Rock superstars U2 launched their first U.S. tour in nearly four years in classic form in Florida Saturday night, treating 20,000 devoted, delirious fans to a crowd-pleasing mix of old and new songs delivered with their legendary energy free of the extravagances of their most recent tours.
The Irish rockers hit the stage of the National Car Rental Center arena at Sunrise, near Miami, with the house lights still on and launched into a swinging “Elevation” for their new album “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”.
For the next two hours they put on a performance in which the songs, not the stage props, were the focus. They played six from the new album but also reached back to the socially-aware anthems of their 1980s glory days for a raft of songs from “War”, “The Joshua Tree” and beyond, even bashing out their first ever single, “I Will Follow”.
The elaborate stage props, production and high-tech music of their 1990s stadium tours – the Trabants, the giant lemon and the live link-up with Sarajevo – were also scaled back. Still, a diamond-shaped catwalk surrounded the stage, along which the indefatigable Bono strutted, sprinted and exhorted the crowd.
Inside the circle were a few hundred lucky fans – when the black-clad singer strode out on the walk-way, it appeared he was walking along the outstretched arms of the faithful.
Fans had come from far and wide for the much-anticipated opening night of the Elevation Tour 2001, which will take a band that has sold 100 million albums worldwide since they started out playing Dublin pubs nearly a quarter-century ago on an 80-date trek through North America and Europe.
“I just love U2 and it’s always been a dream of mine to see them on an opening night,” said Canadian Justin Luey, who had come down from St. Catherine’s, Ontario for the show. A veteran U2 follower, he has tickets for 13 of the dates on the tour.
“It’s a connectioneverything they write makes sense to me. They care about their audience . They challenge us, ” the 25-year-old Internet designer said before the concert kicked off. ” I’m not worried at all they’ll deliver.”
Fellow Irishman Elvis Costello, in Miami on vacation, was among the celebratory guests.
The band followed “Elevation” with “Beautiful Day,” a song which helped them to three Grammys at the music award show last month. Then it was into their back pages for “New Years Day.”
Guitarist the Edge (Dave Evans), dressed in a Miami Dolphins T-shirt, jeans and black wool cap, earned cheers for his falsetto singing on the coda of the Dylanesque “Stuck in the Middle”. Another song from the new album, “New York” sounded a lot better live than on CD, with an almost Asian percussive beat, that mood heightened by four huge silky screens which unfurled from the gantries and silhouetted the players.
“Discoteque,” with Bono splicing in a few lines from disco diva Donna Summer, was one of few songs from their 1990s output. For “Mysterious Ways”, Bono lay down atop a video monitor which showed a gyrating dancer and throughout the concert four giant video screens showed the band – Bono, the Edge, drummer Mullen and bassist Adam Clayton close-up.
The old songs drew roars of approval. “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, a plea for peace in Northern Ireland, was just like old times, Mullen rapping out the martial beat, Bono waving an Irish tricolor he’d grabbed from an audience member and singing lines from Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” midway through the song. “Bad” was another old favorite and the collector’s item “Sweetest Thing,,” with Bono hammering away at the piano, was a surprise.
Towards the end of the show two “Joshua Tree” songs, “Where the Streets have No Name” and “Bullet the Blue Sky” showed the band at their most fiery, the latter, a song about the 1980s war in El Salvador, featuring searing guitar from the Edge. But the bombast was tempered by some tenderness and the closing trio of songs “With or Without You,” “One”, and “Walk On”, dedicated to Burmese pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, ended the show on a moving note.
“How was the night for youI hope we didn’t f..k up,” Bono said by way of farewell to the audience. If one question raised before the tour was are U2 still on the cutting edge or merely this year’s equivalent of the Fleetwood Mac reunion, the answer in the end didn’t seem to matter.
“It was awesome,” said Pete Van Dyke, a 31-year-old advertising executive from Orlando, Florida and a veteran of 13 U2 shows. “It was back to basics, simply the songs. Bono’s voice was great.”
“Those guys wear it all on their sleeves. They leave nothing on the table.”