A pop star fishes a 12-year-old boy out of the audience during his concert, runs around the stage with him, holds his hand, before returning him to his parents. Later, a group of volunteers holding candles fan out along the ramp encircling the stage.
Is it Michael Jackson? Sure sounds like it. No, it’s Bono. And the show was last night at Giants Stadium, where U2 put on an extravaganza that only Jackson and Liberace could have imagined.
This is U2’s 360 tour, the follow-up to last spring’s album release, “No Line on the Horizon.” Here’s the problem, which was unforeseen: “No Line” was not a hit, and yielded no singles except for the grating “Get on Your Boots.”’ It was the first-ever mistake in the U2 catalog, and should have been rethought. Instead, “No Line” and its turgid, mostly tuneless songs was foisted on the public. Months later, they are still unsingable and unmemorable.
So Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullins, Jr. have to take the bulk of their catalog and reimagine it onstage without benefit, really, of new material anyone wants to hear. Thursday night’s show ran the gamut from enervating to joyous, with lots of potholes in between. The highlights of the show were standbys such as “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “One” and “With Or Without You.”
But missing from the lineup were “New Years Day,” “In the Name of Love,” “Original of the Species” and a few others that could have energized the proceedings. “Vertigo” was refreshing and really rocked. “Stay” would have been extraordinary except that Bono “went up” and forgot the words a quarter of the way in. He looked rattled and never regained his composure during the song. Too bad — it’s so good, and Bono and the Edge played it just as they did at Elvis Costello’s taping last week in Toronto.
I’ve seen U2 at Giants Stadium before, when it was just them and their songs. But last night’s show was about more, more, more. The stage is round, juts out into the middle of the field, encircled by a ramp. There are two massive, moving bridges. The whole has a kind of gigantic round space ship-like structure that is really a massive video screen. It’s suspended by a spiderlike cover, maybe meant to be used later in the “Spider-Man” musical, for which U2 has written the music.
The whole of the concept isn’t bad, but it’s undermined by a neon steering wheel that’s also suspended from the top, and fitted with a microphone. This is a mistake. Bono, dressed in a suit jacket that’s lit up along the seams, sings two great songs into the steering wheel and then swings along on it. This should be stopped at once. All the intimacy of the show is jettisoned.
U2 has also been a band of bombast, that was their appeal. Presenting them in stripped-down settings made the band very accessible, and showcased the finer aspects of their songwriting. (The newer album is just a misstep. They’ll be back.) But this new show is all about more, bigger, and unnecessary stuff. All the tamps and bridges — Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, and Bruce Springsteen know how to use them. Bono and Edge seemed indifferent to them. Either use them or lose them. Right now, they are bridges to nowhere.
But don’t think U2 isn’t full of pleasures. The band remains a hot engine, with Edge driving it full force. I liked the inclusion of bits and pieces of other people’s songs — the Rolling Stones, Ben E. King, etc. — sort of tying U2’s music to rock history. It was a bold move, and it worked.
And Bono is still Bono. There’s a video speech from Bishop Desmond Tutu. The candle ceremony is for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the jailed female leader of Burma’s (Myanmar) opposition political party. It’s a great thought, and as usual Bono’s heart is in the right place. But I doubt many of the 81,000 U2 fans had any idea what was going on. If you did word associations with 99% of Americans, they’d answer “shave” after the word “Burma.”
But U2 rocks on, and Live Nation has a hit in a mostly sold out to the rafters tour. For every bit of nit picking, there’s still the wonders of “Mysterious Ways” and “I Still Don’t Know What I’m Looking For” and “Beautiful Day.” And that still puts them way out ahead of just about everyone else. But really, leave the kids in the audience. It’s just too weird.