Eyes, ears feast on U2: Show’s missteps forgivable

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
April 28, 1997

(LAS VEGAS)   “Looks like it’s gonna be one of those years,” U2 frontman Bono told a crowd of 40,000 as the band kicked off its world tour.  “This is the only place where no one is going to notice a 40-foot lemon.”

Ah, but the fact is, everyone at Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium on Friday noticed the freaky lemon mirror ball.  It was impossible to miss, much like the 100-foot yellow arch that supported an orange basket-shaped sound system, the 150-by-50-foot LED video screen flashing pop art and images of the band, and the humongous olive speared on a 100-foot toothpick.

And that was the point.

The fabulous visuals of U2’s tour, which brings them to Soldier Field for sold-out concerts on June 27 and 28, are there to compensate for the fact that the band members will look less like human beings than tiny action figures to most of the fans flocking to their stadium shows.  Not that the Irish musicians didn’t try to make the show as intimate as possible in the cavernous venue.  As M’s “Pop Muzik” blared on the speakers, they made their entrance from the middle of the stadium, walking between aisles of fans.  Later, they played several cuts on a small second stage set up about 25 rows into the crowd.

Simply put, U2 is the greatest group making rock ‘n’ roll records today.  But the show wasn’t the smooth ride the band or its fans had hoped for.  No group has put together a concert with so much spectacular eye candy, but the sensory overload couldn’t mask the fact that the 2-hour-plus show needs some tweaking before it lives up to all the hype.

There were some standouts, such as guitarist The Edge’s delightful vocal turn on a cover of the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” and the band’s buoyant performance of “I Will Follow,” its single concession to its 1980 debut album “Boy.”

But some songs didn’t work at all.  After a few bars of the beguiling “Staring at the Sun,” Bono stopped singing, much to drummer Larry Mullen’s displeasure.

“We’re just having a short family row,” Bono said to the audience, before conferring with the band.

When they re-did the song, it was more aggressive, though not necessarily better.

The 22-song set list included 10 cuts from U2’s current album “Pop,” but the biggest crowd-pleasers were the older songs, anthemlike and soulful. The grinding beat of “Mofo,” the evening’s opener, couldn’t match Bono’s impassioned delivery on “Pride (in the Name of Love)” or The Edge’s delirious, chiming guitar intro to “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

U2 started off its six-song encore with a mighty lemon drop –  literally. Riding in the giant mirror ball, the musicians left more than a few fans wondering whether they might have a “Spinal Tap” moment and get stuck in the contraption.  (They didn’t.)  Rather than “Lemon” – the obvious choice – they played a slowed-down version of “Discotheque” that stripped the song of its oomph.  Much better were the haunting ballads “With or Without You” and “One,” which closed the show.

April 28, 1997

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