The concert was excellent. The irony of watching four men who each have incomes equal to that of many small countries sing about loss and wanting — “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “With or Without You” wasn’t lost on me, but the best thing I can say about the whole thing is that it seems like it’s not lost on them, either. Circular stage with multi-colored lights, an oval extending out from a regular block that had curtains of programmed lights around the back and sides for parts of the concert. Acoustically excellent — maybe even too exacting, as any group tends to be after 20 or so years together, because there seemed to be little variation between the album versions and the live performance. That’s either a mark of expertise or inexperience, and here, there’s just no question.
I expected a more politically charged atmosphere, an arena of young crusaders for the African debt relief cause, and a concert that was as much rally as entertainment. Instead, things played out just like any show — entertainment, a straight shot of song after song after song, with comfortable pauses for introductions and only the briefest interlude urging involvement. That I walked out of the concert with a rubber ONE band around my wrist is less because of preaching than because I felt guilty, standing in line for a $4 beer, and threw a dollar into a fishbowl and my name onto a mailing list.
Of course there’s something to be said for this. Three cheers for Bono for making the African “cause” so popular. He seems to have a firm grasp on the attention span of his ticket-buying audience though, and Saturday night’s concert was set up for the MTV generation in presentation and performance in all ways but one: the simplicity of the set, which boasted no pyrotechnics, no gyrating back-up singers, not even a video interlude, was perfectly in keeping with the idea that U2 remains a day job for its members, a way of funding a life that allows for global campaigns and dining with presidents.
The music wasn’t bad, either.