14 August 2001
Among The Last of the Rock Stars, The Times
On Saturday U2's world tour hit Manchester, and our critic, David Sinclair, is still reeling.
In a carefully judged and, at times, surprisingly emotional performance, U2 showed what it means to be among "the last of the rock stars" when they opened the British leg of their Elevation world tour at the Manchester Evening News Arena on Saturday. Returning to a pop landscape which has changed beyond recognition since they started 23 years ago, the Irish veterans confirmed their continuing pre-eminence with a show which remained awake to modern developments, yet very much in tune with their traditional strengths.
Dressed in T-shirts and jeans, they began, almost as a pub band might, by playing Elevation with the house lights still on. For the first half-dozen or so numbers the lighting design incorporated no colour whatsoever, lending an austere, monochrome look to the proceedings.
But while the elaborate stage dressing of previous tours -- flying Trabants, banks of TV screens, giant lemons -- had gone, this was nevertheless a brilliantly designed and visually captivating set. Much of the action took place on a heart-shaped walkway that extended into the middle of the 17,000-capacity venue. Bono and the Edge both wandered around it at will, engaging in a mock fight during Until the End of the World. During The Fly, Bono turned it into an athletics track, charging dizzily around until he came to a sticky end as a silhouette flattened against a backlit "wall". Beautiful diaphonous scrims descended during With or Without You, which Bono sang in a voice that sounded parched with emotion.
As the singer explained between songs, this tour is taking place during the last few days of his terminally ill father's life, and while Bono is often ridiculed for his tendency to ham it up, there was a genuinely poignant quality to much of this performance. His skill as a lyricist and as one of pop's great communicators is often underrated, but in a string of numbers during which the theme of death and personal loss was never far from the surface -- Kite, Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of and In A Little While -- he abjured the standard arena-rock bluster to produce something altogether more personal and meaningful. Stay, which he dedicated to the late Ian Curtis of Joy Division, proceeded in a similar vein. On a lighter note, though, the Edge, who has just turned 40, was treated to an impromptu Happy Birthday.