U2 delighted in the first of two sold-out shows Sunday night in Miami.
U2, performing the first of two sold-out shows Sunday night at Miami's AmericanAirlines Arena on its Vertigo//2005 Tour, played on a ringed stage which suggested the rings of the universe. There was the four-piece band, right in the middle, taking its place as the center of the universe, a position few musical acts truly own.
U2 played it to the hilt throwing off hyper dance-rock hits like Vertigo, political statements in Sunday Bloody Sunday and spiritual reflections (I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For) with energy and verve. At times, U2 was frightfully good, and the fans reacted so excitedly it was often hard to hear the words and musical nuances coming from the stage.
With this band, you want both. For all of Bono's extracurricular activities -- some have suggested that he be considered a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for his crusading efforts -- it sometimes overshadows the fact his band is in the business of making music. At this stage, U2 is making some of the best music of its three-decade career. The Irish rockers even threaten to steal the handle ''The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band'' from the Rolling Stones.
I'd hold off on taking the Stones' crown and passing it to U2 just yet -- especially given the vigor of the Stones' latest CD and ongoing tour -- but, like the Stones, U2 has lasted long enough to qualify as a classic rock band and its stage shows bristle with ideas.
Where the Stones offer mostly escapism through expertly executed rock 'n' roll, U2 has greater ambitions -- namely, rock as a means to foster social change.
During the new song, Love and Peace or Else, Bono wore a headband with religious symbols and told his gathering that the message meant, ''Coexist.'' Lighted curtains bore a crucifix, Star of David and crescent moon. ''We're all sons of Abraham,'' Bono said, tearing into the 1980s political anthem Sunday Blood Sunday. ``This is your song now, America.''
He then pulled the headband over his eyes and knelt on the stage blindly for Bullet the Blue Sky. This portion of the set closed with a listing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on video screens.
Earlier, Bono doffed his trademark sunglasses for a pass at the new Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own, a tribute to his late father who died recently. Bono and his dad had had a combative relationship and the singer mentioned how for 20 years his father criticized him for always wearing dark glasses. ''Today is his birthday so I'm taking off the sunglasses,'' Bono said. Melodramatic, maybe, but moving and he hit the tune's high notes without faltering -- not an easy task.
It wasn't all about the message, though. Sometimes you just want to party and U2 delivered the goods in that respect, too.
U2 hit the stage at 9 p.m. with the new track, City of Blinding Lights, ostensibly an ode to New York City but we'll take it, too. ''Special things going down with this band and this place,'' Bono said. ``We started the Elevation Tour here and this city gave us a big kiss.''
Glorious ropes of light turned the stage into the world's largest Lite-Brite board. ''Oh . . . you . . . look . . . so . . . beautiful,'' Bono cried City's chorus and it really was dazzling.
The band also distanced itself from its peers by turning the bulk of its set list over to its newest material. It's one thing to release vital new albums late into one's career but if the artist isn't going to take ownership of the material and challenge its adoring audiences by performing it in concert what's the point?
U2 did just that and its new music was as well received as its old. Given the loving relationship this band has forged with its fans over the years it probably could do no wrong anyway.