By Darryl Morden
Staples Center, Los Angeles
Monday, Nov. 12
This review was not assigned. But some experiences compel us to write. And that's what the return of U2 to the area for the first of three L.A. proper dates in downtown was -- an experience that transcended a mere concert show to become something far more.
The events of a post-Sept. 11 world have galvanized the band, finding them even truer to a credo of rock 'n' roll as not entertainment but confrontation and celebration unparalleled. The heart-shaped stage of their tour has become an even greater metaphor for the relationship of the band and audience.
While the initial opening of "Elevation," with the house lights up and a tidal wave roar of fans rising to their feet remains, the group has restructured and rethought the set. It was a night built not on hits, which certainly were there, but more so on the songs between them, with key moments throughout to leave lingering images.
There was frontman Bono, recalling a young, green Irish band's first appearance at the Country Club in Reseda, Calif., two decades ago and a resulting Los Angeles Times Calendar section cover as they launched into "Out of Control" from those early days. During the breakdown of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," he tenderly accepted an American flag from a fan, then cradled it gently.
Before "Kite," he spoke of his rocky relationship with his father, who passed away a couple of months ago, making one listen even more closely to the words: "I don't want to see you cry/I know that this is not goodbye."
A fan named Courtney Lavender, in the inner heart of the stage, held a sign saying she played in a U2 cover band; she was brought up and handed an acoustic guitar, then the band's guitarist the Edge taught her the chords to strum for Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," while Bono sang the song, then improvised lyrics as well. She'll be able to tell her grandchildren she played with the greatest band of her generation. Bono and the Edge followed with "Please," from 1997's "Pop" album, stripped down, just guitar and voice, its message against religious and fanaticism of all kinds fully revealed.
A soul-deep version of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" found Bono joined in an answering voice by Gwen Stefani from the night's opening band, No Doubt.
For "New York," lyrics were changed to reflect a city built on immigrants and a diversity of people, full of steely resilience.
By the encore of "One," the sweeping emotion charging the air reached a peak as the names of Sept. 11 airline passengers and crew scrolled by on screens behind the band, followed by the NYPD and FDNY heroes who gave their lives to save others in the Twin Towers. The group then turned to a closing anthem of comfort and resolve in "Walk On." Many tears erupted, for how could one not be moved?