U2 Elevation Tour
Elevation Tour 3rd leg: North America
: United Center - Chicago, Illinois, USA
Rock review, U2 at the United CenterGreg Kot (published on 2001-10-16)
The right band at the right time
By Greg Kot
After the events of Sept. 11, the stakes have been raised for touring rock bands. And U2—never a band to shy away from a major challenge—brought the goods Monday in the first of two sold-out performances at the United Center.
On a superficial level, the show was much like the four concerts the Irish quartet performed in Chicago last spring: the heart-shaped stage, the band's entrance with the house lights up, a tautly paced two-hour set with some songs shuffled in the middle section. But the world is a very different place, and the need for great art, meaningful art has deepened considerably. In other words, we need bands like U2, and the feeling, it seems, is mutual: "We feel very blessed to be on a tour at this time in the United States," Bono said.
U2's songs have always addressed the big subjects: war and peace, love and betrayal, sin and faith. And those themes—once so easy to take for granted only a few months ago—resonated more deeply than ever for an audience clearly starved for some sort of spiritual sustenance.
In the '80s, U2's penchant for the grandiose was unparalleled, as Bono waved white flags and climbed rafters in death-defying feats of ego, ambition and passion. But on Monday, the singer tempered his gestures, and they rang louder than ever. When a member of the audience handed him an American flag midway through "Sunday Bloody Sunday," one half-expected the singer to troop around the building waving it. It would have been an easy applause-winning gambit, but Bono instead clutched the flag tightly for a few seconds while singing the lines, "Wipe your tears away," and then gently handed it back.
It was a supremely moving moment because it was done with such understated grace. Then Bono and the Edge broke into a seemingly impromptu but timely version of the Three Degrees' 1974 soul hit "When Will I See You Again."
"Remind me to practice that," Bono said to his bandmate after breaking the song off after a couple of verses. U2, road-tested, otherwise was in fine form. Adam Clayton's bass pumped blood and oxygen into the heart of the gangbusters opening, "Elevation," Larry Mullen Jr. was a rock of egoless rhythm on drums, and The Edge was a one-man orchestra on guitar, keyboards and backing vocals, with a veritable symphony of sound packed into his foot pedals. Bono, his voice appealingly earthy and his grizzled face even earthier, has become a great Irish soul singer, dipping into Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," with a guest guitarist plucked from the audience, and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."
"New York," a song about a midlife crisis, was transformed into a celebration of a devastated city's resilience, and "One" became a moving tribute to the victims. As the band played its most enduring anthem, the names of the crew and passengers on the hijacked airplanes scrolled down a screen. It was a gesture, and a concert, big enough for the moment. And it was further evidence that more than 20 years into its career, U2 remains more necessary than ever.
Often plagiarised, never matched.