Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Power & The Glory (and the Ego)

5.12.05 United Center Chicago

Kings of Leon (opening act) @@@@

Able to instantly sell every ticket they put on sale everywhere in the world, in the same year as their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, U2 is seemingly a band with nothing to prove. But I've been a fan since the early-'80s and going into last night's show, I genuinely wondered if within the corporation that U2 has become, there still beat the heart of a great rock 'n roll band. For if Bono's ego hadn't been insufferable enough in the past, his recent high profile humanitarian efforts -- while genuinely admirable on their own -- have not been artfully integrated into the band's music, despite repeated attempts. Most notably, their new CD, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, is chock full of songs that proselytize, but fail to connect. Or rock.

Well, last night's show reiterated that U2 is a band that can reach heights few others can. Phenomenal from the outset, the show had me planning my exuberant @@@@@ review midway through, until Pope Bono couldn't help but show up. Early highlights included the rightful show opener Vertigo (although past setlists reveal this to be the first show at which it was) and an amazing rendition of 1981's Gloria. And even if the band becomes a leisure-suited lounge act, the staccato drumbeat opening of Sunday Bloody Sunday will never fail to excite me. Despite several new songs that I still don't much love, even the pacing and vibe were dead on. But when Bono led into a beautiful rendition of Running to Stand Still by saluting the men & women of the U.S. military, I couldn't help but cringe at what seemed like rote, pre-scripted pandering. At the end of 'Running,' a song about heroin addiction, a video screen ran text from 1948's Declaration of Human Rights with some narration about how torturing people is bad. This may have been fitting had it led into Walk On, The Unforgettable Fire or if Bono had a twisted sense of humor, So Cruel. But the song that followed was the new City of Blinding Lights, accompanied by the most extensive lights and video display of the show.

During Pride, a song everyone knows is about MLK, Bono of course had to speak his praises rather than just sing them, and this lead into a speech about eliminating African poverty, with Bono actually (I'm pretty sure) singing Kum-Ba-Ya over the glorious build up of Where the Streets Have No Name, during which the video screens rotated African flags. Hey, I'm sure he's well-intentioned about noble causes, but do you really have to smack me in the eyeballs? More Bonoesque blather actually diminished the power of One rather than enhance it.

Then came the encore. Would Bruce, in town the night before, show up?


Without the Boss, three Actung Baby songs led off the encore, including the unnecessary (for me) Mysterious Ways, followed by a great rendition of With or Without You. Offstage, then back on, for an acoustic Yahweh (from the new album). From the past setlists, I expected '40' to close the show as it had way back in the 80s. But surprisingly, U2 went into an amazing version of Bad, which almost redeemed Bono wrecking the feel & pacing of the set and included the "how long to sing this song" section of 40.

Great band -- thank goodness for Edge, Adam & Larry, solid pros forever -- and a great show that should've been phenomenal. If only Bono could help himself.

Oh, and the Kings of Leon, who opened the show, were excellent, putting on a rocking 45 minute set that connected even in the 3rd deck.

U2 setlist: Vertigo, All Because Of You, Elevation, Gloria, The Ocean, Beautiful Day, Miracle Drug, Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own, Love and Peace or Else, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bullet the Blue Sky - When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Running to Stand Still, City of Blinding Lights, Original of the Species, Pride, Where the Streets Have No Name, One

Encore: Until the End of the World, The Fly, Mysterious Ways, With or Without - Strangers in the Night, Yahweh, Bad - Norwegian Wood - Sexual Healing - 40

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