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Thursday, February 17, 2011

U2 grace SA

As spectacles go, U2 was up there

MANY fans will have had high expectations for U2's performance in Johannesburg last Sunday at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium, where the band played their first performance in SA in 13 years. Those expectations may have been raised by the stage around which the group's 360° tour was designed. Thankfully, the band lived up to most people’s hopes.

The "Claw" is probably the most extravagant stage in live pop music history. The steel structure stands 50m tall. This doubles the size of the Rolling Stones’ set used in their "A Bigger Bang Tour".

About 98 000 people witnessed a stage that had spinning walk-ways, hundreds of cameras and brilliant video excerpts to accompany some of the band’s hits.

U2’s front man Bono, started the show by declaring "It's show time" because he understood the 360° tour is very much a spectacle, one big enough to hide mistakes in his performance.

He sometimes did not position himself perfectly at the microphone so a few words were lost and he struggled to keep his pitch at times, but he made up for the follies with exceptional stage presence. He danced during the 1991 classic-album Achtung Baby’s Mysterious Ways and was suspended during the electric guitar masterpiece from the 1995 film, Batman Forever.

The rest of the band, bassist Adam Clayton, guitarist The Edge, and drummer Larry Mullen Jr, were solid enough.

The band also brought in a few South African elements as they saluted a country they have had an interest in for decades, because of its political past and also because of the HIV-Aids pandemic, the fight against which U2 has raised money through its ticket sales.

This was the first concert of the 360° tour that did not feature David Bowie’s Space Oddity as intro music, being replaced by a remix of Get On Your Boots featuring the Soweto Gospel Choir.

Hugh Masekela joined in on the trumpet during the track I Still Haven't Found What I’m Looking For. Pride's lyrics were modified in tribute to former South African president Nelson Mandela and Bono also called the audience "rainbow people" and sang a second song for Mr Mandela, wishing him the best of health.

Bono has been known to make political statements which may have annoyed some concert goers but he coupled his statements, such as one about the recent freeing of Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi, with songs and videos.

Some people complained that sound quality was poor at the upper levels of the stadium. Food facilities were not ideal - at least inside the stadium - but for people who actually came to listen to songs they have enjoyed for years, beer and Coca-Cola surely should not be a priority. It was a pity that the crowd did not know many of U2’s song lyrics and so the show lacked atmosphere, but the band still kept trying to include them, with Bono even serenading a fan during Until The End Of The World.

Our crowds have been criticised for lacking energy and respect for artists who visit us. Oasis ’s Noel Gallagher wrote on his award-winning blog in 2009, following a concert in Johannesburg, that the crowd there was "strange" and "very quiet".

U2 was supported by stalwart SA rockers, The Springbok Nude Girls, whose set was too short and the highly talented Afro-beat couple Amadou & Miriam from Mali. The crowd was at its most unresponsive during these performances as well as the first three quarters of U2’s set, but by the time Sunday Bloody Sunday, the 16th of 22 songs was played, the crowd was moving about and showing some appreciation.

The songs chosen are clearly important for fans who wait years to hear their favourites and the selection for Johannesburg’s show included an even spread across the super group ’s 12 studio albums.

U2’s performance may have been a little flat at times and too political for some listeners, but as spectacles go, it was still an enjoyable spectacle.

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This article also appeared on www.businessday.co.za with permission from Alistair Anderson. Alistair Anderson paid for his concert ticket and travel to the event and the article was typed using his resources.