U2 Leave Nothing Behind at the San Diego Sports Arena

If being a rock star was a subject in school, Bono could write the textbook.

Clad in leather and sunglasses, Bono worked the crowd like true rock royalty at last Tuesday’s U2 concert at the San Diego Sports Arena. The arena was packed with die-hard U2 fans, many of whom have been following the band across the country on their “”Elevation”” tour.

The stage was set up with a heart-shaped catwalk that extended into the floor, dividing those who were lucky enough to get general admission tickets into two separate sections — inside the heart and outside.

As the crowd lined up waiting for the Sports Arena doors to open, the tension grew and everyone braced themselves for the mad dash to the Sports Arena floor. When the doors opened at 6 p.m., it was hard to tell if it was a U2 concert or the running of the bulls. As soon as the security guard said “”go,”” hundreds of fans flew through the doors to grab the coveted spots “”inside the heart”” that was reserved for the first 350 people.

Whether you were inside or outside the heart, Tuesday night was still an undeniable spectacle of true rock ‘n’ roll.

Equally exciting as U2 was the opening act, PJ Harvey. Harvey played an 11-song set from her recent album, “”Stories from the City, Stories by the See,”” along with some old favorites including “”Angeline.””

When on stage, Harvey is a breathtaking beauty and an amazing musician. While her band was plagued by amplifier problems and broken guitar strings toward the end of her set, Harvey seemed unfazed, finishing the set with a smile on her face.

In unusual form, the lights were not dimmed when U2 took the stage. Instead, they surprised the audience by just walking on stage rather than making a grand, dramatic entrance. Bono is dramatic enough without creative lighting. They played their first song, “”Elevation,”” with the house lights on. Then the lights went off and the entire arena was ready for something special.

The stage show was complimented by numerous lights and video and projector images. This show was toned down from U2’s more elaborate ventures, such as Zoo TV and Popmart. The lights and frills just made the show more beautiful. Each time Bono or The Edge paraded down the catwalk, they were bathed in rays of light from every angle.

U2 played a two-hour set that included two encores and all of their hits: “”Sunday Bloody Sunday,”” “”One,”” “”With or Without You”” and many others. What was so striking to those who were close enough to see the expressions on the band members’ faces was how they still seem to genuinely enjoy being a rock band.

During “”Sunday Bloody Sunday,”” drummer Larry Mullen smiled like he was playing the song for the first time, and truly seemed pleased that the crowd was singing every word. Amidst the entire spectacle, it was the small exchanges, the little smirks and the gestures among the band that were the most memorable.

Part of the night was devoted to remembering those who have passed. “”Stuck in A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”” was dedicated to the band’s late friend and INXS lead singer Michael Hutchins. Then, Bono dedicated many songs to Joey Ramone, who passed away Easter Sunday after a long battle with cancer.

Bono, a longtime Ramones admirer, was one of the last people to speak with Joey as he lay in the hospital on Good Friday. In an article written for SonicNet.com, Kurt Loder wrote, “”On Sunday, when Mickey [Joey’s brother] and his mother got a call from the hospital to come in, Mickey brought a copy of the current U2 album, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind,’ and slipped the CD into a little boom box in Joey’s room. The track he played was Bono’s own ‘In a Little While.’ When the song came to an end, Joey was gone.””

The most charming moment of the night was during the song “”One,”” when Bono altered the lyrics slightly to “”three sisters, two brothers,”” acknowledging a set of blond-haired sisters and two adorable red-headed twin brothers in the front row.

While the rest of the arena could not see the siblings near the stage, Bono smiled like it was an inside joke — something to be shared between him and those sisters and brothers who will probably have smiles on their faces for weeks.

The “”Elevation”” tour must give U2 a sense of redemption after their disappointing Popmart tour. This time around, they are playing to sold-out arenas of screaming, adoring fans who came from places as far as Ireland to see their hometown heroes.

This tour proves that bigger is not always better. The band has left behind the circus of Popmart and Zoo TV, and are instead giving their fans a bare-boned rock show. U2 proved that there is still a place for rock music, and fans will turn out to see a band that after all these years still manages to move us in mysterious ways.

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