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U2 Elevation Tour

Elevation Tour 1st leg: North America

: Pepsi Center - Denver, Colorado, USA

View all performances at Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado, USA.

(venue website)


Unforgettable fire

Michael Mehle (published on 2001-04-06)

Source: Denver Rocky Mountain News

By Michael Mehle, News Staff Writer

When and Where: 7:30 tonight, Pepsi Center
Cost: The show is sold out
Information: (303) 830-8497
ATLANTA -- "I'd like to introduce you to old-school U2," Bono told a sold-out audience here for the fourth of what will be many capacity crowds on the band's tour across the continent.

The lineup looked the same, of course. It's the same faces that have been in the same band for more than two decades. But these days, it's the same band with a new attitude. Or, as Bono was saying, an old attitude brought back to breathe new life into U2.

And how simple is this? It's all about the songs.

After a decade of pushing stadium tours over the top -- one featured a disco ball as big as a Volkswagen, and another included a barrage of television images beamed from around the world and prank phone calls to the White House -- U2 has stepped back to a time when the band filled arenas with little more than a couple of dozen of the era's most powerful songs.

Nearly 15 years later, the band has decided it's the simple things in life that make us happiest.

Of course, it helps that the Irish icons have a new album that stands up to, and fits in with, their old repertoire. All That You Can't Leave Behind has been compared to the band's bellwether The Joshua Tree disc. It won all three of the Grammy Awards it was nominated for and has already sold 2.2 million copies, nearly doubling sales of the disappointing, disco-gilded Pop from four years ago.

And the tour -- which stops at the sold-out Pepsi Center tonight -- has offered undeniable proof that you (or at least U2) can go back again.

In Atlanta's Philips Arena last week, fans stayed on their feet for the full two hours, singing along to old anthems such as Where the Streets Have No Name and With or Without You as well as new songs such as Stuck in the Moment You Can't Get out Of and the evening-ending Walk On.

And the band stayed true to its word. The quartet didn't tinker with their old songs, instead playing them just as we remember them, confident in their original power and passion.

The stage also was a back-to-basics affair. A heart-shaped walkway extended halfway across the arena, and banners occasionally dropped from the ceiling to augment a deft light show. But otherwise, the band played atop a bare, no-nonsense platform that fit U2's new less-is-more concert credo.

So what are we to make of this makeover? Is it an artistic epiphany or another master business stroke from one of music's savviest combos?

Even on paper, it looked like a good move: What fan wouldn't want to roll back the clock to U2's zenith, when it was introducing America to The Joshua Tree? Likewise, ditching the PopMart era, when the band climbed out of a large lemon and played alongside an enormous martini glass, can be seen only as a positive.

But hold on. The band's ZooTV extravaganza was a thrilling feast for all the senses that also made a mint. And, derided as it was, 1997's PopMart tour grossed more than $170 million (although it cost a fortune to stage).

But while PopMart made money, it still played in far-from-full stadiums. The public and the press saw a band that had let its hubris -- and its attempt to keep up with the trends (boarding the electronica train that never left the station) -- lead it to the edge of Spinal Tap territory.

This wouldn't do for U2.

The group may have downsized its show and its musical mission, but it hasn't reduced its aspiration or ego. As Bono told everyone watching the Grammy Awards last February, U2 was reapplying for the job as the world's greatest rock band.

Lucky for U2, other groups either failed to see the job posting or aren't interested in the position. Other bands might be bringing in bigger crowds (see: Dave Matthews Band), and some are selling more albums (although should boy bands count?), but who's been willing to act and look the part?

U2 is still up to the task, still willing to use the accompanying pulpit for something more than bashing Napster. The songs on All That You Can't Leave Behind continue to explore faith, hope, help and peace on Earth, and the liner notes provide addresses for organizations fighting war crimes.

Last month, while the band was preparing for its tour opener in Miami, Bono went to Washington, D.C., to speak with Secretary of State Colin Powell about erasing Third World debt. Some things haven't changed.

Which brings us back to the beauty behind U2's new old-school attitude.

Playing in arenas, without all the bells and whistles, has put U2 right where it wants to be: at the top of the game and at the top of the heap, bringing to town one of the year's most-talked-about tours, without a ticket to be had.

And the concert doesn't disappoint.

A harbinger of the understated style to follow, the group even did away with the big rock-star entrance. Taking the stage with all the house lights on, U2 made it halfway through the propulsive Elevation before the lights were turned down and the energy was turned up.

Twenty-one songs later, Bono and the band ended a two-hour show that was occasionally sketchy and not always perfectly paced but delightfully unrehearsed and full of the verve and passion from the '80s.

The new album was well-represented, with U2 mixing six of the 11 new songs into the show. The fresh material held up well, be it the hauntingly beautiful In a Little While, following Sweetest Thing or Stuck in a Moment after New Year's Day.

The rest of the repertoire leaned toward greatest-hits selections, although a few surprises (The Fly and Ground Beneath Her Feet) made their way onto the set list. Even Pop got some fleeting attention, albeit with a quick melding of Discotheque and Staring at the Sun.

As usual, The Edge anchored the sound, his guitar work shifting from fuzzy chops to chiming notes to slashing chords, sometimes all in the same song. He wore a red T-shirt and a cap, prompting Bono to say the guitarist's "brain is so big he has to wear a hat."

Talking of big heads, Bono, 40, hasn't lost any of the moxie necessary to front a band with such big ambitions. The singer spent the evening stalking, skipping and dashing around the ramp, leaning down to kiss a photographer, grab a fan's hat or slap a few hands.

Still partial to his black leather outfits and wraparound shades, he struck more than a few familiar poses, always happy to vogue for the crowd. More important, his singing was soulful and powerful as he belted out Sunday Bloody Sunday one minute and sweetly crooned Bad the next.

Finally, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. proved again to be the reliable rhythmic backbone behind the band's big, hearty anthems.

And in the end, U2 even offered some humility and graciousness.

Bono tacked a few lines from Losing My Religion and Everybody Hurts onto the end of One, a tip of the hat to Georgia's homegrown heroes R.E.M., a band that would certainly warrant a second interview for the job of world's greatest rock band. Bono also thanked the audience of 18,000-plus for "giving us a good life ... and for coming out and paying your hard-earned cash for a rock show."

It was a far cry from the smarmy, sneering Mephistopheles and Fly characters that Bono assumed in the past, and for that the crowd was willing to say thanks right back.

But then, that's just old-school U2.

April 6, 2001

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