The long-awaited U2 concert: Bigger than big

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By David Menconi, Raleigh News & Observer Staff Writer

U2 played its first-ever Raleigh show Saturday night, and it was a pretty spectacular affair. Here's the review; and be sure to check out this excellent photo gallery, shot by ace N&O photographer Travis Long.

By David Menconi Staff writer

RALEIGH -- A few songs into U2's Saturday night show at Carter-Finley Stadium, Bono paused to survey his domain. And he addressed the packed house with the egomaniacal charm we've all come to know and love.

"We've got old songs, we've got new songs, we've got songs we can barely play," he cracked. "And we've got a spaceship!"

Yes, it was hard not to notice that. At a time when pretty much everything seems to be in contraction mode, U2 has rolled the dice with what has to be the most elaborately ginormous stage setup in rock history -- a huge claw-shaped beast that looked like a vertigo-inducing theme-park ride.

It seemed impossible that any band, even one as outsized as U2, wouldn't get swallowed up by such surroundings. But somehow, they pulled it off through sheer force of will. This business of being the biggest band on earth clearly matters a great deal to U2, and they've put this gargantuan spectacle on the road to achieve "intimacy on a grand scale." There's just no one better at enormity than U2.

After a solid 40-minute opening set by Muse, the headline portion of the evening opened with David Bowie's "Space Oddity" as prelude music, smoke machines at full belch. Larry Mullen Jr. entered first, sitting down at his drums to start bashing. Guitarist Dave "The Edge" Evans was next, with bassist Adam Clayton right behind. And Bono was last out, of course.

Bono wasted no time hitting the heroic poses on the opener "Breathe," a track from the current album "No Line on the Horizon." While "No Line" is only so-so, its songs came across much better live -- even "Get On Your Boots," the actively annoying first single. Other recent-vintage songs to hit the mark included "Vertigo," "Magnificent" and "City of Blinding Lights."

As always, Edge provided letter-perfect guitar accompaniment. If Bono is U2's preacher man, Edge is the one who built the sonic pulpit from which he holds forth.

Hammy theatrics that somehow work are a U2 specialty, such as the way Bono worked snippets of rock-era classics into U2 songs. A bit of "Amazing Grace" turned up during the encore version of "One." And during "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," Bono pointed at the moon and sang the opening of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" ("When the night has come/And the land is Dark/And the moon is the only light we will see...").

Sometimes, however, Bono should just leave well enough alone. Tossing his microphone to a guy in the crowd to let him sing a verse of "People Get Ready" might have seemed like a good idea; but it was an off-key disaster.

Still, that was one of the show's miscues. For all the band's pretensions, U2 is ultimately just so likable that it's almost impossible not to be won over. When they went roaring into the encore version of "Where the Streets Have No Name," that guitar riff pealing like a church bell, it was a perfect moment of blissful big-rock grandeur that you just don't see much of anymore.

We shall not see U2's like again, I don't believe.

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© Copyright 2009, The News & Observer Publishing Company

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 4, 2009 6:27 PM.

U2 concert pumps money into economy, causes traffic troubles was the previous entry in this blog.

Is brutal tour schedule taking its toll on Bono? is the next entry in this blog.

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