BONO is no genius.
It's not as if he was the one who came up with the Theory of Relativity, penned "Ulysses" or created the peanut butter cup.
He's a rock'n' roll singer who seems to operate by one simple motto: Do the next right thing onstage. With that principle in mind, the leader of U2 will hand the microphone to a young girl in the crowd, dance with a passionate fan during a big number, shake hands with a guy in the front row or, really, whatever else is the appropriate move at any particular moment.
Yet, if that motto is so simple, one has to ask why there aren't more performers who live by it? Good question.
Although he's best known for putting on big stage shows and singing big rock anthems, Bono proved yet again on Tuesday night at the Oakland Arena that the real reason he is rightfully considered to be the greatest front man in rock is because he does all the little things right.
Talk to the fans who attended Tuesday's show, which kicked off a two-night stand at the venue, and I bet the first thing they mention isn't the cool light show, the stage with the
heart-shaped walkway that extended halfway across the arena floor or the great version of the anthem "Pride (In the Name of Love)." I'm willing to wager that they instead bring up how Bono carried a woman on his back during "Mysterious Ways" or let a young girl lead a chant of "No More" in "Sunday Bloody Sunday."
In all, it was another winning chapter in the book that some are calling "The Biggest Week in Bay Area Rock'n' Roll History." U2 was at least as good Tuesday as Paul McCartney had
been at the HP Pavilion in San Jose Monday. And the Rolling Stones, who play Sunday and Tuesday at SBC Park in San Francisco, certainly have their work cut out for them if they are to top either Paul or Bono.
Following a moderately entertaining opening set by reggae-star Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, who also performs Monday at the Independent in San Francisco, U2 launched its two-hour-plus concert in a very dramatic fashion.
The house stereo system pumped out a tune by Arcade Fire, the Montreal-based buzz band that will take over as opening act for U2 later this month, and then three-fourths of the legendary Irish band took the stage and began to play "City of Blinding Lights," one of the best tracks from last year's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb."
If you have to ask which member of U2 was the last to appear on stage, well, you clearly haven't been paying attention.
It was, of course, Bono, who burst out of seemingly nowhere at the point of the stage that reached farthest into the crowd. He was surrounded by a sea of outstretched arms as he sang "City of Blinding Lights" with the passion of a preacher delivering a sermon in a revival tent.
"Vertigo" — which, despite popular opinion to the contrary, is really an actual song found on "Atomic Bomb" and not just a jingle for Apple's iPod — was another big crowd pleaser. The band kept the adrenaline pumping as it charged directly through "Elevation" (from 2000's "All That You Can't Leave Behind") and "Mysterious Ways" (from 1991's "Actung Baby").
The mood remained electric as the quartet focused the early part of its show on such crowd favorites as "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (the anthemic hit off 1987's "Joshua Tree"), "Until the End of the World" (another "Actung Baby" track) and "Beautiful Day" (which opens "All That You Can't Leave Behind").
No matter the song, or the era of its origin, there was never mistaking whose show it was on this night. Even during the new album's "Miracle Drug," which featured some fine vocal work from The Edge, Bono completely dominated the spotlight, in that case by telling a humorous story about how the guitarist was really a space alien from the future. Later, a single drum was erected on the walkway for Larry Mullen Jr. to play during "Love and Peace or Else." After Mullen finished, Bono took over, tied a cloth around his forehead, began beating the drum in Kodo-worthy fashion and made people forget about Mullen.
Yet one doesn't mind Bono hogging the spotlight because he is such a natural. Things just seem to happen at the right time at the right place for Bono, such as when crowd members handed him an Irish flag and, then, an American flag during "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Still, the credit can't all be chalked up to chance. Bono is smart enough to take advantage of those situations in a way that, really, no other performer seems capable of doing.
If that doesn't qualify him as a genius then Bono will simply have to settle for being the greatest front man in rock.
You can write music critic Jim Harrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.
U2 reaches new heights - Passionate Irish band has honed show since latest S.J. appearance (Brad Kava, San Jose Mercury News)
U2 left little doubt who deserves the title "greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world'' of the three contenders visiting the Bay Area this week.
On Tuesday at Oakland's Arena, the Irish quartet gave the show of a lifetime. It easily trounced Paul McCartney's Monday show in San Jose and set the bar so high for the Rolling Stones that they will have to play as well as they did in 1969 to top it.
How do you measure a show like this? One way is audience response. No one in this 15,000-plus crowd sat for 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Every one of the 24 songs was delivered with the intensity of McCartney's two encore sets. Each song -- from opener "City of Blinding Lights'' to closer "40'' -- sounded like a greatest hit, even the six new songs.
The biggest surprise? The set list was almost identical to April's show in San Jose, but the songs have aged like fine wine. Once a droning sleeper, "Miracle Drug'' was recast as a tightly focused hard rocker. "Elevation'' was softer now with a throb of the electronica.
A lot of the songs were quieter this time, letting Bono's poetry stand out. The fervor of lines like "If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel'' comes from that same church of rock 'n' roll that Bruce Springsteen talks about. Bono may not get enough credit as a lyricist, but lines like "I tried to drown my sorrows, but my sorrows, they learned to swim,'' rank up there with the greatest.
At the show's end, the audience sang "How long to sing this song?'' accompanied only by drummer Larry Mullen Jr. It was one of the most powerful moments I've seen.
U2 has found a perfect way to connect with its most ardent fans. It plays on a stage surrounded by a circular runway. The cheaper tickets are on the floor. The band fed off their passion, and it gave a club feel to the big show.
More than ever, Bono connected with his audience. There were no egotistical rants, and many of the messages were as subtle as the retooled songs. A U.S. flag from the audience was draped over an amplifier during "Bullet the Blue Sky,'' which he dedicated to the U.S. troops.
He covered most of what he had to say with a simple speech: "Thanks for coming out. Thanks for all the trouble you went through to get here. And thanks for giving us a great life.''
The stocky, charismatic frontman had a way of reaching out to the entire audience. His dramatic pretensions may be over the top at times, but it made for great theater.
Then there were moments that made this feel more like a religious crusade than a rock show. During "Sunday Bloody Sunday,'' the singer spotted a woman near the front with no hands. She grabbed the microphone in the crook of her arm and led the crowd in the refrain "No more.'' When Bono took it back to sing "Wipe those tears away,'' many in the audience were doing just that.
Mick Jagger may sing that it's only rock 'n' roll, but on this night, it was much more.
Contact Brad Kava at email@example.com or (408) 920-5040. Read his radio and music blog at www.mercextra.com/aei.