The best U2 moments have been very simple. The same can be said for the band's performance Monday at the First Union Centre.
The best U2 moments have been very simple. The same can be said for the band's performance Monday at the First Union Centre, the first of two sold-out shows at the South Philadelphia arena. Just prior to the climax of the concert, Bono made a reference to the group's early '90s period, "when we went arty on you."
The band recorded the solid, "Achtung Baby" and supported the disc with the excessive "Zoo TV" tour, which was quite a contrast to prior jaunts when the band featured a no-frills act that produced extraordinary shows.
Just after reminiscing about the band's progressive days in Berlin, Bono and the Edge, while at the base of their massive heart-shaped stage, rendered an acoustic version of "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)" The deconstructed take on the song was gorgeous. After the tandem finished the track, they rejoined its rhythm section for "Bad."
The group raised the stakes dramatically. The cathartic, anthemic number kept building until it hit an emotional crescendo. As the song abated, a portion of the crowd began to chant a line from "40," the psalm the band used to close its shows with through 1987's "Joshua Tree" tour. Bono just raised his microphone as the crowd sang the song that the band had retired. The show hit its apex as the Irish rock legends followed with the fiery "Where the Streets Have No Name." That was worth the price of admission, choice seats were as much as $130.
The show wasn't perfect. It's interesting that such songs as the 17-year-old "Bad" is still resonant. However, "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which made the setlist, is flat and dated. Bono's a capella version of the Beatles' "In My Life" wasn't particularly flattering since his voice is as thin as the Edge's hair.
But for the most part the group's two-hour set was captivating, especially for those lucky enough to score tickets inside the 100 x 76 heart.
Special effects were minimal. The screen behind the band was rarely used but when it was utilized it was in an effective manner.
Just before U2's encore, the group ran a Charlton Heston actuality. After the NRA poster boy recited his gun-toting credo, a montage of weaponry flashed before the capacity crowd. U2 proceeded to deliver an urgent version of the band's anthemic, anti-violence track "Bullet the Blue Sky." The song was punctuated with a reference to convicted terrorist Timothy McVeigh, who was executed Monday morning. "Timothy runs into the arms of America," Bono sang.
Bono acknowledged that it's been 20 years since the band played the Bijou and the band felt as though it had something to prove just as it did a generation ago. On the surface, the line sounds silly but the band performed with a passion that at points bordered on Springsteenesque.
The group was plenty effective without the pyrotechnics, the wrap around fly shades and a myriad of messages conveyed on a screen that the group featured during its Zoo TV and Pop Mart tours. Emotion, drama, a taut rhythm section, the jangle from Edge's guitar and the charm of Bono is more than enough for U2 and its legion of fans.
Kudos to U2 for always having the guts to book talented openers. PJ Harvey is the latest in the long line of challenging recording artists (The Pixies, Lone Justice) to support U2. Harvey, looking every bit the sexy rock star in her red spangly dress, primarily rendered songs from her immediate latest album, "Stories From The City, Stories From the Sea."
Also, 'N Sync, who perform tonight at Veterans Stadium, took in the show. It's surprising that the boy band didn't join U2 for a song or some political commentary.