SAN FRANCISCO — It might at first not be apparent why Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti factors so much in “Stories of Surrender,” the stage show by Bono that the U2 frontman brought to the Orpheum Theatre Saturday night. But Pavarotti’s presence hung thick in the air because he was one of the few things Bono had in common with his late father, Bob. Bono, who tried hard to connect with his dad since childhood, found a way to break through after U2 found success and a fan and collaborator in the opera singer.
Billed as a book tour tied to Bono’s new memoir, “Surrender: 40 songs, One Story,” the show was actually a Broadway-caliber production that explored the U2 singer’s life and psyche—with nary dry oratory. The performance had everything for diehard U2 fans and novices alike—action-filled storyline (actually, two of them), dramatic and humorous acting (Bono has performed many roles on stage in concert form, but this felt rawer, with more of Paul Hewson present and no irony) and terrific music. Bono, cellist Kate Ellis, keyboardist-vocalist Gemma Doherty and producer Jacknife Lee on keyboards and percussion played more than a dozen U2 songs in new arrangements and with modified lyrics, a Pavarotti song and plenty of cinematic scoring over various segments.
But back to Pavarotti.
Bono called his father a perfectly imperfect person. After Bono’s mother died suddenly at her own father’s funeral, when Bono was in his early teens, the three survivors, including Bono’s brother, Norman, had a breakdown of communication. Bono, especially, couldn’t connect with his dad. Rather than encouraging his son, the elder Hewson used the “Irish method” of ignoring him, completely. The second storyline in the performance took place in the ’80s and ’90s (after U2 found fame) in a neighborhood pub, Finnegan’s, where the two would meet regularly and attempt to communicate without saying many words.
In one chair sat Bono; the other was empty, for his father, whom Bono mimicked: “‘I heard your song ‘Pride’ on the radio and might—might—have felt something.’”
But Bob Hewson, himself a tenor, loved Pavarotti. So the opera singer, while a significant character in the performance, is actually also a love language between Bono and his dad.
The main storyline of the performance was of Bono starting U2 with his bandmates in the same week he began dating his high school sweetheart, Alison Stewart, and how their lives and career blossomed. Bono said early on that he felt he was transgressing by performing without his bandmates. He spoke of all of them.
Larry Mullen, Jr.: “When he loves people, he loves them completely.”
The Edge: One of Bono’s earliest memories of him was playing a complicated line by prog-rock band Yes. Bono added that he decided to keep the Edge close because there were rumors that he may have had a thing for Ali.
Adam Clayton: “He had the style, he had the attitude, he had the ambition … but he couldn’t play.” Bono added that Clayton had a habit for letting his penis hang out, and even imitated the bassist telling Bono that the band—then named the Hype—should change its name to U2 while taking a leak outdoors.
The Orpheum was completely sold out and full of new book smell—everyone with a ticket was given a copy. The stage production was a far cry from U2 shows, with some chairs and a table, and two large banners on which Bono’s doodles of his home, the pub and his family were projected. Some of them were animated.
The band entered first, followed by Bono, and the quartet performed “City of Blinding Lights.” In the song, Bono compared himself to Orpheus, fighting through the underworld for the love of Eurydice: his wife, Alison. As it was for the entire nearly two-hour-long show, the audience was engaged, singing along without being called upon to do so.
“San Francisco, the city of City Lights; Allen Ginsberg’s first home!” Bono declared. (Earlier in the day, he made a stop at City Lights bookstore, signing books and meeting fans).
The band rolled right into “Vertigo.” On “With or Without You,” the Edge’s delayed guitar tones were replaced by a plinking harp.
“King David played the harp, and it pleased the Lord,” he later said.
Afterward, Bono told a story about a health scare several years ago that nearly ended his life—a surgery for an abnormal growth on his heart (he called it a blister that was getting ready to burst). He climbed onto a chair and then onto the table as the musicians mimicked the ticking of a clock that may have been running out of time. Through a vocalized whisper, he imitated his lungs filling with air at the time. Then the story jumped backward, to the devastating death of his mother, Iris, which splintered his family; and next to his adolescence.
When Bono turned 18, Bob told him he needed to get a job. Bono didn’t much like the idea of working eight to 10 hours a day for five to six days a week, so he decided he’d much rather be successful with something he enjoyed. That inspired “Out of Control,” U2’s first single. “I Will Follow,” meanwhile, originated out of Bono wanting the Edge to make a sound with his guitar that felt like drilling. On “Iris (Hold Me Close),” as on several songs, Doherty and Ellis beautifully harmonized with him.
