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Intensity elevates U2

A near-capacity crowd at the Ice Palace enjoys the band's blend of meaningful messages and over-the-top earnestness.

By GINA VIVINETTO

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 2, 2001


A near-capacity crowd at the Ice Palace enjoys the band's blend of meaningful messages and over-the-top earnestness.

TAMPA -- It's hard to pinpoint the highlight of a U2 concert. The band's live performances begin fiery and don't lose an ounce of intensity for nearly two hours. Saturday's show at the Ice Palace was U2 at its most vigorous, despite singer Bono's woefully sore throat.

Certainly one highlight was from the band's encore, the song One, celebrating the power of love, performed in front of huge video screens scrolling the names of victims of the terrorist acts of Sept. 11.

Bono had stretched over his own shirt one tossed to him, which read "I (heart) NY."

The night began as passionately, with U2 unpretentiously greeting the near-capacity crowd: All four members walked onstage waving to fans in the arena's bright lights.

It was a welcome departure from U2's extravagant 1990s tours, which alienated some fans turned off by the glitzy stage sets, the irony and the rock star poses. Saturday's show featured a back-to-basics U2 that proved it's still one of the world's best live bands.

(The members of U2 were not the only stars in the house: Bono let the crowd know British singer Elvis Costello was among them.)

The band began with a fit Elevation and Beautiful Day from All That You Can't Leave Behind, its latest album. Never doubt that Bono is the ultimate rock star-messiah figure. Though he has removed the buggy eyewear and glittery jackets, the singer can still work a crowd into a frenzy with his well-planned crouches, preens and poses.

Bono walks the fine line between pious preacher and cocky son-of-a-gun better than any lead singer, of any band, ever. Did you get a load of him swaggering and strutting around the heart-shaped platform that extended from the stage? Wasn't it fun when he and the Edge, U2's guitarist, sprinted around it together? When a fan tossed Bono a flag with the stars and stripes on one side and the colors of Ireland on the other, Bono caressed it oh-so-tenderly.

But fans go with his over-the-top earnestness because they know Bono's a good guy. Besides, right now, with the world all topsy-turvy, U2's resurrected message of love and compassion feels awfully good. The band dusted off all the old protest anthems. A newly relevant Sunday Bloody Sunday resonated, as did the four-year-old Please, a song Bono explained was about religious fanatics. Pride (In The Name Of Love) was riveting, with the band playing in front of a video image of Martin Luther King Jr. Later, U2 performed a spare, spine-tingling rendition of Marvin Gaye's 1960s protest tune What's Going On?

Old fans relished New Year's Day and a peppy, delicious I Will Follow. You'd never know these guys have been playing those gems for two decades, or that Saturday's performance was the next-to-last in a tour that began more than half a year ago.

The band paid subtle tributes to late Beatle George Harrison throughout the night, dipping into bits of Here Comes the Sun and My Sweet Lord.

Openers Garbage, featuring newly close-cropped, platinum blond singer Shirley Manson, performed the hits Stupid Girl and Only Happy When It Rains.

-- To contact Gina Vivinetto, e-mail gina@sptimes.com.

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