ATN Live: Fan Wants "Bonorgasm" From U2 Performance

The PopMart machine shows no sign of running out of gas.

If U2's Memorial Day concert in Washington, D.C.

was by no means pure spectacle, there were nonetheless plenty of double-take

prompting sights--in the audience as well as on stage. Both sides of R.F.K.

Stadium were abuzz with Chelsea Clinton sightings, and indeed, she and some of

her classmates were spotted heading for their place on the floor. The

Washington Post reported today that Chelsea's presidential pop met with

Bono yesterday afternoon at the Oval Office, so you can only assume that the

First Daughter had good seats for the show.

But Chelsea may have barely

held your gaze if 19-year-old Ted Neill was walking by at the same time. Neill,

attending a U2 concert for the first time, was decked out in full

Bono-MacPhisto regalia from the Zoo TV tour: gold suit (spray painted) over a

red ruffled shirt; gold glitter shoes; white pancake make-up covering his face

and hands; and slicked back hair crowed by a pair of red horns. And just so no

one thought him too old hat, Neill carried a pocket full of fresh lemons (a la

the 40-foot fruit that graces U2's current stage), which he would hand

out to happy passers-by.

"I've been listening [to U2] since I was born," claimed

Neill, whose parents dug the band when the members were mere lads. While his

friends snared their tickets to the show via the band's fan club, Neill

preferred to go the normal TicketMaster route. "I like to do my own thing," he

explained. Obviously.

MacPhisto Jr. then asked if he could write a word

down in my notebook: "Bonorgasm." "That's what I came here for," Neill said

confidently. "That's what I'm expecting."

I can't imagine that Neill was

too upset when U2 took the stage...



I can't imagine that Neill was too upset when U2 took the

stage at 9:15, even though massive sections of their gargantuan video wall were

on the fritz. Later in the set, when two-thirds of the screen showed a field of

blue when it should have displayed live footage of Bono, the singer commented,

"Last time I came to Washington I broke my shoulder" (on the 1987 Joshua

Tree tour), and then remarked that now he couldn't get his face on the

"telly."

Technical snafus aside, the mammoth visual display was an amazing

sight to see, even for those who, like me, absorbed it sometimes in spite of

themselves. I came to R.F.K. intending to marvel at the stage "trash" (as Bono

called it) briefly before the show, and then to get down to watching a

performance by four people in a rock & roll band. And yet for the first

several songs, I could do nothing but get sucked into the visual overload.

During "Even Better Than The Real Thing," the stream of consciousness

assault reached an early peak. As the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen

ground out their rock groove, my eyes were drawn to the video display, which

showed rudimentary cartoon renderings of soda cans pouring out their contents.

With this first reference to pop and Pop, the connections started

rearing their heads at every turn, intentional or not. Naturally the song and

image prompted thoughts of Coke, since "the real thing" was long the ad slogan

for that drink. The reference was promptly compounded by Bono's muscle outlined

shirt, suggesting for all the world Batman's rubber chest--and in the

Batman movies (always summer blockbusters, as the PopMart tour has

promised to be) there is nothing if not product placement, including that of

soft drinks, and fast food chain product tie-ins. Of course the fast food

allusions were already in full effect. No matter how much the PopMart set

designers claim the show's gigantic golden arch was inspired by St. Louis'

Gateway monument, when it shined in yellow and red neon during "Even Better

Than The Real Thing," there was absolutely no escaping the connection to

McDonalds.

The reference barrage was enough to make over-analyzers forget

there was even a song being played. When the whole affair ended with a cartoon

depiction of human evolution, it was unclear whether the graphic was a comment

on human/advertisement/pop music growth, or a sly dig at we who presume we're

more evolved when we're actually ever more manipulated.

Having experienced

"The Real Thing" associative blitzkrieg, I decided to force my gaze on the

members of U2. Two songs later, they laid into "Pride (In The Name Of Love),"

and I understood fully T-Bone Burnette's comment many years ago that U2 was one

of the precious few bands that could make a stadium show intimate.

As the

chorus came around, I could swear that every soul in that stadium sang along,

unprompted. It was a chilling sensation. Of course they chanted the "Oh, oh,

oh" lines as well, but the stadium--and mind you, not just a few people in

every section, but seemingly the vast majority of the thousands of people

gathered--also sang gloriously on the song' final verse of transformation.

It was a grand occasion, on a massive and yet fundamentally human scale.

Then Bono, in one brilliant sentence, managed to tie together all the

disparate elements--the imagery, the video, and pop references, along with the

human singing and the power of transformation. He was talking about the band's

fascination with America, and how this tour and stage set-up was something of a

church "built of pieces of neon America." He then described folks who go

to the beach or out to the county to find their peace.

"I find peace in the

neon," he said gently. With that statement, he underscored the essence of

Pop and the PopMart tour. For all its emphasis on dance music and

commercialism, this current adventure is by no means an exercise in irony, but

rather a continuation of U2's sincere gaze into life's mysteries. In one short

sentence, Bono had married the spectacle with the spiritual.

Having

accomplished that, the concert to my mind could have ended right there (a mere

five songs into the set), but of course it didn't. The band offered other high

points to be sure. Bono's a cappella foray into "Stand By Me" was brief and

beautiful. "Bullet The Blue Sky" offered a fiercer but subtler associative

pummeling than "Even Better Than The Real Thing." When PopMart hits your town,

see if you too make the Strategic Defense

Initiative-Reagan-Nicaragua-Clockwork Orange-ugly American mindwarp

connection. Or maybe not.

You're probably better off just looking for

peace in the neon.