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Still going strong

By SEAN DALY
Published November 17, 2005


TAMPA - There is no greater rock frontman than U2's Bono.

And there is no one who believes this more than U2's Bono.

Part shaman, part carnival barker, part politico obsessed with saving the whole world, the vainglorious singer of the world's biggest band led the Irish quartet through more than two hours of fist-pounding anthems, soul-penetrating ballads and over-the-top rock-god posturing at a sold-out St. Pete Times Forum Wednesday.

A massive crowd of 21,353 fans - so hungry for the band that moves them like no other - reacted to almost all of the 20-plus songs as if high-priest Bono were blessing them with something far more powerful than rousing radio hits.

And who knows? Maybe he was.

When U2 is finished spanning the globe in support of 2004 album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, the band is expected to gross more than $300-million worldwide, a figure that will far surpass earnings by 2005's other whopper tours, including the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen.

So it was more than appropriate that one of the most talent-stuffed concert seasons in Tampa Bay history would conclude with the year's hottest (and toughest-to-get) ticket.

And don't you know U2 loves being the cherry on top.

Proving that a quarter-century of togetherness has made them one of the tightest outfits in rock 'n' roll, Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. opened with the new City of Blinding Lights, a crescendoing piece of uplift that makes you want throw your hands in the air and holler. Long, tall drapes of light bulbs acted as blissfully blinding backdrops, and confetti rained from the skies.

Although it's always fascinating listen to Bono work out his issues with The Man Upstairs - a friend once theorized that all of U2's songs are directed at God, and she might be right about that - the band's true heart is the Edge, whose tingly, shimmering riffs and piercing solos are the stuff that goosebumps are made of.

A true musical magician, the Edge can make his instrument sound raw and raunchy as he did on the thunderous punk rage of Vertigo. He can unleash truly wicked solos as he showed on a slinky, sexy Mysterious Ways. And he can whip up a thick wall of chugga-chugga doomsday punch as he did on Until the End of the World, one of the best cuts from U2's best album, 1991's Achtung Baby. (Bring it on, Joshua Tree fans. I'll debate you all day long.)

Ultimately, it always comes back to Bono, of course. There he was, prowling the oval ellipse that enclosed the stage and a few hundred fans, leading the charge of Sunday Bloody Sunday like the good Christian soldier that he is. ("This is your song now!" he screamed.) There he was, crawling on the floor during Bullet the Blue Sky. There he was, busting out opera - in Italian, no less - on Miss Sarajevo, originally a duet with Luciano Pavarotti.

That lovely song was followed by a short film on human rights - which in turn was followed by epically minded Martin Luther King tribute Pride (In the Name of Love). Say what you will about U2's speechifying, but these boys sure know how to make a point and make that sucker stick.

Of course, for all his egomania, Bono can also be a charming dude. "Where are we?" he asked at one point. "Ah, yes, Tampa." He remembered playing a club here way back in 1981. "The End Zone," he said, before adding the oh-so-Bono-esque: "The Beginning Zone is more like it."

Without missing a beat, the band then kicked into the gospel-edged bliss of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, which naturally turned into a glorious sing-along of lost souls.

That moment right there was the night's highlight ... well, until Edge plucked out those life-affirming opening notes to Where the Streets Have No Name, which still gets me all weepy almost two decades later.

The show's six-song finale was relatively sobering after such a thoroughly rocking show. But that's just my opinion. I'm sure the young woman who slow-danced with Bono to With or Without You feels a wee bit differently.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or 727 893-8467. His blog is at www.sptimes.com/blogs/popmusic

[Last modified November 17, 2005, 01:31:12]


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