Nothing detracts from the naked emotions of Bono and band, writes Joel Selvin, Chronicle Pop Music Editor.
U2 acted like a band with something to prove.
From Bono's judo kick as drummer Larry Mullen crashed into the opening of "Elevation" to the rousing finale of "Walk On," the four-man rock band stayed close to basics Thursday in the first of two sold-out shows at the Compaq Center in San Jose (formerly the San Jose Arena).
After the technological overkill of the 1997 PopMart tour, which surpassed even the extravagant staging and multimedia manipulation of the band's previous football-stadium juggernaut, "Zoo TV," there was some question whether U2 could stand in front of an audience and just play.
The answer is yes. From the opening chord, it was a towering performance by a monumental band -- emotional, painfully earnest and authentically inspirational.
Surrounding the stage was a heart-shaped ramp with its tip reaching halfway across the arena. With chairs gone from the floor and a roiling mass of people pushing against the runways, Bono could bring the show right into the audience.
More than once, he stepped into the hands of the people, who held him aloft as he continued to sing.
The Edge showered the band with a virtual orchestra in his guitar and foot pedals, while the engine room of drummer Mullen and bassist Adam Clayton kept steady thunder rolling underneath. The four men moved with a steely unity of purpose.
The stage design cut down the size of the hall, and the lighting illuminated the unique connection this band has with its fans. Bathed in broad beams of white light, the audience stayed in the picture. The band even began the concert with the house lights up full. It was as if the U2 musicians had gone in the opposite direction from the technocratic excess of PopMart and Zoo TV, and wanted to stress the humanity of this concert.
That humanity always has been at the center of the band's music and message, even if it has been overshadowed at times by the flashing video screens, giant lemons, phone calls to the White House and all the other happy foolishness. But the band has always appealed to the best instincts of its audience. And with the distractions and enhancements removed, the stark emotionalism at the core of U2 stands out in bold relief......
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