U2 in Las Vegas: A Sort Of Homecoming

Within ten years, U2 may very well be the house band at Caesars Palace. And we’ll be glad.

By Geoff Carter

Bono has always been one for hiding in plain sight. Scarcely five minutes into the opening of their PopMart world tour, he let U2’s mission statement slip.

“Lookin’ for a sound that’s gonna drown out the world,” he howled during “Mofo,” while the word “POP” screamed out from the massive screen behind him, almost a command. Despite the gay leather drag outfits, techno beats and gauche silliness that the band has put on of late, they’re still hell-bent on saving the globe.

In “Pop’s” liner notes, among the scattered references to sex, Jesus, Sony Handicams and cocaine, the band still implores the listener to join Greenpeace, join Amnesty International, take this album and drown out the world. The band may take the stage to M’s “Pop Muzik” rather than Clannad these days, but Bono’s mind is always on that white flag. Accepting this not only makes their new direction palatable but downright fun for fans and band alike.

“Looks like it’s gonna be one of those years,” Bono told the capacity crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium, a fair number of whom had flown the Atlantic to see the band. “I woke up this morning in a pyramid, looked out the window and saw the New York skyline… This is the only place in the world where nobody’s gonna notice a 40-foot lemon. A city where dreams come true…VIVA LAS VEGAS!”

The man, as they say, brought the house down as the band kicked into a sharp version of “Even Better Than The Real Thing.” They were in top form (the Edge, in particular, was on fire), if a bit perfunctory. It reminded me of the first time I saw the band in early 1985, during the Unforgettable Fire tour. They jammed with an intensity equal to last night’s show, until they made their first mistake (back then Bono’s voice went out halfway through the set; this time out the band blew the timing on “Staring At The Sun” and had to start over). The band still sounded great, but their confidence was blown and they wandered around the massive stage looking puzzled.

“It’s all fucked up!” Bono lamented, late in the show. “You still love me?” The crowd roared with approval.

His concern isn’t terribly surprising. U2 is an end-of-tour band. While most bands get cranky or curt by the end of transcontinental swings, U2 takes that frustration and lets the crowd diffuse it. In late 1987, as the band was wearing down its exhaustive “Joshua Tree” tour, the show ran over two and a half hours. Bono’s wife joined him on stage once or twice and planted a kiss on him. And one memorable night, the band took off their shoes, wandered to the edge of the stage and sat down, feet dangling over the side.

It’s going to be tough for U2 to get comfortable this time out. The stakes are that high, the stage is that big and U2 is that ubiquitous. What to do when you’ve become product?

Simple: be a high-quality product. They used the Vegas association to its fullest, with such cheesy stunts as a stadium-sized Karaoke sing-along. (Edge led the crowd through the Monkees’ hit “Daydream Believer” – “My favorite Bob Dylan song,” he said puckishly.)

The PopMart gag extended from the screen graphics to the merchandise: A giant inflatable lemon was a favorite. And the buildup to the first series of encores – the looped “Perfecto Mix” of “Lemon” blasting while a transsexual go-go dancer gyrated on the screen – was rewarded when the aforementioned 40-foot mirror-ball lemon rolled into the crowd, the top cracked open and the band popped out chanting “Boom-Cha!” as a staircase rose from the satellite stage. If topping the eye-popping “Zoo TV” was the goal, they’ve certainly achieved it.

As for the music, well, the set needs work. They played entirely too much from “Pop,” probably the most misguided record they’ve sent down the pike in a while. The crowd seemed dumbfounded by the new material and sat it out, but went nuts for the classics. “Until The End Of The World,” “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me” (a number which distinguished bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. – still the best rhythm section in Europe) were pure dynamite. When U2 forgets how high they’ve fallen and just play the songs, they absolutely devastate. One hopes they’ll embrace that simple joy more fully as the tour progresses.

Opening act Rage Against The Machine played a tight 40 minutes, although Zack De La Rocha’s screamed slogans and political will didn’t translate too well to the cheap seats. High points of their set included “Bulls On Parade” and “Killing In The Name,” along with a backhanded compliment to their hosts: “This next song IS a rebel song,” De La Rocha cried, as an introduction to “Bullet In The Head.” It’s easy for this Los Angeles fireball to recall a day when Bono was still full of piss and vinegar, but where will he be in ten years?

Well, I’d rather like to believe he’ll be touring with a stage set even bigger than U2’s. He’ll be idealistic, sure, but he’ll also be wearing white vinyl or something equally gauche. And U2, who will almost certainly be our native sons by then, will take a night off from rocking the Big Room at Caesars and check out their progeny’s new bag, chuckling to themselves, “Remember when we had to work that hard?”

Set List
The show ran roughly two hours and ten minutes, from 9:20pm to 11:30pm.

I Will Follow
Even Better Than The Real Thing
Do You Feel Loved
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Last Night On Earth
Until The End Of The World
If God Will Send His Angels
Staring At The Sun
Daydream Believer (yes, the song by the Monkees – Edge sang it but the instrumentation came from a cheesy Karaoke CD-ROM, complete with lyrics on the giant screen)
Bullet The Blue Sky
Where The Streets Have No Name (end of regular set)
Lemon (The Perfecto Mix)
If You Wear That Velvet Dress
With Or Without You
Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me
Mysterious Ways

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