A day or two before U2 (and love) came to town, a friend emailed us a joke. At least we think it's a joke. It really doesn't have anything to do with U2, except that it has everything to do with U2.
"I was so depressed last night thinking about the economy, terrorism attacks, World War III, global warming, my retirement savings, Social Security, my job, national health care and my credit card debt that I called Lifeline.
"Got a freakin' call center somewhere in Pakistan. I told them I was suicidal. They got all excited and asked if I could drive a truck."
In a concert that stretched from the International Space Station to the strife-torn streets of Tehran to a would-be martyr under house arrest in Myanmar, but never left Houston for a second, U2 owned the 60K-strong crowd at Reliant Stadium Wednesday night before (we'd wager) 80 to 90 percent of them even knew exactly what they were hearing.
After Muse's hour of smoky starlight, and an extended set of TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Cold War Kids, the Dead Weather, MGMT, etc., caught the hordes of Mix, Eagle and Arrow listeners up on what they've been missing, a lone spotlight caught Larry Mullen Jr. strolling across the catwalk to his drummer's stool. No other timekeeper in rock and roll can tap his sticks with such agility and grace while completely tanning his kit's hide like Mullen, and his his brief intro/solo to new album No Line on the Horizon
's jagged waltz "Breathe" lifted U2's entire 180-ton "Claw" contraption off the Reliant Stadium turf all by itself, abandoning a resting position to which it would never return.
People call U2 arrogant. Maybe they are, for making a stadium full of people from Houston, Baytown, Sugar Land (the two area suburbs Bono mentioned by name), Corpus Christi, Beaumont, Lufkin, Tyler, Austin and San Antonio wait through 15 minutes and three songs of new material.
We don't think so. "Breathe," ticking six-string IED "Get On Your Boots" and heaven-paging "Magnificent" are new in name only, the latest variations of power-cable guitar, muscle-bound rhythms and cockeyed spiritualism ("Satan loves a bomb scare, but he won't scare you") that stretch back to the days of "Gloria" and "Out of Control."
Those songs opened up a wormhole at Reliant Park, slipping through the atomic funk of "Mysterious Ways" and astral gospel of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," skirting the beautiful day of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" on its way to the acoustic Trenchtown soul of "Stuck In a Moment You Can't Get Out Of." There were many rivers to cross Wednesday night, and U2 crossed them all.
Further explorations: "Your Blue Room," mingling a live feed from outer space with Procol Harum hot smoke and sassafras; Bono, needlessly encouraging "Let's make some noise" before the Ministry/Jesus and Mary Chain grind of No Line
's title track; requesting "liftoff" as Edge flogged the ghost of Billy Gibbons out of his guitar during "Elevation"; concealing life-or-death subject matter in the rumbling roil and forbidden-fruit arpeggios of "Until the End of the World"; becoming just another awestruck onlooker at the communal cell-phone spectacle of "City of Blinding Light."
"The Unforgettable Fire" exploded inward as a cone-shaped LED mesh descended from the Claw's video screen, its pinks and purples raw as a fresh bruise; "Vertigo" exploded outward as Bono acknowledged our neighbors south of the border ("Viva Mexico!"), sing-skiing in Edge, Mullen and bassist Adam Clayton's ferocious wake.
Through an alien-green fog, a sturdy "Sunday Bloody Sunday" screened digitized images of courageous (and perhaps foolhardy) Iranians taking it to the streets of their capital this past summer, and a time-freezing "Walk On" - preluded by a hymnal verse of "MLK" - brought dozens of masked One Campaign
volunteers ringing the catwalk in silent vigil for Burmese political prisoner, Nobel Peace Prize winner and U2 cause celebre Aung San Suu Kyi as Edge finally finished what he started on "Magnificient" and "End of the World."
Encore. "Amazing Grace" and "Where the Streets Have No Name," sending icy-hot slivers of goosebumps into the crowd and into the ether through the open Reliant roof; Achtung Baby
's "Ultra Violet (Light My Way)" rebranded as a bonus-disc No Line
add-on, Bono's florescent steering-wheel microphone looking suspiciously like a target; "With or Without You" rescuing the Zoo TV disco ball as you give yourself away; "Moment of Surrender" freezing those who left early to get in the T-shirt lines in their tracks.
And one more. "One." First out of the gate, first among equals. Again and again (and again), the song written as U2's lives (and U2 itself) were falling apart brought band, crowd, city and cosmos together under a higher law to peer on a world apart from the one we're all too familiar with, the one gripped by economic earthquakes, moral blackouts and wars between nations. It leaves you, baby, if you don't care for it.
But Wednesday night, only love could leave such a mark. Magnificent.