America has undergone a world of change since U2's Elevation tour came through Phoenix in the spring, and the Irish supergroup's return engagement on Friday poignantly reflected that fact.
Ultra-magnetic front man Bono and his bandmates turned in one of the best rock shows to hit the Valley since, well, their visit six months ago, but images of U2's love and respect for the United States added another dimension to their performance before a devoted crowd at America West Arena.
Images of Bono reverently wrapping his arms around an American flag that had been handed to him by fans and later proudly opening his coat to display an Old Glory lining won't soon fade from the memory of those who witnessed U2's healing performance. A stunning encore in which the names of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes were projected on a screen behind the band before floating up the walls to the arena's ceiling may very well never be forgotten.
The message from U2 seemed to be: Honor those who've died at the hand of fanatics of every stripe, then work for peace and finally, "Walk on, what you've got they can't deny it," as the final song of the two-hour concert --- "Walk On" -- says.
Artistic representations of our country's latest tragedy as well as one from decades ago -- the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- lent a somber flavor to an evening that also spotlighted the joyful energy of this Grammy-winning band at full throttle.
After a musical introduction that included the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love," Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. took the stage to a greeting fit for a religious revival. Bono bounded onto the stage, which included a heart-shaped catwalk stretching far into the audience. Clad all in black, Bono appeared to be singing to the heavens during the electrifying "Elevation," from the band's latest CD, All That You Can't Leave Behind.
"We give thanks," Bono said as he reached down to lay his hands on a few members of the crowd that danced non-stop on the America West floor, which had no seating. The positive vibes continued as U2 effortlessly moved into the radio hit "Beautiful Day," with Bono reclining on the catwalk and teasing nearby fans.
There's no doubt that Bono's star power has equaled that of Mick Jagger or Madonna. It seemed that every set of eyes in the arena followed his every step around the huge stage. That attention was rewarded by the singer's enthusiastic treatment of classics that he has sung hundreds of times. Not only did Bono and his bandmates reach deep during "Pride (In the Name of Love)," which featured a video clip of King talking about sacrifices on the way to "the promised land," but they appeared do have a ball updating U2's first single, 1980's "Out of Control." "I wrote it when I was 18 years old," recalled a beaming Bono, who was in fine voice all night.
The singer, who started the concert wearing his trademark glasses but shed them for much of the set, also had plenty of praise for Phoenix. Testifying about "how much I love this city," Bono talked of how the band realized on its first trip here that "this is a miracle that this place exists here." He then gave a bittersweet introduction to the new song "Kites," which was dedicated to the late front man of INXS, Michael Hutchence, who took his own life in November 1997. "It's been hard for Michael's friends to get over," said Bono, urging concertgoers to "hold on" to their friends.
Throughout the evening, the Edge, Clayton and Mullen provided some of the most masterful rock instrumentation this side of Jagger's Rolling Stones or Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. Wearing a T-shirt, jeans and his ubiquitous stocking cap, the Edge scorched his guitar on the classic "New Year's Day" and then turned things down a few notches to join Bono on 1987's "In God's Country" and "Please," the only selection performed from 1997's Pop CD. The latter song, which criticizes religious fanaticism, was introduced by the singer as "a song we wrote about three years ago, but I guess it could have been written three weeks ago."
Bono and his mates lived up to their "band of the people" reputation when the singer pulled a fan whom he recognized for an earlier tour stop onstage, fitting her with an acoustic guitar and tentatively jamming on the Bob Dylan song "I Shall Be Released." "We have taken a step of faith," Bono laughed after returning the woman to the audience.
While the show wound down on a serious note with the tribute to the victims of terrorism, the final number brought emotions of a different kind when Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks emerged onstage carrying the team's World Series trophy. He paraded it around the catwalk, much to the delight of the band and the screaming concertgoers.
Opening act No Doubt rose to the challenge of playing to a half-empty arena by bouncing its way through such hits as "Just A Girl" and "Ex-Girlfriend" while previewing a few songs from its upcoming Rock Steady album. Singer Gwen Stefani later joined Bono for a duet on Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."