By Kevin C. Johnson
Post-Dispatch Pop Music Critic
There were no glittery automobiles dangling above U2's stage during its nearly full concert Wednesday night at Savvis Center, nor were there any gigantic lemons or giant arches for eyes to feast on.
Concertgoers instead got a more stripped-back and in-your-face concert (as in-your-face as an arena show can be) as the veteran Irish rockers brought their excellent Elevation 2001 tour to town for one of its final dates.
Singer Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. seemed more interested in having fans marvel at their collective musical chops, not their latest props, as they walked on stage with the house lights up for opening songs "Elevation" and "Beautiful Day" from their latest CD, "All That You Can't Leave Behind."
The stage featured a heart-shape ramp that brought Bono and occasionally the Edge into a crowd eager to bask in the band's healthy supply of hits spanning its long career.
But more important than this was U2's concert taking on a real sense of purpose, a new relevancy in these post-Sept. 11 times.
"We want to say how proud and humble we are to be on tour in the United States at this time," Bono said during one of the evening's encores. Bono, one of the most political rock stars, kept world events at the forefront. Fans attending concerts since the terrorist attacks are clearly getting a different show from the earlier dates.
The tear-jerking "One" from "Achtung Baby," for example, was accompanied by a running list of names of lives lost Sept. 11. Bono also delivered a poignant solo take on Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," recently remade as a Sept. 11 benefit song featuring Bono and many others, including St. Louis rapper Nelly.
"What's Going On" was followed by "New York," which featured structures resembling skyscrapers projected on transparent screens, and during which Bono revealed that the inside of his black leather jacket was lined with an American flag pattern.
During "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Bono accepted an American flag from a fan, embraced it, then slow-danced with it like it was a lover.
Introducing "Please," he said the song was written three years ago to reflect conditions in his homeland, but it was just as relevant as if he'd written it recently.
Through it all, the band never forgot their reason for being there, which was to have a good time. That was clear as well from watching Bono sprint around the ramp during "Where the Streets Have No Name"; dance amid flashing strobe lights and engage in a bull-matador dance with the Edge on "Until the End of the World"; allow a couple of fans pulled from the crowd to play guitar and keyboards for "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"; and from the exuberance shown when dusting off oldies such as "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "I Will Follow."
A 45-minute opening set by Garbage nearly lived up to the band's name; at times, its show stank. The Shirley Manson-fronted band, whose new CD is "Beautiful Garbage," barely reminded concertgoers that they were a once buzzed-about hot commodity after its 1995 self-titled CD.
Manson, apparently taking a cue from the band's latest single, "Androgyny," adopted a punkish, Billy Idol-influenced persona as she led her band through a number of annoyingly bland songs including "Shut Your Mouth," "Silence is Golden" and "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)."
Older songs such as "Stupid Girl" and "Only Happy When It Rains" served as brief reminders of what Garbage is actually capable of. Garbage drummer Butch Vig missed the gig; he took ill after eating bad oysters.