U2 All That You Can't Leave Behind Promo Tour
ATYCLB Promo Tour
: Astoria - London, England
CONCERT REVIEW - Astoria Theatre, LondonJenny Bulley (published on 2001-02-09)
The current requirements for icons of rock are as follows: Release back-to-basics album (see the Rolling Stones' Stripped or Bob Dylan's Good As I Been To You). U2, of course, has this year's irony-free rocker, All That You Can't Leave Behind. Check. Then, after 20 years of stadium gigs, downshift to play intimate, invite-only club show (see Madonna at Brixton Academy, the Stones and/or Who at Shepherds Bush Empire). Tonight, U2 plays to around 1,000 people in London's Soho. In the invited audience is Salman Rushdie, who's enshrined on the balcony and bathed in a spotlight while graciously acknowledging a ripple of applause (though, sadly, not sporting a rhinestone-encrusted "Ayatollah Khomeini" T-shirt). Then there's Mick Jagger, actor John Hurt, Adam Clayton's ex-Naomi Campbell, and a Gallagher or two. Check.
So U2 qualifies on all counts. Bono-fide rock icons, it's official. But is this kind of event the first sign of a band becoming aware of its own limited life expectancy? After all, there's no proven career path for stadium giants; where do you go from the world's largest video screen and a man-sized lemon? Seemingly, this thought hasn't escaped Bono, either, who introduces "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" with, "Tonight we're reapplying for the job [of] the greatest band in the world". As the Edge's metallic guitar chimes signal U2's first single for Island Records (a song now 21 years old), their jobs look safe enough.
There's no proven career path for stadium giants; where do you go from the world's largest video screen and a man-sized lemon?
Oddly, it's not the old rebel-rousers that really stir things up--even an anthemic "I Will Follow" doesn't quite make the ground shake like it once did--but then Bono's not climbing P.A. stacks or waving white flags, either (the rest of the band put the knockers on that after seeing themselves at Live Aid). All these years of success might have taken the edge off their fury, but they can still casually toss out the sort of emotive pop-song innovation most bands only dream of. The group's super-slick performance is so well-honed, it's more akin to watching a U2 video in super-surroundsound than seeing a real warts 'n' all live show. Quietly suave bassist Adam Clayton and the strong, silent Larry Mullen Jr. (Boy George to Bono: "Still haven't found what you're looking for? It's behind you, on the drums!") remain straight-faced and faultless, men at work, skillfully and quietly keeping it together. The Edge, a guitar hero to most--stubbornly wearing that hat (give it up, guy...we know, all right?)--throws careful shapes with his faithful Gibson Explorer. Effortless, brilliant.
But a U2 performance is really all about Bono. And Bono is all about performing. Ridiculous in interviews, preposterous in theory, Bono only makes sense onstage--his slightly puffy Roy Orbison air (black leather, freshly dyed hair, and obligatory big shades) giving way to Elvis '68 cool when he's posturing with a semi-acoustic guitar during "Desire," or laying on hands in the front two rows amid "Bad"'s aching guitar workout.
Few could be disappointed by tonight's choice of material. Achtung Baby's "Mysterious Ways" and "One" and Rattle And Hum's "All I Want Is You" (via "Unchained Melody") swell the evening to an emotional climax. Playing their part, the 1,000 lucky fans chant the chorus of "40" until U2 comes back to play its 1983 classic final flourish. As is traditional, they break it down one by one and leave the stage until only Larry is left keeping time to a baying, "How long, to sing this song?" Not long at all, it turns out, as abruptly someone puts on a record--which isn't at all how they do it at RedRocks.
Often plagiarised, never matched.