Jim Abbott | Sentinel Pop Music Critic
Posted November 18, 2005
TAMPA -- U2 is arguably the biggest rock band on the planet, and the group carried itself with that kind of godlike confidence on Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Unfortunately, a few pesky mortal issues kept the very good performance for an enthusiastic sold-out crowd from ultimately achieving brilliance.
The biggest problem? A sound mix in the usually hospitable arena that was harsh all night. It was often a disappointing showcase for a band blessed with such gifted, expressive musicians.
The Edge, for instance, came equipped with an arsenal of vintage guitar amps and instruments, but the sonic shading was often wasted in a blaring attack that turned the band's powerful crescendos into less impressive noise.
Likewise, bassist Adam Clayton's work on the bottom end was muddled for most of the evening, surfacing with any distinctive impact only in some of the more subdued moments.
It's a testament to the sheer quality of U2's material that the music was strong enough to overcome such complaints. Much of the night was devoted to songs from the band's latest album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which stand comfortably next to the group's signature hits.
It was beautiful to watch, too, even if the glitzy production looked a tad Vegasy for a rock band.
The opening "City of Blinding Lights" showcased an innovative stage design that seemed minimalist and high-tech at the same time. Dressed in black, lead singer Bono appeared at the far end of a semicircular runway that extended to the middle of the arena's floor. By standing in the middle of a sea of fans, Bono found a nice way to shrink the scale of the building.
Behind him, The Edge, Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. were surrounded by long, retractable beaded curtains that flashed an array of computer-generated images and flashing lights. Banks of strobes and a shower of confetti also announced the band's arrival.
Bono and company turned it up to 11 in the early going, tearing through the iPod anthem "Vertigo," "Elevation," "Mysterious Ways" and "Until the End of the World."
Bono reminisced about U2's first trip to Tampa, for a show at the End Zone in 1981, then reaffirmed the group's iconic status by leading a grand sing-along on "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." That gesture was cool, but The Edge's chiming guitar still defines the song.
Despite the problematic sound mix, the guitar sounded terrific in that song and in the understated verses of "Beautiful Day," until the volume of the chorus overwhelmed it.
Bono's voice also had to fight to get above the band, although he did shine on a sweet rendition of "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" that he dedicated to his father. He also made his usual turn into world politics in a nicely constructed trio of songs: "Love and Peace or Else," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Bullet the Blue Sky."
His crawling on the floor, blindfolded with a bandana with religious symbols aligned to say "coexist" was heavy-handed, but at least it was sincere.
It bordered on tiresome, though, when he flashed information about his One Campaign against world poverty on the big video screen later.
So 36 nations have had debts canceled? Bono, is that going to be on the final exam?
Still, a little preaching is an acceptable price to pay for 130 minutes loaded with so many wonderful songs. "With Or Without You," sandwiched in the middle of two generous encores, showed that U2 can still make compelling music when it isn't busy saving the world.