U2''s music reveals new textures beneath the special effects - June 29, 1997
by Greg Kot
"What do you think of this?" said U2's Bono, waving his hand toward a stage sparkling like a tacky convenience store fit for Goliath. "This is where we spent the cash you gave us . . . you've turned this into a great big rock room."
A 40-foot lemon, 100-foot golden arch and 170-foot video screen shimmered in the Chicago night Friday as the first of three shows began over the weekend at Soldier Field. And somewhere beneath all that tackiness and splendor were Bono and his bandmates -- guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen.
They needed all the personality they could muster not to become a mere soundtrack for their special effects.
But Bono has never been shy.
"We're going to eat the monster before the monster could eat us," he vowed.
Not every one of the faithful was persuaded.
A woman who claimed to have seen every U2 concert in Chicago since the band formed in the late '70s said of her heroes, "They once had so much heart, but now it's too much of this," her hand sweeping in derision toward the same stage to which Bono had just pointed with pride.
She was not alone.
It was the 1980s anthems associated with a more innocent and earnest U2 that drew the biggest cheers: "Pride (In the Name of Love)," "Where the Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
But U2's journey as a band isn't over, even if some of its fans want to remain in the past.
The oldies were integrated into a 22-song, two-hour performance that demanded more than mere nostalgia.
U2 has grown up, and its increasingly textured, increasingly ambiguous music acknowledges that life doesn't become easier or simpler. Instead, the show is structured like a wrestling match between opposite impulses -- love and selfishness, introspection and glamor, bombastic rock and intimate folk.
With a giant screen as a backdrop flashing images of cartoon mayhem and pop disposability, U2 challenged itself to find the humanity within the artifice.
The scale of the event occasionally forced U2 to become less of a band and too much of the Bono show, with the singer dancing out toward the second stage in the middle of the audience while his comrades toiled hundreds of feet behind him.
The Edge's solo turn on a karaoke version of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" had its charms, though the mild humor was a bit disappointing given the double-edged depth of most of the evening's entertainment.
But as stadium rock goes, the concert has only improved since the "Pop Mart" tour opened impressively in Las Vegas two months ago.
The band has stripped away many of the effects and backing tapes that augmented the guitar-bass-drums attack in Vegas, and the simpler arrangements have made the music sound bigger and even more gripping.
The most resonant moments were the most intimate, such as a haunting "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" performed as atypically hushed encore.
There was Bono on the small stage reaching out to The Edge on the large one, dueting on a poignant version of Ben E. King's soul classic "Stand by Me," then making like the Everly Brothers as they harmonized on an acoustic "Staring at the Sun."
And "Please" was a tour de force that floated, faded and then returned riding Clayton's magnificent bass line, before once again winding down to just a voice and a guitar, two musicians silhouetted against a blood-red screen.
Those who came looking to hear only the old U2 missed the beauty of the new as it soared quietly, in the shadow of its own monster.
© 1997, Chicago Tribune.