All Because of U2

Dismantle a hydrogen bomb with Anna at [email protected]

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Of my Top 5 Hypothetical Abuses of Time Travel, my No. 1 favorite is Snagging Seats at Great Concerts Past. And of my Top 5 Great Concerts Past For Which I Would Like to Abuse Time Travel to Snag a Seat, my All-Time Top Concert Choice would be getting to see U2 back before they played to sold-out arenas, back when they were just four young Irish upstarts with bad hair and, in Bono's case, appalling checkerboard pants.

Back then, when Bono sang the words to "The Ocean"-"And I felt like a star / I felt the world could go far / If they listened to what I said"-said stardom was still as hypothetical as my awesome time-travel plan. I wish I could have seen the look on his face.

Saturday night, I did see it. Five songs into the band's set at San Jose's HP Pavilion, part of the How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb-spawned Vertigo Tour, the lights dimmed, the stage went eerily blue, and The Edge's rippling guitar ushered in "The Ocean"-with a twist. "I was just dreaming," sang Bono, in place of the song's original forward-thinking lyric. "I was a child."

This tour does appear to be both about looking forward and looking back. On the whole, old favorites outnumbered new tracks on the night's setlist, but as varied as the selection was, none of the material clashed.

From the moment they entered the arena, backed by a curtain of blazing light and showered in a heavenly outpouring of glittering confetti, U2 took the excellent show-starter, "City of Blinding Lights," and ran with it, racing into an electrifying version of "Vertigo"-with a little taste of the old school "Stories for Boys" snuck in after the wonderfully wicked bridge.

That's the great thing about seeing U2 live: I can think of no other band that so deftly reinvents and reinterprets itself, seemingly right on the spot. The group took "Love and Peace or Else," one of Bomb's limper tracks, and made it explode with new life, bringing drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. out from behind his kit to strike a snare from one of the sloping ramps that curve temptingly into the crowd.

And so it was that assisted by some additional, fabulously frenetic drumming by a suddenly bandana-adorned Bono, "Love and Peace or Else" slid seamlessly into the classic "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Add Bono, self-described "insufferable little Jesus," stumbling blindly toward the microphone stand, and you have something that's part song, part spectacle, part politics-and all experience.

That U2 is masterful at what they do is unquestionable. Yet what makes these four people-still young Irish upstarts in a lot of ways-worth $160 a ticket to see is that it's clear, watching them, that they're all still having as much fun as they were 25 years ago.

There were the surprisingly intimate moments of, say, Larry in close-up, grinning while he sings along to "Elevation," or Adam Clayton, smiling slyly as he works his fingers along his long-necked bass. Or during the show's one technical foul-up, Bono turning to Edge and Edge turning to Adam, exchanging a trio of grin/shrugs. Even in a flubbed moment, they're so clearly enjoying each other!

U2 has taken a lot of flak over the years for its sincerity-they're not fooling around with this political stuff, no sir. But what a lot of critics forget, or fail to notice, is the group's sense of humor. On Saturday night when Bono talked about the recently deceased Pope, he blended respectful remembrance, political commentary and a hilarious story about giving John Paul II a pair of his Fly shades.

While U2 does have a political, and even religious, message behind many of its songs, it never feels like the band is preaching. Rather, they seem to be offering up-to God, to the world, to their fellow man-questions and concerns, hopes and dreams. Take a line from the blatantly religious "Yahweh," which on Saturday was brilliantly reimagined as a stripped-down, acoustic plea: "Yahweh, tell me now," Bono sang, "Why the darkness before the dawn?"

Far from charging blindly ahead into political or spiritual buffoonery, U2 makes it clear that they're still figuring things out. And when they do get it figured-well, when they go there, they'll go there with you.

U2 will be back in the Bay Area with shows at the Oakland Arena on November 8 and 9. Tickets are available online at To read Anna's article in its full unbridled fury, please visit The Daily Californian's Web site at


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