closed the night with a surprising but fitting choice, "40." This song was first recorded on the band's War record, and has lingered in obscurity for a long time. The Edge and Adam Clayton traded instruments and sides of the stage while Bono larked about with a spotlight, shining it into the upper decks of the arena, encouraging people to sing along before leaving the stage first. Adam then filed off, followed by the Edge, leaving the crowd in duet with drummer Larry Mullin Jr., singing chorus after chorus of "How long to sing this song?" If the strength of this performance is any indication, it's likely to be a good long while.
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