(Editor's note: Our critic attended the band's Feb. 21, 1982 show at First Avenue -- U2's second local show, following their April 1981 debut at the same club -- but did not review it for publication. He filed this reminiscence 23 years later.)
There was the hype. There always is with the latest band from across the pond. So I went to First Avenue. But I didn't get it the first time I saw U2.
I hadn't listened much to "October," U2's then-current and second album, although "I Will Follow" from the 1980 debut "Boy" had caught my attention on the radio.
At First Avenue, Dave (the Edge) Evans' guitar -- he hadn't yet entered the realm of stage name only -- sounded like sonic experiments. The band didn't really rock like a U.K. punk band. U2 seemed to owe more to the modern-rock school of David Bowie and Roxy Music, only with more anthemic ambitions. The singer, Bono Vox (he wasn't mono-named yet, either), was intriguing but not commanding.
OK, I've been wrong before. I remember seeing Steely Dan open for Taj Mahal at the Guthrie Theater in 1973. After the set, I turned to the local promo rep for Steely Dan's label and frowned, saying it wasn't as good as the album. (The Dan later dumped that lead singer, David Palmer, and turned that responsibility over to Donald Fagen, and the rest is history. But I digress.)
Bono changed my mind about U2 the next time the band came to Minneapolis on May 22, 1983, at Northrop Auditorium. About one-third into the set, Bono grabbed a white flag on a long pole during "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and headed into the audience. He had 5,000 fans and me hooked as he passed the flag to some fans in the balcony. The wall between performer and audience was broken with the most heroic performance I'd seen at Northrop.
Before the night was over U2 did the brilliant "New Year's Day" and encored with "40," with its refrain "How long to sing this song" echoing in my head for, well, two decades now.