U2 became the world's biggest rock band in the 1980s because of its bracing, uplifting, sonically alluring, intelligent, serious, sometimes self-important, populist, anthemic rock.
In the 1990s, U2 has simplified things. The formula for its sold-out concert Monday night at Target Center was simple: U2 MTV = Zoo TV.
It was fun TV and a fun concert, too. It was U2's most daring concert in the Twin Cities and probably the band's best.
Zoo TV is the name of U2's concert tour. It takes its name from the opening song, "Zoo Station," which takes its name from the subway station in Germany near where U2 recorded its latest album, the best-selling "Achtung Baby."
If U2 was rock's social conscience in the '80s, now the Irish quartet has become high-tech, postmodern pranksters. The first half of the nearly two-hour concert was a reaction to our video age. Onstage,the band had four huge video walls plus maybe a dozen smaller video monitors.
With the help of a satellite dish, computers and a 12-person video staff, U2 brought MTV-like effects to the live stage: multiple images, different images on different screens, strobe lights, baths of polka-dot lights on the crowd, films, videos, a blitzkrieg of buzzwords on the screens, a mirrored ball and six colorfully painted German cars hanging over the stage.
The concert began not with the hits that made U2 famous but rather eight songs from "Achtung Baby." "Zoo Station" was European industrial noise. The ensuing "Fly" was U2's new version of social commentary as a barrage of buzzwords and sayings flashed by on the screens: "Rape," "Food," "Sexy," "Everything you know is wrong," "Rebellion is packaged," "Remember what you dream," "Everyone is a racist," "Rock 'n' roll is entertainment," "Over 1 billion served," "Guilt is not of god," "Call your mother," "Nobody is promised a tomorrow."
Lead singer Bono carried on more like a rock star than a populist philosopher. Dressed in black patent-leather pants and jacket with his hair dyed jet black, he seemed self-consciously campy and sometimes swishy in his movements. During the recent hit "Mysterious Ways" he danced playfully with a female belly dancer, and during "Until the End of the World" he walked right up to a video camera, kissed the lens and then guided it down to his crotch.
When Bono left his "Achtung Baby" phase, he turned this '90s happening into a crowd-pleasing love-in. He and his colleagues strolled down a runway to a small stage in the middle of the arena. With drummer Larry Mullen on congas, the group offered a clublike sing-along version of "Angel of Harlem" from U2's last album, "Rattle and Hum." Bono's phrasing was positively Dylan-esque, and it felt like an intimate campfire treat.
The ensuing reading of Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" was off course, but U2 ignited the 19,000 fans with the very dramatic "Bullet the Blue Sky," the sing-along "Running" (which found Bono on the small stage again), the uplifting and spine-tingling "Where the Streets Have No Name" and the no-frills, anthemic "Pride," which featured a speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King about reaching the Promised Land.
Bono, who has been preachy from the stage in the past, followed with his lone political pitch of the night. He said he didn't know anything about the local problems, but he urged concertgoers to elect the right candidate. The well-traveled Irishman added, "If you don't get the right president, we're all (expletive)."
At 32, Bono played the perfect populist hero last night. His powerful voice rang triumphantly throughout the arena and he displayed the kind of charisma that George Bush, Bill Clinton, Jerry Brown and Pat Buchanan wish they could buy. A couple of times Bono stepped out into the crowd and the fans (plus a few secuity guards) held him aloft as he sang passionately without missing a beat. He slapped hands with the faithful in the front row. He did everything but dole out kisses. He even offered a bit of old-fashioned rock-star dazzle when he returned for an encore in a silver-lame suit and sang "Desire" and "With or Without You."
The Pixies, one of America's most popular underground rock bands, opened the evening with an excellent 45-minute set of guitar-driven modern rock. The performance had more bite, humor, spirit and variety than the Pixies' sold-out concert at First Avenue in January during the Super Bowl.