Friday, May 20, 2005

U2 in Philly: uplifting and inspiring


Times Leader Staff Writer
May 20, 2005

PHILADELPHIA - They are still the best band in the world. No one else is even close.

U2 earns that honor simply because it remains such a remarkably important musical force and continues to carry so much artistic credibility.
Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen are now members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They have been a band for 25 years and have amassed an incredible catalogue of work. But when they came to the Wachovia Arena in Philadelphia on Saturday, it was the new songs along with the old ones that lifted spirits and drew some of the night's biggest cheers from the crowd. That, perhaps more than anything, is what makes the group so special.

The legendary Irish unit opened its show with the new “City Of Blinding Lights,” a gorgeous track from its latest CD, “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb,” and followed with the new “Vertigo,” a vibrant and pounding number seemingly penned with sold-out arenas in mind.

Two terrific new songs, right out of the gate, and the crowd of 20,000 sang along to every word.

The band also dipped into its earliest years, offering “An Cat Dubh,” “Into The Heart” and “The Electric Co.” from 1980's “Boy” and an impassioned rendition of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” from 1983's “War.” The group also offered a moving and inspiring performance of “Pride,” from 1984's “The Unforgettable Fire.”

But again, every jewel from the past matched a jewel from the present. U2, whose members are now middle-age millionaires, easily could lean toward nostalgia when planning a tour, but, as in 2001, they have again hit the road with stunning new material. “Elevation” and “Beautiful Day,” from 2000's “All That You Can't Leave Behind,” were among the show's highlights, as were “Miracle Drug” and “Love and Peace or Else” from the new CD. And the gorgeous “Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own,” also from the new album, which Bono dedicated to his late father, provided one of the night's most memorable moments.

Bono dedicated “Running To Stand Still,” from 1987's “The Joshua Tree,” to the men and women of the American military, and the crowd went wild when the band visited the milestone album again with performances of “Bullet The Blue Sky” and “Where The Streets Have No Name.” They also visited 1991's “Achtung Baby” with performances of “Zoo Station,” “The Fly,” “Mysterious Ways” and a sturdy rendition of “One.”
U2's staging was dazzling, complete with an illuminated oval catwalk that stretched almost halfway across the arena. Sparkling lighting framed the show beautifully, and Bono was in full command as a frontman, frequently prowling and strutting about. At one point, he pulled two young children from the crowd and gently walked with them, hand in hand, around the curve of the stage. The gentle gesture, of course, was met with another roaring ovation.
Politics? You bet.
Bono, without preaching, can still inspire, and his concerns for basic human civil rights and global hunger are unchanged. Though his fan base has grown older and may have reached an age when it realizes it might not be able to change the world, his words, spoken with a sincere combination of passion and humility, might still inspire it at least to try.
U2 brought all of this to Philadelphia on Saturday -- music, wisdom, kindness, spirituality and energy. It anchored its show with seven knockout songs from its new album and closed with “40,” an older number, written when its members were much younger men, that also challenges its listeners to try to make the world a better place.
Still the best. No one else even comes close.

(This story was originally published in The Times Leader on May 20, 2005.)