The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG - Pithy comment on pop culture or just another supergroup pushing stagecraft to its limits? Either way U2's PopMart is the tour of the summer.
On Thursday night, PopMart popped eyes and eardrums at Winnipeg Stadium, a perfect setting situated next to the city's largest shopping mall.
What could be more fitting for a 62-date concert tour announced in February in a Manhattan KMart with lead singer Bono singing and pushing a shopping cart?
The audience of 45,000 stood on their feet and cheered as the band entered through the crowd onto the front of the stage and Bono pranced like a prize fighter into the opening number.
The fans who swayed to the music on a balmy summer night were grateful to be the first in Canada to sample the Irish band's most ambitious visual feast.
"I'm very glad, oh, yes, absolutely," said John Marier, 19, of Winnipeg.
Terra Jarman said this is her second U2 concert.
"I'm a hard-core fan, I like anything they do," said Jarman, 22.
The date drew fans from the United States as well.
"It's before Minneapolis," said Kelly Hanneman, 19, of Fergus Falls, Minn., explaining why she drove five hours to see the Winnipeg show.
Visually, the show may even eclipse the stunning 1994 Voodoo Lounge tour mounted by the Rolling Stones with its garagantuan inflated figures looming over the stage.
PopMart plays in a disco supermarket gone mad under a 30-metre-high golden arch. There's a gigantic lemon-shaped mirrorball casting reflections on an audience left to puzzle at sights like a 3.5-metre olive on a 30-metre toothpick.
The PopMart playlist has remained largely unchanged from the April 25 opening in Las Vegas, drawing heavily from Pop, U2's latest critically acclaimed album.
Pop moves the group a lot deeper into electronic, beat-heavy waters it first tested with 1991's Achtung Baby. Unlike earlier albums, which have so far sold a total of 70 million copies, Pop has yet to catch on in a big way with fans.
But from its genesis as a bunch of baby-faced Dublin schoolkids in 1978, U2 has never been a band that stood still for long.
Messages have always been a part of the music and Pop continues the spiritual searching that has resonated through much of it.
Their music has undergone more than one metamorphosis, but the group's members have remained constant: singer Bono, lead guitar The Edge (David Evans), bass Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr.
"I just like their style of music, how they changed the '80s from the rock that was to the rock that is now," said Marier.
U2 fans said they accept the change of pace shown by Pop although several confessed they still like some of the group's earlier albums just a little better.
U2 moves to Edmonton to play Saturday and Sunday in Commonwealth Stadium, then takes off for Europe, returning to Canada Oct. 26 at Toronto's Skydome.
The band plays Montreal Nov. 2 and Vancouver Dec. 9.