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U2 Elevation Tour

Elevation Tour 1st leg: North America

: Madison Square Garden - New York, New York, USA

View all performances at Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, USA.

(venue website)

U2: Grounded but Soaring to the Skies

Ann Powers (published on 2001-06-19)

Source: New York Times

Undisputed greatness can get to be a bore. On Sunday at Madison Square Garden, Bono looked into the adoring crowd and made it seem as if he recognized every face. And his lifelong band mates — the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. — turned each song into a musical rocket ship aimed heavenward. It was what everyone expects from U2, the designated hitter on Team Rock 'n' Roll, now that this band has come to its senses after some years of self-doubt, returning to irreproachable grandeur.

Utlimately, though, U2's appeal isn't quite that simple, and what vitalized this stop on its Elevation Tour was the sense that the mighty can fall, and sometimes want to. The stage set underscored this possibility: a heart-shape ramp encircled a small number of fans, and Bono ran around it like a marathon man, leaning into the audience while subtly held in place by bodyguards, relishing the precarious connection to his fans.

Having taken a notorious tumble early in the tour, Bono is surely more careful than he appeared on Sunday, but his frenetic movements made the point that despite U2's emeritus status, the band still gets its energy by nearly going too far. Structured as a crowd-pleasing retrospective, the Elevation Tour minimized U2's more tentative mid-1990's experiments while standing up for every drastically earnest moment in its career.

The early declarations of faith like "I Will Follow," the flag-waving calls to social consciousness like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and especially the rock psalms that made the band legendary from its albums "The Joshua Tree" and "The Unforgettable Fire" received loving treatments. Yet within the magnificence, these songs contained some leavening, provided by the Edge's gracefully introspective guitar runs and the tidal rhythms of Mr. Clayton on bass and Mr. Mullen on drums.

With this earthy support from the band, Bono relaxed into their shared history, adding preacherly rants and snips of other songs that put U2's music into a context that includes Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye. Bono's goal now is to establish U2 as rock's best soul group, one that values warmth, beauty and tradition over insurgent novelty. And like most soul artists, U2 is unapologetic about taking things back to church. "Unto the Almighty," Bono murmured during "Walk On," the band's latest soaring ballad, making no excuses for the offering.

All this sincerity might have been rather sickening if it only framed the older songs, so full of their sense of mission. The material from U2's current album, "All That You Can't Leave Behind" (Universal), bore not just idealism but also the weight of experience.

Songs like "Beautiful Day" and "Kite" are music made after the fall, and even reaching skyward, they lovingly clutched the ground. "It's about a hangover, actually, but Joey changed it for us," Bono said, dedicating "In a Little While" to Joey Ramone, who was said to be listening to the song when he died in April. U2 now benefits by recognizing the place of the prosaic on the road to transcendence. The band's well- staged greatness gained its real meaning when such a balance was struck.

Opening the show, P. J. Harvey wisely didn't aim for balance. Polly Harvey and her band grabbed the chance to turn their challenging, gut- smart songs into arena-size arrangements. Ms. Harvey was a mighty frontwoman, mostly leaving her guitar behind, better to allow her inner Robert Plant to blossom. Is there another woman with this much swagger in rock? It hardly mattered on Sunday; Ms. Harvey had enough for all.


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