U2 may be scaling back the multimedia excesses lavished on their elaborate Zoo TV and Popmart tours of the '90s, but the band isn't backpedaling into austere pub gigs.
"There's no reverse gear on this tank," singer Bono says, promising concerts "unlike anything you've seen before." The Elevation Tour, kicking off Saturday in Miami for a three-month U.S. trek, finds the band returning to the relative intimacy of arenas after two colossal stadium outings. The simplicity and emotional clarity of current album All That You Can't Leave Behind dictated the shift away from monster props and non-stop irony. That doesn't mean U2 is settling for one amp and a klieg light.
"If the material demands a psychedelic approach, this production can do that," Bono says by phone during a rehearsal break. "It's quite versatile. It can be guerrilla or very beautiful, which you don't often see in a sports hall." Guitarist Edge adds, "We have some staging surprises. But on this tour, the focus is on the songs. It's more of an organic process, with no script and plenty of spontaneity." Devising a set list entails "hot competition," Edge says. "We've got 30 songs kicking around. Any song that makes it has to be very special. We reject the ones that don't resonate for us at the moment. We're lucky that our music hasn't become a period piece and that we have enough albums to come up with relevant material." Finalists include four to six songs from All That, including triple Grammy winner Beautiful Day and Elevation, "the two songs that really get the band airborne," Bono says. They've also rehearsed vintage 11 O'Clock Tick Tock and The Sweetest Thing, a Joshua Tree outtake that bassist Adam Clayton has given a dub twist. The song has never been played live. Another first: In addition to reserved seating, U2 is offering controversial general-admission tickets to U.S. audiences. "We've been working on this scenario for 10 years," Bono says. "Our fans here haven't had the chance to dance since we played clubs in the early '80s." Critics fear potential injuries from compressed throngs or stampedes. "The only way you can deal with that threat is to place security at the top of the priority list, which is what we've always done," Edge says. "An enormous amount of effort and thought is going into this. We're extremely happy and confident with the setup." Though revved for smaller venues, U2 hasn't ruled out a return to stadiums. "We're ambitious," Edge says. "Rock 'n' roll has the potential to communicate in a very powerful way. We saw stadiums as a way of breaking out of constraints. If another great idea for a stadium tour came along, I don't see us walking away. Right now, this feels right. We feel like a new band."
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