He explained how U2 became entangled in a fanatical Christian organization that tried to take advantage of the band for “free marketing” and how separating itself from it nearly led to a breakup—”Edge was in agony”—and how longtime manager Paul McGuinness talked them down by reminding them that they’d signed a contract and “What would God say about that?”
Bono described “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as “religious art meets the Clash,” inspired by Bob Marley.
“It’s not very rock and roll singing about Jesus, is it?” Bono asked. “I think so. It’s very rock and roll.”
After playing Live Aid, when Bono realized that if the band was to continue singing about weighty issues that he had to educate himself more, he and Ali went to Ethiopia. There, he learned more about people facing illness and starvation. That led into “Where the Streets Have No Name,” which also had updated lyrics.
Bono then spoke about how the band’s success allowed him to spark real world change while having fun, with initiatives like the One Campaign and (RED). He also name-checked House Speaker and San Francisco resident Nancy Pelosi, pointing out that her first speech in Congress was about the scourge of HIV.
“I got to convert U2 currency into meetings with important people,” he said. “People who wanted to get shit down instead of stirring shit.”
Much of the evening’s lighter moments came from Bono’s impersonations of Adam Clayton, his father and Pavarotti. One of the funniest stories was about the tenor flying to Dublin in an attempt to convince U2 to perform with him at a benefit concert in Italy. Bono and co. had no idea he was coming, and were flabbergasted when they opened the door to find not just him but a camera crew for the occasion.
“The popular perception is that I am the leader of U2,” Bono said. “I wish!”
While Bono and Edge did go on to perform at the concert, Clayton and Mullen, Jr. hid and refused to meet with Pavarotti.
“‘We will not be coerced!’” said Bono, mimicking Clayton. So instead, Edge and Bono brought their fathers to Italy, where they also met Princess Diana.
The climax of the show came in Bono and his dad’s last pub conversations where his dad revealed he was dying of cancer, and later visiting him on his deathbed in the hospital. The last thing his dad whispered, after mistaking one son for the other and beckoning Bono to bring his ear to his mouth, was a loud “Fuck off!” Bono said he doesn’t believe he was addressing him or his brother, but relieving himself of his burdens.
Like his father, Bono is a perfectly imperfect human.
“I didn’t know how to be a father because I didn’t know how to be a son,” he said, before adding that Ali saved him and truly understood who he was from the very beginning. “I was born with my fists up. Surrender does not come easy to me.”
With that, Bono and the band performed Pavarotti’s “Torna a Surriento,” which Bono sang powerfully in Italian. After walking off stage, he returned for another rendition of “City of Blinding Lights.”
November 12, 2022
** Please do not use for other video/audio projects without asking (and receiving) permission **
1. Multiple IEM Receivers — Multitrack Recorder (24/44.1)
2. Custom Omnis — Custom 12v battery box — M10 (24/48)
* Note: Custom mics are very similiar to the DPA 4061
01. Intro —- CUT FOR YOUTUBE
02. City of Blinding Lights
04. (On Tour With Me Book)
05. With Or Without You
06. (Show Intro)
07. (I Was Born With an Eccentric Heart)
08. (My Father, The Tenor)
09. (My Mother, Iris)
10. (The Ramones)
11. Out of Control
12. (Geomoetry and Geography of the Irish Mind)
13. (Drummer Seeks Musician)
14. (Larry Mullen Jr.)
15. (The Edge)
16. (Adam Clayton)
17. Stories for Boys
18. (U2’s Rehearsal Room)
19. I Will Follow
21. (Back in the Sorrento Lounge)
22. (Mt. Temple Comprehensive School)
23. (Paul McGuinness)
24. (Business of Pumped Up Personalities)
25. Sunday Bloody Sunday
26. (Two Tenors in Search of a Third)
28. (A Bigger Brain)
29. Where the Streets Have No Name
30. (After the Joshua Tree)
32. (Love Makes the World Go Around)
33. (Back in the Sorrento Lounge Again)
34. Beautiful Day
35. (Unscientific Theory)
36. Torna a Surriento
37. (Closing Remarks)
38. City of Blinding Lights
(Parentheses indicate spoken word sections and set pieces)
Latest posts by voxx (see all)
- U2 announce dates for ‘Achtung Baby: Live at Sphere’ - April 26, 2023
- What To Expect from U2’s Las Vegas Residency at the MSG Sphere - April 14, 2023
- U2 and Berlin - April 11, 2023