Beer, ballads, and Bono

By Greg Brown

$106 for a ticket. On the top level. In the 14th row. Oh, the joys of attending a big rock show.

I figured the only way to not think about the ticket price was to drink (heavily) before and during the show. Oh, yeah—$7.50 for a beer. Of course, by the time I had arrived at the United Center with plenty of tequila in my stomach, $7.50 seemed like pocket change. But enough about me. Let’s talk about U2.

U2 tours are notorious for their over-the-top staging and lighting, and the Elevation Tour does not disappoint. A spotlight came on, the crowd pumped its collective fist, and there was Bono, out in front of the elliptical catwalk to belt out “City of Blinding Lights.” Band members The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, inside of the giant ellipse, provided the sonic landscape to the audience of thousands.

Four enormous screens hung overhead, showing various shots of each band member (stationary cameras were used for three of the four members—guess who needed the moving camera?) Flags, people, and other quasi-political images were projected throughout the show behind the stage as a transparent, pixilated curtain. It basically looked like my childhood Lite Brite set had become Barry Bonds’ training partner.

The show itself started off strong. “City” was great, though mostly just because it was the opener. iPod fans rejoiced when Bono pranced around the catwalk like a rock star during “Vertigo.” The thin lines of red light that spun around the catwalk and stage added incredible amounts of energy to the song. “Elevation,” albeit a very simple tune, kept the crowd frenzied.

The band then pulled a few songs out of their old bag of tricks. “Cry/Electric Co.” was a U2 live staple in 1983. Similarly, “An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart” has rarely been heard since their 1981 Boy Tour. It was a treat to hear the band pay homage to their youthful naiveté, though the relatively unknown songs caused several to flee the arena, prompting longer beer and bathroom lines.

The latest U2 albums—All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb—seem like attempts to revisit their classic ’80s sound. In other words, what they used to be. They pull it off pretty well, though with more polish and less allure (and, consequently, less heart). “Beautiful Day” is a well-crafted song, and received thunderous applause as it began. But along with most of the newer songs, it paled in comparison to the songs that will still sound as impassioned 30 years from now as they do today (and no doubt did 20 years ago).

If the crowd pumped its collective fist as the lights turned on for “City of Blinding Lights,” then we got collective goosebumps as the familiar piano tinkles opened “New Year’s Day.” Adam Clayton’s simple bass playing, The Edge’s classic, processed guitar playing, and Bono’s yearning (“I will be with you again”) made the 20-year-old tune more relevant than any new song.

In all honesty, I was prepared to listen to Bono lecture and preach for a good 10 minutes between each song (which had the unfortunate effect of making the concert price seem even more unreasonable). But it took several songs before the first cringe-worthy sermon. Bono prefaced Atomic Bomb’s “Miracle Drug” by explaining that faith is a good thing. “Faith in the future, faith in your family, faith in your friends, faith in your bandmates, and faith in God. In fact it is faith in God that inspires medicine to help people.”

This was certainly the number one beer-break song of the show. And it’s a shame, too. The show started off with great energy, but “Miracle Drug” was tedious. I won’t go into too much detail about Bono’s other political/religious tirades, although he strangely dedicated “Running to Standstill,” a song about heroin addiction, to the United States Military.

The end of the set was stuffed with classics. Larry Mullen pounded out the skipping snare/high-hat intro to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and Bono let the crowd sing the chorus. The Edge had distortion and echo levels set to 11 for a rousing version of “Pride (In the Name of Love).” His scratchy, sharp guitar, Clayton’s thunderous bass lines, and Mullen’s heavy drum beat made the band sound huge on “Bullet the Blue Sky.”

After a beer break, their first encore was made up of three songs from Achtung Baby. The sheer sexiness of “Mysterious Ways” was amplified as a young woman dressed in white danced around the catwalk, like she was playing hide-and-seek with Bono.

Despite U2’s energy, it’s quite evident that they are used to performing to a packed arena. At times through the show, this resulted in some U2 by the numbers. There was some obviously rehearsed “spontaneity.” Bono “picked” a girl out of the audience to play guitar with the band during “Party Girl.” Funny—the same girl was picked for the previous show. And the one before that.

It’s tough to say whether paying $106 for terrible seats was worth it. I am a college student, after all (and attending this school isn’t necessarily cheap). Plus, if I had paid more attention to Bono, I would have felt queasy listening to his preaching, rather from the tequila and beer. But to hear “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Where the Streets Have No Name?” Well, I could give a few $7.50 toasts to that.