14 Jun 2001: MCI Center Washington, DC
There was a whole lotta love in the MCI Center when U2 successfully wooed a near sellout crowd for it’s first D.C. show on this tour. The crowd loved the band; the band loved the crowd. We all loved one another. Even the concession sellers weren’t being surly. This was not a show to startle you, to make you think, or to bang your head to. It was a show during which we grooved, smiled, danced, and shouted with glee—all of us, including U2.
Consistent with earlier tour dates, the band came on stage with the house lights on while the speakers blasted “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. When The Beatles hollered the “let me introduce to you . . .”, Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen and Bono strode purposefully to their places on stage (Bono’s place being at the front, of course).
Zillions of fans, perhaps 98 percent well-scrubbed white folks between the ages of 25 and 35 with lots of khaki going on, screamed and waved their arms so that the arena looked like a big pink bucket of wriggling bait. It was cool.
The band then proceeded to put on a passionate performance, although one which was also carefully choreographed to seem, well, unchoreographed. They played to the back of the arena, to the front, to all sides, to the heavens.
This was the wonderfully cool distressed but new leather jacket of rock shows: comfortable and lots of fun; edgy and rock ‘n’ roll but also steeped in energetic pop; making a statement, but not as obvious as, say, a shiny new biker jacket would. Everyone in the arena just seemed so . . . happy.
I think Bono is magic: he is able to somehow obtain energy from an adoring crowd, then turn around and give that energy back, like vitamins or something from Star Trek. When I saw the band some 20 years ago, he displayed the same kind of energy and devotion to the crowd, even though it was a much smaller one.
U2 opened with a rousing version of “Elevation”—- this is, after all, the Elevation Tour—then went into “Beautiful Day”. It was then at least six or seven songs before they got to anything as new as Pop, and then continued with an energetic set of new releases mixed with the rest of their 20-year catalog.
Every song was big and important, either an anthem or a ballad. The anthems worked better—especially if Bono was not encumbered with a guitar. Then, he could strut and shake and wail like it was the end of the world. Bono reined himself in for the ballads, making them far less interesting showmanship: during most of the ballads, my attention was given to the young lady in front of me, who seemed to have two dates (a whole lotta love even in my own section).
U2 played for 90 minutes on the dot without much of a break for any band members, and with no break at all for Bono (although sometimes he would lay prostrate on the stage while singing for effect). Two long encores—also scripted—followed the main set. Then, the house lights came on and the satisfied crowd left the arena, well behaved, smiling, and out into the night to the bars or more likely home to bed by midnight.
Polly Harvey’s opening set also rocked, although she seems to have cleaned up her sound a bit for the U2 crowd. Also, I’m of the mind that Ms. Harvey is too fabulous to be anybody’s opening act, even the prevailing gods of pop rock.
// Notes from the Road
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