Leaving Pop Behind

6 Jun 2001
Adam Talks To Larry Katz of Boston Herald.Com ahead of U2's Boston shows.

Sure, U2 fans were floating when they heard the band was heading out on its Elevation Tour 2001, which sets down for shows tonight, tomorrow, Friday and Saturday at the FleetCenter. But did the members of the Irish quartet - singer Bono and bassist Adam Clayton, both 41, and guitarist the Edge and drummer Larry Mullen Jr., both 39 - feel similarly elevated at the prospect of another high-pressure foray across North America and Europe?

Speaking by phone an hour before an Indianapolis show, Clayton chuckles. ``Well, before you pack your bags and step on the plane you think, `Am I able to do this one more time?' But the strange thing is that once you get out there, you realize it's the one thing you can do. ``And this time, after doing three stadium tours, stepping down to play arenas rather than stadiums has been a very gratifying experience. It's given us back contact with our audience.'' Although lauded as the biggest rock act of the '90s, U2 seemed to have reached too far with its 1997 PopMart tour, which featured techno-influenced music from its ``Pop'' album and huge stage props. Remember the giant lemon? Fans complained of feeling alienated from a band with which they expected a close connection. Clayton admits he ``was shaking with fear'' before the first PopMart show. Not so with Elevation.

"They were wildly different experiences," he says. "PopMart was us pushing it as far as you can go with pop culture, including its ridiculousness, which we quite like. We played with producing the biggest possible image in these football stadiums. It's mind-boggling to look back at the footage of that and realize what a big undertaking we took on. "And we made very definite mistakes in putting out a record without signing off on it properly. The music we were interested in at the time was much more accessible in Europe than America, but we put it out and started the tour almost the next day. U2 records take a while to sink in. Without the familiarity with the material, it was hard for that show to work." Tactics changed this time around. The tour is designed to focus on U2 and its music, not props and special effects. And the band's current CD, "All That You Can't Leave Behind," was released last fall, allowing plenty of time for fans to absorb it. The album features melodic songs that recall U2's anthem rock glory days, notably the hit single "Beautiful Day," which won three Grammys including Record of the Year.

"Well, I don't think `Beautiful Day' was an obvious hit," Clayton says. "I think it took awhile for people to get into. We were as surprised as you can possibly be to win three Grammys. We're still surprised. But what's really gratifying is that 20 years on people are open to the idea that this album may be our best record yet." OK, U2 is not coasting. But is the band truly shooting for the title of world's biggest and best, as the mouthy Bono claims? "I think there's a little mischief in the terminology when Bono says that," Clayton says. "But we certainly take each record and each version of U2 seriously. I think the other side of the point he's making is a lot of bands don't get this far and that's a real pity. People screw up. They don't keep their eye on the ball. I'm really glad that this year I've heard the new R.E.M. record and the new Depeche Mode. I'm proud to have them alongside our record. It means your own generation, your own community, is still there pushing as far as they can."

But fans and critics seem to have embraced "All That You Can't Leave Behind" precisely because it looks back to classic U2, not because it pushes any envelopes. "I don't think we felt a need to go back and regroup," Clayton demurs. "I think we felt a need to recognize what was good and strong about the band. Edge was very clear early on. He said, `I want to hear the band play. That's what I'm interested in again.' That's the unique thing about this band. How it thinks, how it plays, how it moves to support Bono. For whatever reason, that hadn't been our focus on some previous records. "I think there's always been a kind of r & b thing going on in U2. I don't know if that's an Irish connection to the blues, but it's part of us. This time we juxtaposed it with the technology and the soul came through a bit more."'
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