June 14, 1997



The Irish Times

Ed. note: the following review of the opening PopMart concert in Las Vegas ran in The Irish Times under the headline: Fab Four descend to earth and prove they're human. LAS VEGAS (Apr. 28) - U2's PopMart opened its plastic doors to the world last Friday night, but who's going to shop at this wild, Technicolor emporium? Some of the 38,000 customers at the Sam Boyd stadium in Las Vegas, where the band's 1997 tour opened, were not quite sure what exactly they were buying, but most of the audience at this first, faltering gig seemed satisfied that they were at least getting value for money.

U2's moveable market will tour five continents over the next year, and is expected to pull in a total of $400 million. With each show costing nearly a quarter of a million to stage, U2 needs to bring in the punters, and with sales lagging in other US cities, this could be a tough task.

In terms of sheer spectacle, PopMart was a dazzling experience, and the primary colours of rock 'n' roll left an after-image which stuck in the cerebellum like some crazy, tripped-out cartoon. A giant yellow arch cradled the band in its parabola, while an inflated lemon and an exaggerated olive topped off this weird, overloaded visual cocktail.

"This is the only town on the planet where they're not going to notice a 40-foot lemon," Bono told the Las Vegas crowd. Later in the show, the same lemon turned into a mirrorball mothership, and the band emerged from it like rock 'n' roll aliens on a mission to sell POP to the planet.

Backstage at the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl, the stars were already sampling the merchandise, and among the guests who made the trek across the desert to shop at PopMart were Pamela Anderson and her husband Tommy Lee, Tim Burton and his girlfriend Lisa Marie, Helena Christiansen, Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ashley Judd, Dennis Hopper and the star of television's Hercules series, Kevin Sorbo. R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe got into PopMart's kitschy spirit, wearing a bright purple wig for the occasion.

When U2 took the stage at 9:15 p.m. to the strains of M's 1979 hit Pop Muzik, they used the side entrance, climbing on to a small stage in the centre of the crowd, then strolling up a catwalk towards the main stage.

The band remained at their stations beneath the giant arch for much of the show, mixing new songs like MoFo, Do You Feel Loved and Last Night On Earth with more familiar fare like I Will Follow, Pride (In The Name Of Love), Even Better Than The Real Thing and I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. Some of U2's earlier songs seemed to lose their soul in this souped-up hypermarket, but the crowd were clearly delighted to hear the old favourites.

When the band moved to the smaller stage to perform their current hit, Staring At The Sun, they had problems keeping in sync, and the song was stopped halfway through the first chorus.

"You can talk amongst yourselves -- we're just having a little family row," Bono told the crowd. "Well, it is our first night," offered The Edge. The band made up for it with the block-rocking beat of Bullet The Blue Sky, while searchlights pierced the sky above the stadium.

"It was just great, the whole spectacle, the stage show and the crowd," said Helena Christiansen. "I'm glad I was there. It was a real thrill to be there on the first night. Yes, there were a few things that went wrong but that was good because it showed that they were human. With all the technology I was afraid they wouldn't show their human side."