After The Show It Had To Be U2

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Post-Washington Popmart concert, May 28, 1997

After The Show

It Had To Be U2

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Washington Post

Forty-five thousand U2 fans found exactly what they were looking for at RFK Stadium Monday night. And after almost four years off the concert circuit, the Irish rock quartet seemed invigorated by the reconnection with its fans.

When the musicians stepped out onto the stadium floor and walked through the audience -- with front man and singer Bono adopting a boxer guise and attitude -- it was obvious U2 intended to reclaim the title of heavyweight champ. Wisely, it fought its battles in a three-ring media circus with both oversize kitsch-culture props and a huge video screen projecting images that, like the band itself, proved to be many things at once: literal, poetic, surreal, subversive and genuine. The action took place under a gigantic arch that started out comically golden but shifted colors according to the needs of the songs, not unlike a mood ring.

The two-hour concert mixed anthemically familiar tunes with more sonically challenging material from the band's recent "Pop" album. Fans seemed to respect U2's new songs, but it was clear they truly loved the older ones, particularly those powered by the simple surge of drummer Larry Mullen and bassist Adam Clayton.

The band opened with two songs of familial dislocation and the desire for reconnection; separated by 18 years in their writing, they nonetheless underlined U2's focus on serious themes, whether couched in the techno-driven anxiety of "Mofo" or the old keening urgency of "I Will Follow." Then followed the Middle Eastern sway of "Even Better Than the Real Thing" and the rough-hewn "Gone" before the band sent out the first of the evening's anthems, "Pride (In the Name of Love)," followed immediately by "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." The latter's graduation from spiritual yearning to martial insistence bespeaks the sense of questing that seems to have grabbed hold of so many listeners.

Of the new songs, the one that made the strongest impression (against considerable odds) was "If God Will Send His Angels," thanks to a spare rendition in which guitarist the Edge built a chapel of notes around Bono's haunted vocals. There were also several intriguing intertwinings: the taut, roiling "Last Night on Earth" with the apocalyptic "Until the End of the World," as well as the trip-hop, techno-flavored "Miami" with "Bullet the Blue Sky." Bono donned a bowler hat and graffiti-design jacket as he sang against a backdrop of postcard propaganda for "Miami" and an animated version of Roy Lichtenstein's pop-art jet fighters for "Bullet the Blue Sky." The effect was like Joel Grey moving from prewar Germany to premillennium America and suddenly discovering life was no cabaret.

U2's humorous instincts were also evident. The Edge made Monkees of himself, the band and the audience by leading a karaoke sing-along of "Daydream Believer." And toward show's end, the band assumed its Village People persona, returning to the stage in a motorized 30-foot disco mirror ball and stepping down a ramp for a rollicking romp through "Discotheque." This was more a Spinal Tap moment than a Kodak moment.

Having dedicated a powerful "Please" to imprisoned Indian activist Leonard Peltier (his name came up when the band visited President Clinton at the White House Monday), U2 established an emotional center with sharp renditions of "Where the Streets Have No Name," "With or Without You" (though it took a while for it to jell) and, for its last encore, the inspirational "One." The song speaks to compassion in the age of AIDS, to the need for community, to the healing power of love. Using animated images of the work of artist Keith Haring, who succumbed to AIDS several years ago, the band ended the show with the kind of powerful statement that has always been its true gift.

Copyright © 1997 The Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on May 28, 1997 4:45 AM.

U2's `Pop' Arch was the previous entry in this blog.

U2 POPMART: My Experience is the next entry in this blog.

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