SUNRISE, Florida From the opening moments of U2's Elevation Tour 2001 which kicked off with a two-night stand at the National Car Rental Center over the weekend the veteran Irish rockers send a resounding message:
They're back from the wilderness of the overblown, high-concept Zoo TV and PopMart tours of the '90s, which saw the band co-starring with props including a 35-foot mirrorball lemon and a 12-foot-wide stuffed olive.
The Elevation 2001 show opens with U2 black-clad frontman Bono, guitarist The Edge, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton casually strolling unannounced onto an uncluttered stage with the house lights blazing. Without a word they ripped into "Elevation," from their latest CD, All That You Can't Leave Behind, and followed that with "Beautiful Day," the radio-ready triple Grammy winner from the same CD.
After that one-two-punch opening, it's two hours of a handful of cuts from All That You Can't Leave Behind mixed with old favorites as the band reaches back to some of its most celebrated albums, including War, The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, to deliver a sometimes playful, sometimes preening, always rocking set straight from the heart literally, that is.
The most significant stage prop of the Elevation Tour is a heart-shaped catwalk that encircles the stage and holds the band and about 300 fans inside. The catwalk extends about a third of the way onto the floor, which is festival seating.
Bono spent much of Monday night, the second show of the tour, on the catwalk, flirting with the audience, reaching out into the crowd from the patented Bono crouch to clutch hands with the frenzied and plucking a woman or two up onstage to bump and grind.
This 40-something version of Bono seems every bit as energetic as he did in the late '80s, when he'd climb up light towers waving a white flag during the anthem "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Monday's version of that classic found Bono less frenetic but more powerful. He still exhorted the crowd as he stalked the catwalk, chanting "no more" and slipping in a Bob Marley interlude a few bars of "Get Up Stand Up." But his voice, with a newfound depth and a poignant world-weariness that only comes with the years, carried the song, not flag-waving.
Classics and radio favorites "Bad," "New Year's Day," "Where the Streets Have No Name," "Angel of Harlem," "With or Without You" and "One," which Bono capped off with a snippet of "Unchained Melody" were immense crowd-pleasers and found the audience singing, chanting and energetically pogoing along.
"There are no words to describe this show," said Richard Langwieser, 30, who traveled to South Florida from Munich, Germany, to attend Saturday's tour opener as well as Monday's show.
"This is back to basics and awesome,'' said his friend Markus Faistenhammer, 28. "I'm a hardcore U2 fan and this is hardcore U2. Awesome."
Show highlights included an especially erotic version of "Mysterious Ways," which began with Bono lying across the top of a video box playing images of a silhouetted woman dancing. He climbed down and did a solo bump and grind against the box before pulling a woman from the crowd to dance with him all the while wearing a camouflage fishing hat pulled down tight on his head, making him look like an absolute geek and offsetting the over-the-top preening.
The band also played several standout cuts from All That You Can't Leave Behind that seem destined to become U2 classics, standing right up alongside the older material.
The soul-infused "In a Little While" featured Bono and The Edge standing forehead to forehead at the bottom of the heart, singing into the same microphone.
Bono introduced the other soul-inflected cut from the CD, "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," by dedicating it to Michael Hutchence, the INXS frontman who killed himself in a Sydney, Australia, hotel room in 1997. The moving delivery was capped by The Edge singing a beautiful falsetto coda that wowed the crowd.
In one of the night's surprises, Bono played keyboards on "Sweetest Thing." Afterward he told the crowd the song was for his wife, "who's here tonight with a baby in her belly."
The encores included a frenetic version of "Bullet the Blue Sky," which was introduced with an anti-gun video featuring news clips of actor and National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston extolling the virtues of gun ownership, the most political moment of the show.
The show ended with "Walk On," from the new CD.
"Thank you, South Florida," Bono said as U2 walked off the stage as unceremoniously as they walked on. "This was a great place to start. I hope we can go on from here."