U2 Kicks Off Tour With Unadulterated Rock, Straight From the Heart

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Miami-Ft. Lauderdale Elevation concert, March 24, 2001

U2 Kicks Off Tour With Unadulterated Rock, Straight From the Heart

By Neil Strauss, NY Times

SUNRISE, Fla., March 25 — U2 had nothing to hide when it opened its Elevation world tour on Saturday night at the National Car Rental Center here. The concert, which sold out its 18,800 tickets just minutes before showtime, began with the house lights on and the members of U2 casually walking onstage. With the bright, unflattering lights still blazing, the band began to play "Elevation."

The concept was that there is no concept to U2's new tour and album, and that's a brave thing. It leaves no way to hide from mediocrity: if an album or concert fails, the band can't fall back on the old excuse that the fans, the media, the record company or radio programmers didn't get it. After all, there is nothing not to get about the latest version of U2. It's pure, simple, it's-a-beautiful-day rock 'n' roll. And there's nothing mediocre about it: "All That You Can't Leave Behind" is the band's best album in at least 13 years and the concert proved it, because new songs like "Beautiful Day," "Walk On," "Stuck in a Moment" and "In a Little While" (which the leather-jacketed Bono dedicated to his wife as an apology for not being around for her birthday last week) held their own as classics next to the band's older material.

The tour itself, though a far cry from the spectacle of the group's "PopMart," "Zooropa" and "Zoo TV" stadium shows, was superior in many ways because it involved the audience instead of simply distracting it with gimmicks. U2 must agree, because the band is currently accepting offers on its Web site, u2.com, from parties interested in purchasing the giant mirror-ball lemon used on the "PopMart" tour.

At Saturday's two-hour-plus show, the major prop was a red heart-shaped catwalk, which encircled the stage and 300 audience members, placing them in the very bottom of U2's heart, which Bono ran around and posed on all night. Instead of hiding behind the veneer of irony and flash, the band made an effort to make rock 'n' roll a communal experience, not of a narcissistic one.

Bono ran through the sea of fans on the floor of the arena (which the band is insisting be a standing area that is ticketed general admission), carried a searchlight that he shone on each section of seats, and when the show ended, asked with as much humility as a Bono can muster, "Have we got the job?"

This back-to-reality approach almost resulted in a real disaster for Bono, because while flirting with the audience on the raised catwalk three songs into the set he tumbled off the back of the platform onto the floor, where he lay dazed for several moments before he was able to start singing again. For the band, returning to the roots of its music — simply the ardent wail of Bono; the sputtering, ringing full-bodied guitar playing of the Edge; the puissant, rumbling bass work of Adam Clayton; and the march-meets-rock beats of Larry Mullen Jr. on drums — meant revisiting early songs live.

In a move uncharacteristic of recent tours, the band loaded its set with early singles, including "I Will Follow," "New Year's Day" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (into which Bono inserted a brief Bob Marley medley and waved an Irish flag a fan handed him).

By returning to the basics with such success, the band has forever labeled its 90's work as having made a wrong turn after "Achtung Baby." But U2 refused to disavow the material. It almost seemed to go out of its way to give a nod to its past tours, performing weaker songs like "Discothèque" and appropriately adding extra visual effects to the songs like videos by the Irish artist Catherine Owens.

Fortunately, U2 is not a band that heeds its own advice. "All that you can't leave behind, you've got to leave it behind," Bono sang in an added coda to "Walk On" to close the show.

But in returning to what it left behind (not a bar-rock band, which U2 was never really meant to be, but an earnest arena-rock band that believes in the power of a right-headed song that tens of thousands of people can sing along with), U2 succeeded in making opening night of its Elevation tour, despite Bono's difficulty getting comfortable onstage at first and his ensuing accidental stage dive, one of the best big rock shows of the past year.

Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on March 24, 2001 4:48 AM.

U2 Builds Stage, Loses PJ Harvey was the previous entry in this blog.

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