Bono, whose real name is Paul Hewson, has been famous for about 42 years with his group, U2. At 62, he’s the last of the real rock stars, youngest of the final class of musically proficient headliners with hits that includes elders like Elvis Costello, Sting, and Chrissie Hynde.
Last night Bono delivered the second of his 11 scheduled “one man” shows at the Beacon Theater, where he mixes singing bits of his many hits from the group with stories of his childhood, philanthropy, early career, and his emergency aortic valve surgery in 2016. With just three musicians to back him — one on stand up bass, a percussionist. and a harpist-slash-back up singer – Bono follows Bruce Springsteen, who had his Broadway show over the last few years in creating a living memoir that is full of wisdom, fun, and music.
The stories he tells are punctuated by animated Basquiat–like drawings on video screens behind him. Otherwise, the stage is spare. He jokes that when he’s with U2, the set is an enormous enterprise. Here, it’s basically a table and a couple of chairs.
Bono doesn’t need strobe lights or catwalks. The point of “Stories of Surrender” — following his autobiography of a similar name from last year — is to take everything that’s happened in his life over the last four decades in perspective, dot the i’s, cross the t’s, before moving on to new adventures — which there will doubtless be.
We learn a few things. Besides the voice and the gift of Irish gab (Bono could talk til the cows home and it would sound musical and interesting), he has a sense of humor. Telling stories about late opera great Luciano Pavarotti or Bill Clinton, Bono does disarming note perfect hilarious imitations of them. This is unexpected among the other anecdotes about using his fame to help fight global hunger and poverty. This isn’t a lecture, after all. Bono is very entertaining.
And while he sings all or part of about 18 songs interspersed with a voice that has never sounded better. Bono’s even more focused on telling us this about himself: he is a family man. He’s been with his wife, Allison Stewart, since he was in high school. His own mother died when he was 14 (same as Paul McCartney), leaving him with his dad and his brother. The dad, Bob Hewson, is a running character throughout the two hours as Bono builds a story arc for him. Bob Hewson — a talented tenor himself — goes from being skeptical about his son’s rock musician career to being awestruck when he meets Princess Diana. (He’s Irish, but as Bono says, 700 years of English-Irish enmity is wiped out in that second.)
Bob Hewson’s favorite line to his son over their many meetings is a rhetorical question as a a greeting: “Anything strange or startling?” There isn’t really. Only that the songs written by Bono and The Edge have held up so well, and that the singer who holds the attention of 100,000 people in stadiums is just as captivating unplugged. And just to demonstrate his musical prowess Bono ends the show– which feature songs like “Desire,” “Beautiful Day,” and “With You or Without You” — with a credible bit of opera in “Torna a Surriento.”
In the audience: Judd Apatow, Broadway stars Reeve Carney and Roger Bart, famed music manager Irving Azoff (whose son, Jeffrey Azoff, has taken over U2’s management and pumped new life into their career), Jane Rose (who manages Keith Richards), and Allen Grubman, lawyer to every major music star.
PS No phones allowed in the Beacon. They’re all put in pouches. The photo here is from the famed Kevin Mazur of Getty Images, for the production.