This time, smaller gestures play better

Rock: U2's songs are particularly meaningful in these times.

October 19, 2001|By Greg Kot | Greg Kot,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

After Sept. 11, the stakes have been raised for touring rock bands. And U2 - never a band to shy away from a challenge - brings the goods on a tour that stops tonight at the Baltimore Arena.

"We feel very blessed to be on a tour at this time in the United States," said singer Bono Monday night at Chicago's United Center.

U2's songs have always addressed the big subjects: war and peace, love and betrayal, sin and faith. And those themes resonate more deeply than ever for an audience clearly starved for some sort of spiritual sustenance.

In the 1980s, U2's penchant for the grandiose was unparalleled, as Bono waved white flags and climbed rafters in death-defying feats of ego and passion. For this tour, the singer has tempered his gestures, and they ring louder than ever. Monday, when the audience handed him an American flag during "Sunday Bloody Sunday," it would have been an easy applause-winning gambit to troop around waving it. But Bono instead clutched the flag tightly while singing, "Wipe your tears away," and then gently handed it back.

It was moving because it was done with such understated grace.

U2, road-tested, was in fine form. Adam Clayton's bass pumped blood into the heart of the gangbusters opening, "Elevation," Larry Mullen Jr. was a rock of rhythm on drums, and The Edge had a veritable symphony of sound packed into his foot pedals. Bono, his voice appealingly earthy and his grizzled face even earthier, has become a great Irish soul singer, dipping into Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."

"New York," a song about a midlife crisis, was transformed into a celebration of a devastated city's resilience, and "One" became a moving tribute to the victims. As the band played its most enduring anthem, the names of the crew and passengers on the hijacked airplanes scrolled down a screen. It was a gesture, and a concert, big enough for the moment. And it was further evidence that more than 20 years into its career, U2 remains more necessary than ever.

Greg Kot is the music critic for the Chicago Tribune.

U2

Where: Baltimore Arena

When: 7:30 tonight

Tickets: Sold out

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