Never has an arena seemed so small. So intimate. So personal.
There were Bono and the Edge of U2, the band that extravagantly redefined stadium rock in the 1990s, standing at the point of a heart-shaped runway extending from the stage at Target Center on Tuesday night. Bono had just dedicated a number to punk-rock pioneer Joey Ramone, a U2 friend who had died two weeks ago, by saying, "Joey has turned a song about a hangover into a gospel tune. That's how cool he is."
With a weary falsetto, backed only by Edge's guitar, Bono sang about how "in a little while the hurt will hurt no more." He was not singing to a rabid sellout crowd. He was singing from his heart to that special place we all have -- to our inner self -- like it was a prayer to his soul.
For once, Bono, who tends to turn every song -- even ballads -- into anthems, underplayed it and played it just right. He and Edge continued, with the lustful "Desire" set to a Bo Diddley beat and the pleading "Stay," crooned like Sinatra -- both songs delivered with undeniable conviction but as if these stars were in a living room with no audience but their own Muses.
Then Bono, 40, slipped into his rock-star role, one he has played so well for the past two decades. He rallied the faithful for "Bad" and then sprinted around the heart runway for "Where the Streets Have No Name," invigorating the faithful like a politician giving a fire-and-brimstone speech.
The intimacy and the anthems added up to a wonderfully satisfying concert, with as much deep emotional resonance as you'll ever experience at an arena rock concert -- unless you're seeing Bruce Springsteen.
The focus of U2's 130-minute concert was songs from its exceptional 2000 album, "All That You Can't Leave Behind," which was more personal and less global. Eschewing the spectacles of the past few tours, Bono, Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen walked onstage while the houselights were still on and started "Elevation," sending the crowd into an up-close-and-personal rock 'n' roll frenzy.
The ensuing "Beautiful Day," which just won Grammys for record and song of the year, showed what sets U2 apart even when the quartet plays nonpolitical anthems. The tune energized the crowd in a happy way, not in the typical rock song as release of aggression/anger/angst, but in a celebration of joy.
Although the concert ran the gamut of human emotions from goodbye, despair and death, to love, religion and Irish politics, it felt like an evening full of joy. Those aforementioned intimate moments stand out, but the 18,000 fans likely went home singing such oldies as the urgent "I Will Follow," the ever-galvanizing "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and the determined "With or Without You." Every way you look at it, it was a beautiful night.