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U2: A Show-biz Display of Lost Innocence
(U2 goes crassly show-biz)

The clouds never appeared, the police stayed away (from vocalist Bono, that is) and U2 had the first of two Days on the Green at the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday.

"U2 Stops Traffic," a poster hanging from the upper deck proclaimed, while another added, "Rock 'n' Roll Stops Traffic," both taken from the message "Stop the Traffic, Rock 'n' Roll," which Bono spray-painted on a fountain at San Francisco's Justin Herman Plaza at the group's Wedneday concert. On Sunday, police cited Bono for spraying the graffiti.

Bono was ordered to appear in San Francisco Municipal Court on Dec. 16 on a misdemeanor charges of malicious mischief.

Bono on Sunday also presented the city with a 60-foot high mural depicting the legend "Peace Centro America." The work was painted on the band's stage backdrop by 20 artists from San Francisco's Mission Cultural Center, who joined U2 on stage after the second of two weekend shows at the Oakland Coliseum.

"We would like to present this work of art to all the people of Northern California in the care of Mayor Dianne Feinstein. We hope you will appreciate it," said Bono, in a statement read by his publicist Regine Moylett.

On Saturday, though, Bono was slightly less conciliatory.

"They didn't know they were dealing with the Batman and Robin of rock 'n' roll," Bono shouted. "I am an artist, and that was not an act of vandalism."

Dispensing with that petty piece of megalomania, Bono proceeded to prove his point by inviting the fountain's creator, Armand Vaillancourt of Quebec, onto the stage to proclaim his "solidarity with U2." Bono then offered to let Vaillancourt "make his contribution to our art" by scrawling an indecipherable message on the U2's stage backdrop.

Was any of this necessary? Apparently. But not for any purposes related to social injustice. this was show biz, plain and simple, and coming from a group with the social stance of U2, it was plainly and simply revolting.

The crowd that had come to this Day on the Green was unlike it's predecessors. Yes, it had come to rock and to party and to enjoy itself. But it had also come out of a sense of respect for U2 and what it purportedly stands for. This respect could be seen in the numerous Irish flags that dotted the stadium, one of which was emblazoned with a peace symbol. There were posters against war and several with hearts painted on, proclaiming their love not only for U2, but also for the love among humanity that the group cries out for in many of it's songs.

"They are making statements about war and injustice and inhumanity that I agree with," said Nick Yukas, 18, of Benicia. "I think they're more than just a musical group."

Yehudit Sherman, 18, of Lafayette said much the same thing. "I like their music and sound, but I also like what they say about the world," she said. "I've been a fan of theirs for a long time, when they used to play in smaller places where you could hear and see them. This place sucks."

Which, in its inadvertent way, summed up this Day.

Not that the groups were bad - U2 was backed by the Pretenders and the BoDeans. Nor their music - Chrissie Hynde was a particular delight, churning out her ancient Pretenders hits. Nor the attentive and well-behaved crowd.

But there was about this Day (or rather, night) a disquieting sense of a trust betrayed and an innocence lost. the trust belonged to the fans and the innocence ot the object of their trust, U2.

From the start, U2 has been a thinking person's group. On songs such as "New Years Day" and others, it has grappled with the Troubles of it's native Ireland and the troubles of others in other lands. On songs like "Pride," it has raised the spirit of it's listeners just as it has the spirit of rock 'n' roll.

But with the unqualified musical and commercial success of "The Joshua Tree," it's newest album, U2 has pursued a course that has led it inexorably to shows and displays like that at this Day.

The group's playing was in perfect form, with the Edge's guitar dispensing its eloquent, elegant lattice work of sound and Adam Clayton's bass and Larry Mullen's drums pounding out a savage accompaniment. To this, Bono added his dramatic, febrile vocals.

Finally, there was that charade at the start of the evening, a contrived piece of puffery that will no doubt make it's way onto the documenary of this tour that was the basis for what Bono disingenuously referred to as the "free show" Wednesday at the Embarcadero (the performance was a "shoot" for the film). Bono's assertions of being an "artist" (when justifying vandalism) sounded hollow, just as Vaillancourt's solidarity seemed a trifle too rehearsed for anybody's good. It was all very self-serving and melodramatic, like the displays of the political curs that Bono is wont to decry. If this is what stardom does to Bono and his mates, thank goodness they aren't colonels in some miserable banana republic.

-From the San Jose Mercury News, November 1987-