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U2's music powerful, without any gimmicks

'We're gonna make this aircraft hangar work for us tonight," exclaimed U2 singer Bono, refering to his Thursday night surroundings, the Cow Palace in Daly City. "We're gonna make it work because the music is worth it and these people are worth it."

And the diminutive Dubliner proceeded to prove that he was as good as his words. The U2 concert at the Cow Palace Thursday - the first of two sold-out evenings - was the best to hit this area and that hall in eons. The group, which has been relegated in the past to much smaller venues, transformed the cavernous hall and the gigantic crowd into a cozy, intimate gathering of friends through the sheer power and emotion of it's music.

Confetti did not cascade from the ceiling. Spotlights did not careen off the walls and around the stage. Scantily clad female "accompanists" did not parade about. And not a wisp of machine-made fog appeared. ("Ehem" - sayeth this website's editor. "I rest my case" :-) )

In it's two hours on the Cow Palace stage, U2, in a sense, forced all to rethink the notion of an "arena" rock show. Lesser performers and lesser musicians have sold the idea for years that such shows - by the very nature of their size - must be garish and gaudy spectacles, with images thrown up front and the music kept far in the background. U2 proved all of them wrong. This was one concert that was actually a concert.

It was a concert in the sense that musical values and lyrical messages were the real stars of the show and that these were delivered by musicians who were self-confident enough to believe the values and messages were all that was necessary.

At the start of many of the songs, Bono took the time to explain their meaning or inspiration, and the rest of his mates went about their duties with a minimum of flourish and flash. Curiously, the seriousness of purpose worked.

It worked primarily because of the songs. Possessed of anger and hope and joy and despair and a humanness, such songs as "New Year's Day," "The Unforgettable Fire,""I Will Follow" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" pulled at the spirit, coaxed, cajoled and elevated it. When the group ended the show with "Pride (In the Name of Love)" the majestic refrain created an emotional swell in the crowd that was breathtaking, everyone singing along, arms raised.

The musicians poured themselves into the material with the commitment of true believers. Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton slammed out a rhythmic accompaniment that was solid and subtle, loaded with angular accents. Guitarist Dave "The Edge" Evans was almost - with the help of his electronc effects - a band unto himself, with his dense and delicate latticework of notes and chords. The sound they created was simple yet bashing, complex and evocative. It was a sound that needed no fog or lights - it only had to be heard.

On top of it all was Bono, whose presence mirrored perfectly the moods of the songs. At one moment, such as on "New Year's Day" (about the Soviet domination of Poland), he was solemn and tormented singing the words with unbridled intensity; at another, as in "Pride," he maintained the intensity but turned it upward, making the spirit shine.

He danced a little and let loose a joke or two and the closest he came to a show was when he took an Irish flag thrown to the stage and draped it across the microphone stand and bowed, an oddly moving gesture.

-From the San Jose Mercury News, March 1985-