“My body’s now a begging bowl,” Bono sang at the end of U2’s two-and-a-half hour show last night, “that’s begging to get back, begging to get back to my heart, to the rhythm of my soul.” It’s the classic U2 lyric, merging social issues (poverty) and world culture (Third World) with intimacy and personal yearning. And in closing the band’s blow-out show at Scott Stadium, “Moment of Surrender” summed up as well as anything the beauty and contradictions of the world’s biggest rock band.
How long did it take U2 to transform Scott Stadium into a city of blinding lights? More than two hours, 25 songs and multiple encores, thanks to enormous TV screens and the band’s “Claw” set. Photo by Jack Looney.
David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” signaled the start of the concert as the much-reported-on, tentacular set billowed smoke, and with all that it became clear that U2 positions itself now as the Band that Fell to Earth. Prophets from above and within, they project their vision of what ails humanity—and what can redeem it—from a vast sphere of TV screens.
And the effect at times was mesmerizing, vital and fresh. The Edge would be on one side of the circular stage and Bono far off on the catwalk, and yet the screen would merge their well-lighted images crisply and with style. (But fans of the rhythm section might have noted that it wasn’t until the ninth song of the 25-song show, “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” that Adam Clayton got his proper due in the live video.)
Things turned a bit cheesy when, at the end of “Your Blue Room” astronaut Frank De Winne’s visage filled the screen with a genuine message from outer space. Sometimes, I thought, it’s better to allude to a miracle than to actually point to it.
And by the time Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s close-up floated hundreds of feet in the air, exhorting the crowd to act nobly and aid the poor, I started to grow uneasy with the idea of messages from revered leaders blasting to stadium crowds that are high on shared energy. Sure, Tutu is right and so is Bono, about how to be a world citizen, but the means of communication and the rapt reception that they counted on fleetingly inspired a rather sinister comparison.
But it all came back to the music, in the end, and that is U2’s great trick. Right about the time that the words Bono and megalomania start to harmonize in your head, there’s The Edge, wringing waves of sound from his guitar on the brilliant “City of Blinding Lights” or kicking out the jams in “Vertigo.” With age, Bono, like his hero Frank Sinatra, is flattening the high notes or talking through them. Interestingly, that has the effect of making the band sound even tighter, and highlighting the Edge’s quiet musical passion.
Not that Bono is without grounding instincts of his own. Riffing on the fact that U2 was performing at a university campus, he introduced his mates (“roommates,” he actually called them) as classic college types. The Edge, he said, was the Nerd. Drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. was the Captain of the Football Team. Clayton was a Friend to Cheerleaders Everywhere. As for himself, Bono said, he was the College Dropout, still trying to learn something from the other three guys. Later, as the band wound up its second encore, he took it a step further. “Thank you, Larry, Edge and Adam,” he said, “for letting me be in your band.”