At a 1993 U2 concert all eyes focused on a darkened stage lit only by the flashing headlights of several suspended Trabant automobiles. Giant video monitors projected Nazi propaganda footage punctuated by staccato bursts of slogans--"The Media Is the Anti-Christ," "Everything You Know Is Wrong," "Everyone's a Racist Except You"--reminiscent of some kind of bizarre brainwashing technique. Heavy drumbeats, amplified guitar wails, warped vocals, and 450 tons of technology rocked the walls and floors of the arena like a giant heartbeat. U2 featured four members: passionate lead singer and songwriter Bono, unpretentious lead guitarist and technological wizard The Edge, bad-boy bass guitarist Adam Clayton, and James-Dean-look-alike drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. U2 staged its Zoo TV tour, the hottest concert ticket of 1992 (in the U.S.) and 1993 (in Europe and other venues), to support its critically acclaimed albums Achtung Baby (1991) and Zooropa (1993), both platinum albums. Incredibly, Zooropa was conceived, recorded, and released in the three-month break between the U.S. and European legs of the tour. The nihilistic sound of these albums, as well as the glitzy tour, reflected society's eager embrace of the electronic superhighway and multimedia age and highlighted the battle between humanity and technology. The disorienting songs also dealt with the void left in Europe by the fall of Communism and the Berlin Wall.
In 1976 in Dublin three high school students, Paul Hewson (born May 10, 1960), Dave Evans (born Aug. 8, 1961), and Adam Clayton (born March 13, 1960), answered an ad that was tacked to a bulletin board by Larry Mullen, Jr. (born Oct. 31, 1961), who wanted to form a garage band. The four initially named themselves Feedback, then The Hype, and finally U2 (probably after the American spy plane, though no one knew for sure). Hewson was christened Bono Vox (later shortened to Bono) after a hearing aid store in Dublin, and he in turn renamed Evans The Edge because of his tendency to stay on life's fringe, just observing. While touring the local club circuit, U2 honed their unique blend of punk rock and classic rock mixed with Gaelic influences, and in 1978 they were signed by Island Records. The intelligent lyrics layered with social and religious references and the sometimes brooding, sometimes anthemic music on their first five albums, Boy (1980) October (1981), War (1983), The Unforgettable Fire (1984), and The Joshua Tree (1987), gained them worldwide critical and popular acclaim and earned them a reputation as the eight-legged conscience of rock and roll. The success of The Joshua Tree propelled them into indisputable superstardom and won them the titles "Band of the Eighties" by Rolling Stone and "Rock's Hottest Ticket" by Time.
By the early 1990s, U2 had won several Grammy awards, sold more than 40 million albums (note: An English newspaper claimed in November, 1996 that U2 have now sold over 70 million albums and have generated over one billion dollars in sales!) and been listed as one of Forbes' top-15 highest-paid entertainers. In an effort to shed the image they suddenly found themselves suffocating under, U2 reinvented their sound and pleasantly shocked the critics and most of their fans with the release of the two harder-edged, postindustrial albums. Whatever their musical direction, Ireland's second biggest export (next to Guinness stout) proved that artistic integrity would remain their chief hallmark. (SUSAN RAPP)
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