June 16, 1997

[U2] U2's

Bono and the boys
ignite rock torch
Journal Music Writer

U2 gave Edmonton a serious taste of industrial-strength light and magic Saturday night, while proving that sound is still at the band's heart.

That is, the sound of a rock'n'roll band at the height of its creative and emotional power.

The sound of a band unafraid to stir up its old fans and go after new ones with challenging, forward-looking music.

The sound of the best band in the world today.

Who comes close, really?

No band today has the audacity to bring the PopMart world tour's awesome list of gadgets on the road, the hi-tech hardware that costs as much the yearly defence budgets of some fairly formidable global military powers.

No band can mount an illuminated-olive atop a 30-metre-high swizzle stick and still manage to craft a stadium concert that's, at times, as intimate as a club show.

And no band has Bono.

I bet he's waking up this morning at the Hotel Macdonald rejoicing in the fact that, Saturday night, he performed one of the shows of his life.

A rabid, incredibly responsive Commonwealth Stadium crowd, 50,000-strong, had much to do with that. Maybe the fact that we're almost exactly the same latitude as the lad's hometown of Dublin helped, too.

Whatever the case, Bono connected with the fans from the show's outset, when he, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. appeared on a side stage as the sound system boomed M's Pop Muzik.

In a purple PopMart robe, he bounced to the main stage like a juiced-up welterweight and ripped into the lyrics from Mofo, a techno-heavy track from U2's newest record, Pop.

Sunlight still shone on the upper deck of Commonwealth's western half, but the dense, grinding beats quickly shooed it away.

By the second song, I Will Follow, PopMart's screen was filling with the first of the retina-burning images it would flood the crowd with for two hours.

Ten-storey reproductions of The Edge, his cowboy hat as big as the monster lemon at stage left. Liquid animation and pop-art images from the likes of Keith Haring and Andy Warhol.

Blinding columns of colour that bathed the entire stadium in their glow.

One might think that all the screen's pre-show hype (guilty as charged) would render it a bit predictable.

Uh, no. It's as a big a star as Bono's commanding charisma, or the fantastic range of material the band played.

From I Will Follow, U2 broke into stripped-down versions of Even Better Than The Real Thing and Gone, before pounding through the concert's first showstopper, Pride (In The Name Of Love).

It came off as strident and powerful as it did when it was released 13 years ago.

"Well, that's a welcome," Bono told the crowd after it finally stopped singing.

"How come we haven't been here before? They didn't tell us about you, that's why."

Out of a set list crammed with highlights, other songs that stood out were a stirring, sing-along rendition of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, and a stinging Bullet The Blue Sky, during which spotlights ringing the floor shot into the sky.

As advertised, Bono and the boys walked out of their pride and joy -- the glittering mirrorball lemon -- to start their first encore with Discotheque.

Yes, it's cheesy, but at least it's intentionally so.

Bono has championed the need to haul around the huge fruit in the name of revitalizing white rock'n'roll.

And he's right.

It is staid, it is square, it is conservative. Someone needed to have the resolution to kick it in its Dockers-clad rear.

U2 grabbed the torch, and God bless 'em.

Not to overstate it.

PopMart is but a single tour. It will not prove to be rock'n'roll's citrus-flavoured elixir.

But it is one hell of a powerful booster shot.

And we get to see it all over again tonight.