Heartfelt Ambition: Challenging Personal Themes and Enduring Energy Keep U2 More Relevant Than Ever



Robert Hilburn

Great rock bands tend to be built for sprints rather than marathons. They come and go in brief bursts of glory, usually torn apart by internal problems or the inability to maintain a creative edge. Nirvana was gone in the blink of an eye. The Beatles never really made it out of the '60s.

All this makes U2 unique.

One reason for the band's continued relevance after a quarter-century is that the quartet keeps challenging itself -- never more so than in the captivating new world tour, which began Monday at San Diego's Sports Arena.

U2's latest album, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," is a thoughtful, deeply personal look at faith, family and rejuvenation; not exactly easy themes to build an arena rock show around. Yet the band brought the spirit of the album to the stage in a two-hour set that was as warm and eloquent as the songs.

Rather than open with "Vertigo," the rousing hit from "Dismantle" that is such disarming fun that even its use in the iPod ad campaign hasn't sabotaged its charm, U2 started the concert Monday with "City of Blinding Lights," a song that touches the heart of the new CD even more clearly.

In "City" and elsewhere, Bono speaks, among other things, about maintaining youthful innocence and faith: "Time ... time/ Won't leave me as I am/ But time won't take the boy out of this man."

With the audience already on its feet dancing to the beat, Bono screamed the familiar opening line of "Vertigo" -- "Uno, dos, tres,
catorce" -- and the 17,000 fans were hooked even more by the liberating strains of the guitar-driven music.

U2 then cut dramatically to a medley of tunes from its first album, 1980's "Boy," taking us back to the beginning of its journey, as
musicians and people. The band members were on the edges of 20 when that album was released and the music was bathed in the innocence and aspirations of youth.

In "Dismantle," Bono, the parent and adult, looks back at some of those ideals. Where he once thought it was only a matter of time until questions of faith and life would be resolved, he now knows some of life's mysteries will never be known. Still, it's important, he says, not to succumb to cynicism and indifference.

To explore that theme, U2 featured seven songs from the CD in the concert, the most powerful of which was "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own," which Bono wrote about his efforts to get closer to his father before the latter's death in 2001. Marching around the heart-shaped ramp that the group has brought with it from the last tour, Bono told about discovering during the process how dependent he was on his father despite the distance between them. Near the end of the song, it is clear he, too, is seeking comfort: "Don't leave me here alone."

For a band that made its mark with soaring, guitar-driven anthems that commanded you to march along, these new songs are all the more touching because they rely on the superb subtlety and restraint of U2 as

Instead of the rows of massive video screens the band has used on previous tours, it also aimed for an intimacy in the arena by employing only a modest screen above the stage, thus forcing the audience to watch the band members rather than larger-than-life video images. The sense of community is further stressed by the showing of all four members of the band, not just Bono.

Throughout Monday's set, U2 played, to use the title of its most affecting anthem, as one, with the sound blending together with almost uncanny force and unity. The Edge's guitar lines, the band's most inspired feature, can be both caressing and explosive, sometimes in the same passage. The rhythm section of bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. adds a relentless urgency to the music that backs Bono's vocals ideally, allowing his voice to soar as if he were playing a cathedral or whisper as if in a confessional booth.

The band reprised some of its most powerful old material, including the despair of "Running to Stand Still" and the commentary of "Sunday Bloody Sunday." It also strung together "Pride (In the Name of Love)," "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "One" in a moving segment during which Bono became the voice of world compassion.

Even some U2 fans used to mock Bono as "Saint Bono" for what seemed to be grandiose social ideals, but his steady devotion to social causes over the years has made him not only accepted in the role, but gives the music even more relevance because he is trying to turn his words into action.

For the final encore, however, U2 again relied on two "Dismantle" songs: a speeded-up treatment of "All Because of You," one of the most overtly devotional songs on the album, and "Yahweh," another statement of compassion and grace that includes the line, "Take this soul and make it sing."

By most rock standards, the gentle ending was too understated for the start of a tour, but it was a bold, triumphant move.

Rock 'n' roll has been built mostly on edgy elements, including rebellion, irreverence and exuberance. The Beatles became the first great rock band by both reflecting each of them and by introducing a strain of social optimism through such tunes as "All You Need Is Love."

While thousands of bands have experimented with the rebellion and irreverence, U2 has explored the idealism with a dedication and conviction that would not only have impressed the Beatles but that has earned it a place alongside that band at the very creative heart of rock.

Only Bruce Springsteen, perhaps, of post-'60s artists with such mass appeal, has approached each show with U2's unwavering passion and purpose. He tries to give his best in each show, he says, because someone in the audience may be seeing him for the first time and he always wants that newcomer to see the band at its best.

Bono and U2 have taken that mission even further. It's as if they believe there may be someone in the crowd who has been to every show, and they want to make sure that fan is touched deeper each night.

That fan would recognize in an instant that U2 was standing still if it took the easy way out and, like so many other veteran bands, just served up a "greatest hits" show every night.

No way anyone thought that Monday.

U2 didn't just take the audience in its arms the way it has for 25 years now, the band took it inside its heart.

Copyright © 2005 LA Times


is there any truth that you have to have an "official u2 card" to get into a concert, offical ticket in hand?

....oie eu sou do Brasil....
estive visitando esse site...mas não entedi nada....ta tudo em ingles!! mesmo assim...
abraços e bay!

Bueno la pagina esta bien pero lo que quiero decir porque U2 no ase su gira por latino america en especial en Lima Peru de seguro ni an pensado por aqui, yo espero que ellos bengas el otro año ya que este esta muy copado por todo Europa y EEUU , de verdad no me parese,

Hey how's everyone? U2 the best! Well, i hope they come to Argentina some day...i know they've been here before but i was young...well, bye.

Hi, I'M feipe And I want to give my congratulation 'cause you are a great grup and you have so much sing that are so well and you have to come here to chile to give aconsert
ok you new disk is excellent and the grup is all give

a fans than is fanatic of you


U2 in Brazil???????????? here in Brasilian?????

Is very good, Without a doubt the matter it is very interesting, when we spoke then in U2 it is very better.

in Brasil

I love soo much this gruop and I LOVE the they've done about poverty of world
your fan Mela

I just saw U2 play last night ( september 14th 2005) on there Vertigo tour in Toronto and it was the best concert i have ever seen.


U2 is the best rock band of all !!!!!!!!!!!Why don they come to Malaysia ??

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on March 31, 2005 2:46 AM.

U2 Go Old School in Cali was the previous entry in this blog.

Bono Honors the Pope is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives


OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID