This is the Real Thing!

with Smash Mouth
B.C. Place Stadium
Vancouver, B.C.
Tuesday, December 9, 1997

Review by Alphonse Leong
Photography by Rodney Gitzel

Smash Mouth, lost amoungst the arches... When people used to rave at me about a great U2 concert they'd just seen, I'd smile and nod at them indulgently like they were kids ecstatic over their first encounter with a department store Santa Claus. Well, I've been converted: U2 are the real thing. Far from being all bluster and hype that I had expected, the PopMart show at B.C. Place delivered it all: genuine communication and interaction with the audience, well-executed performances of the cream of the group's repertoire, and spectacular, state-of-the-art visual and aural effects. This should be a new standard for all bands spending in excess of a million dollars per concert.

the Edge Smash Mouth were picked as the opening act, and though their single, "Walkin' on the Sun," and a great ode to roadies called "Roadman" came out well, a lot of the material sounded like repetitive fuzzy noise as it echoed through the expanse of the stadium. It didn't help that they were confined to a tiny space on the expansive stage. Even the band conceded their secondary role in the night's proceedings when vocalist Steve Harwell asked, "Would you make more noise if we mentioned U2?"

waiting, waiting, waiting... Like gladiators entering the arena, U2 emerged from a side entrance on the floor and made their way to the stage through the crowd, the Edge dressed as a muscular cowboy, Adam Clayton wearing a surgeon's mask, Larry Mullen looking conspicuously normal, and Bono bopping along in a white boxer's robe. Shaking off the hood to reveal a shaved dome, Bono flailed frantically while his mates began "Mofo." The huge irregular quadrangle screen behind them was like a fifth member, displaying wild, kaleidoscopic images interspliced with close-ups of the band. But a bank of floodlights bordering the stage cast a cool shade of blue when the foursome kicked into the next number, "I Will Follow." A sprightly, compact rendition, there was no oversinging from Bono to mar the song's energetic blast.

I can't shake the feeling Bono's looking over my shoulder... In fact, with nary a false gesture or utterance, a kindler, gentler Bono was present for the whole evening. His legendary pomposity and swagger were missing, and he even showed a touch of humility when he stood with open mouth as the audience sang the "Oh, oh-oh, oh" part of "Pride (in the Bono Name of Love)" back at him. Almost in defiance of the technological complexity of the show, many of the songs, especially older ones such as "New Year's Day," were performed without any screen images or extravagant lighting.

The most extreme and moving example of this came when Bono and the Edge went down to the end of a runway jutting out into the centre of the floor audience and played an acoustic version of "Staring at the Sun," followed by the night's the stage and four Bonos truly extraordinary moment. Prefaced only by the comment, "We haven't played this one in a long time, but we played it in Sarajevo a few weeks ago..." and lit with a single spotlight, the Edge performed solo a mesmerizing "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" to an appreciative, lighter-wielding audience.

But, make no mistake, the electronic wizardry was there this night! The giant lemon that had been sitting harmlessly on the stage's right corner suddenly became a dazzling, smoke-spewing space egg that slowly drifted down the runway towards the crowd. The capsule door opened to reveal (surprise!) the band standing together like they were posing for a Rolling Stone (or Drop-D) cover. They walked coolly down the ladder one by one and launched into a surprisingly ripping version of "Pop," which was followed by a fluid "With or Without You."

the Edge "Thanks for sticking with us," Bono said at one point during the show (also adding, interestingly, "Thanks for paying to be here."). "We have to make it interesting for us, so it's not bullshit for you." And interesting it was, with the seamlessly integrated video images (including Martin Luther King, Marilyn Monroe and weird cartoons), audio loops, and the songs, of course -- a highly entertaining two hours.

So, for the condescending attitude I've always harboured towards U2 fans, I sincerely apologize: You're not desperate lemmings and your beloved heroes are not over-rated hacks.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on December 22, 1997

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