All You Need Is Love
U2 - PJ Harvey
United Center - Chicago
May 13, 2001
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2001, Volume 8, #7
Written by John Metzger
After a decade of pushing the boundaries of their stage show, the members of U2 decided to pare things down significantly for their latest concert tour. Gone were nearly all of the fun-filled gimmicks and gadgets. There were no giant lemons. No suspended automobiles. And no calls to President Bush (the first or second). All that remained were four musicians, several video screens, and a giant stage, which sprawled out into the audience and provided an intimate glimpse of the band for most of those in attendance at Chicago's United Center on May 13.
Some might question whether U2 could handle the pressure the group had created for itself. Even before the tour had begun, Bono had proclaimed the group as the greatest rock band, and here he was — along with Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., and The Edge — to prove it. There was little fanfare or flash, and there were no crutches upon which the band could lean. Just music. Tremendously wonderful, powerful, inspirational music.
Yes, U2 had pulled it off — better than anyone might have imagined. The band opened the show with a rousing Elevation and flawlessly kept the momentum building from there. Bono's energy was seemingly boundless as he ran circles around the stage, pouring his heart and soul into his liquid vocals. Instead of playing it safe, he and the band tackled the virtually unknown The Ground Beneath Her Feet; they recast familiar songs like Mysterious Ways and The Fly, bathing them in the dance-beat essence explored on Pop; and at times, they fearlessly veered off, taking a song into another musical direction entirely. For example, INXS's Devil Inside emerged from the ecstasy-drenched beat of Discotheque, and this too transformed itself into a sparse Staring at the Sun, only to fall flat when the audience failed to carry the vocals beyond the first line of the chorus. But instead of caving in, the band dug in deeper, pushing New York from a bare whisper to a crushing onslaught of guitar and rhythm and delivering I Will Follow with a blazing intensity that fell somewhere between Them and The Ramones.
Where some artists attempting this same stripped-down, back-to-their-roots feat might turn quite heavily to their first few albums, U2 scattered the tried and true among its more recent creations. Of the 22 songs performed, only seven of them pre-dated the '90s — and half were culled from the band's last two albums (if you include The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which was written between them). This allowed the group to keep its message in tact — one which it has been exploring and expanding upon for much of the past decade and one which is an integral part of the recent release All That You Can't Leave Behind.
During the initial portion of the concert, the songs (Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of, Kite, Gone) were grouped together in a gentle prodding to forsake material possessions and seek something more meaningful. The middle segment (I Will Follow and Sunday Bloody Sunday) seemed to be a call for change, while the final act (The Sweetest Thing, All I Want Is You, In a Little While) focused on opening one's heart to love.
Taking a page from their own book, U2 simplified the show significantly, allowing the music to carry this message. Elevation was sung without even dimming the house lights, and the special effects were kept to a minimum throughout the first half of the show. It wasn't until the end of the night that the screens really began to spring to life, but by then, they were merely ornamentations, not the focus of attention. As such, they provided images and text that underscored or mutated the meanings behind the songs. Charlton Heston and the NRA were ravaged by Bullet the Blue Sky, and With or Without You became more about the group asking its audience to follow its lead than a struggle with spirituality. And the encores of One and Walk On were the most fitting conclusion possible. The former has been performed countless times by the band, and yet it still sounded as refreshed and vital as ever. More so, it's become akin to John Lennon's Imagine: A universal prayer for mankind. And as the latter's coda scrolled up the walls of the arena, U2 drove home their point: Love is the answer. It's all you need and all that you can't leave behind.
PJ Harvey opened the show with a high-energy, but largely innocuous set of angst-riddled rock. No doubt part of the problem lay in the horrific, echo-laden sound mix, which was about as bad as that of Tinley Park's New World Music Theatre. However, lead singer Polly Jean Harvey's tendency to belt out banshee-like wails and the band's lack of sonic diversity also played a role in the group's inability to engage the audience.
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Copyright © 2001 The Music Box