Talk all you will about spirituality, conviction, political idealism and conscience. Me, I love U2 for it's music.
It would take a powerful cynic not to be moved at that moment two minutes into the second song Friday night (the first of two sold out shows at the Cow Palace), when lead singer Bono Hewson wailed, "I will...," and the audience responded "FOLLOW" with a shock of recognition, as the noisy guitar riff that rocks up that song bounced off the ceiling of the energized arena.
"I Will Follow," U2's 1981 debut single, is about individuality and choices; about being strong in the face of hostile forces. "Walk away, walk away," sings Hewson, "and I will follow." When you consider that rock is traditionally about outsiders and alienation, about banding together against conformity, the ordinary and the powers that be, you can see where U2 derives its special strength.
U2 sings about tradition, be it Irish folk songs or American blues. The band is part of a long line of rock traditionalists, something that seems to have been overlooked in the recent rush of publicity. It made the covers of Time, Musician and the Rolling Stone, all those publications that have gathered the medium but not the message and will drop U2 the minute they see some other Big Thing on the horizon.
Fresh from Dublin, Ireland, U2 has the happy knack of making all us white folk feel ethnic (at least, all us Irish white folk). But despite the media blitz, the band is still hardly played on radio because it's music, I'm happy to say, drives grown-ups crazy. U2 plays modern rock - dirgy, ambient and non-linear. Yuppies, attuned to Jackson Browne and John Cougar Mellencamp and Windham Hill, can't stand it. To misquote the Doors, the men don't know, but the little kids understand.
U2 doesn't pander to 1980's image-conscious, pretty-boy music that passes itself off as "rock 'n' roll" to the unenlightened. The band certainly does, however, exude religious and political rightness, a morality that's rare not just in rock, but in society.
There's certainly something to be said for a band that gets 16,000 screaming teens to shout "No war" over and over and over again in the midst of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," whose fans wave two fingers overhead in that hackneyed symbol for peace, who write songs about Martin Luther King and the Mothers of the Disappeared (political detainees, most probably martyrs, in Latin American countries), who canvass for Amnesty International.
But if U2 wasn't saying those things at the top of it's viciously electric instruments; if it wasn't punk-rock riffing feedback right in your face, creating hypnotic washes of drone-notes over thick rhythms; if it wasn't basically wailing the blues at the same time, I, for one, sure wouldn't be listening.
But it is, and I love the band for it. I love it for slipping into Van Morrison's "Gloria" at the end of "Bullet the Blue Sky;" for sticking the Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" and "Sympathy for the Devil" into "Bad," for suddenly translating "40" into Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and for quoting "Ball of Confusion" on "Running to Stand Still."
The rest of the act is just an added bonus: "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" off the new LP, "The Joshua Tree"; "I Will Follow" off "Boy;" "October" and "Gloria" off the LP "October"; "New Year's Day" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" off "War"; "Pride," "A Sort of Homecoming" and "The Unforgettable Fire" off the album of the same name.
And it's always nice to see Hewson being Hewson, prancing, pointing and posing, turning the spotlights onto the audience, hugging fans and throwing roses, singing as if his life depended on it; to hear guitarist Dave "The Edge" Evans' blissful sonic wall of sound, and watch the other two, drummer Larry Mullen and bass player Adam Clayton, anchoring the thing to the stage.
U2 is classic, all right. The band has remade rock music in it's own image, enfranchising a whole slew of youth who couldn't relate to Bon Jovi (who puts on a darn good show in their own right! - this website's editor) and Motley Crue, much less Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston. Finding out what you believe in and where you belong is what U2 is all about even if what you find out goes against what you've always been told is right. Me, I believe in rock'n' roll, and I belong at U2 concerts for the rest of my life (wonder if she still thinks that - ed.).
-From the San Jose Mercury News, April 27, 1987-