U2 live: All that you can't leave behind
By Jim Harrington, CONTRIBUTOR
THE TRUE GENIUS of U2 lies in the band's ability to connect with every single soul in a 20,000-seat arena.
It doesn't matter whether one is a rabid fan who can recite the track listing from every U2 album since "Boy" or someone who can only name a few hits. It's not important if one regularly listens to classic rock, modern rock, hip-hop or country. Factors like age, race, social status and religion are really irrelevant in this arena.
U2 will get you and it will get you every single time. That's why the Irish quartet outranks even Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones as the safest bet in the concert industry.
At this stage in its career, fresh off its recent induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, U2 really only has to worry about topping itself each time it goes out on the road.
The band's show Saturday night at HP Pavilion in San Jose was thrilling. This first show of a two-night stand at the venue, however, fell a smidge shy of the heights the band reached in 2001.
Part of that has to do with material.
The Elevation Tour was centered on one of the band's strongest albums, 2000's "All That You Can't Leave Behind," which is full of the type of towering anthems that the Irish quartet built its career on.
With this year's Vertigo Tour, U2 is promoting 2004's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" and much of the new material featured didn't translate as well to the stage. There was a pronounced drop in excitement almost every time the band went from playing an old hit to a new song, which simply didn't happen with Elevation.
But the main reason this year's tour didn't meet the standards set in 2001 has to do with timing. Then, the second leg of U2's North American tour came immediately after the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, and
anybody who doesn't believe in the healing power of rock'n' roll certainly didn't attend those November shows at the Oakland Arena. There was truly magic in that music.
So, if U2 couldn't top itself Saturday, it would just have to shoot for surpassing everyone else.
The concert kicked off with much drama as the Edge stepped into the spotlight to deliver a powerful opening guitar interlude that sounded like a cross between Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia.
Confetti rained from the ceiling as Bono appeared at the tip of the heart-shaped walkway that extended from the stage halfway across the arena floor. The charismatic vocalist held his hands up toward the sky and basked in the moment, as the crowd on all sides showered him with adoration.
Then, like a racehorse at the sound of a gun, Bono sprang into action and led the band through the two best "Atomic Bomb" songs of the concert, "City of Blinding Lights" and "Vertigo." Thanks to its role in Apple's inescapable iPod campaign, "Vertigo" came across as familiar as any of the old hits.
The vocalist then cried like a loon to start "Elevation," the track that received the most extreme makeover of the night. The band initially slowed the number down to a crawl, using both a bare-bones arrangement and a restrained delivery, and gave it a slightly dark industrial feel. After a few fidgety minutes, the tension finally broke and the music and crowd erupted simultaneously.
The band reached all the way back to its 1980 debut, "Boy," for a powerful version of "The Electric Co." and then went daytripping through "New Year's Day" and "Beautiful Day," which closed on a snippet of the Beatles "Blackbird."
The evening took a turn for the worse with the new album's saccharine "Miracle Drug," which features perhaps the corniest U2 lyric ever recorded, "Freedom has a scent / Like the top of a newborn baby's head."
Another low point came when the band played the soft "Running to Stand Still" from 1987's "The Joshua Tree" and the singer chastised the crowd for clapping along to the beat. "Don't clap," he scolded, "but you can sing." He won't lose the egomaniac reputation by exhibiting that type of control-freak attitude.
But, really, we don't want him to lose it. A large part of Bono's charm comes from his larger-than-life-and-still-growing persona. It's that image that helps makes anthems like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)" feel so darn poignant, heartfelt and urgent in concert.
Bono still does some preaching from the stage. Fortunately, he's picking topics that won't spawn much debate or cause division in a crowd. He's currently stumping for basic human rights issues, which, at least theoretically, is about as controversial as a pro-puppy stance.
The band stumbled a bit at the end, notably by speeding up the great ballad "One," but it was hardly enough to detract from enjoying such solidly performed favorites as "Mysterious Ways" and "Where the Streets Have No Name."
The band finally quit for the night after playing its traditional closer, "40." Fans left the building both raving about what the band included in the set list and bemoaning what it left off.
Significant exclusions included "Bad," "Two Hearts Beat as One," "With or Without You" and, really, too many others to mention.
Fortunately, fans will have another chance to hear those classics when U2 returns to the Bay Area to play to two dates in November at the Oakland Arena.
This critic will be there and so should you, too.
-U2 appears at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 and 9 at the Oakland Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way. Tickets are $49.52-$160. Call (510) 762-2277 or visit www.tickets.com.
You can write music critic Jim Harrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.