There was no gargantuan, narcissistic video screen spanning the stage. There was no 100-foot orange swizzle stick, nor did they appear from within a giant lemon-shaped disco mirror ball. No, after waiting an hour to give the sold-out crowd of 20,000 ticket-holders a chance to catch their breath following the The Corrs' opening act, the foursome that is U2 merely walked onstage with the lights still on. Perhaps they were taking heed of their own advice in "Walk On," the Irish band's current single and the inspirational anthem with which they chose to end the show.
This was how I chose to spend my Oscar eve, known to the rest of the world as Saturday, March 24 -- the night U2 kicked off their highly anticipated Elevation tour. As they promoted their newest album, "All That You Can't Leave Behind," I couldn't help but be awed by the striking simplicity chosen for the performance in Miami's National Car Rental Center.
This is not to say that the pared-down show was without effects; there certainly were plenty of impressive lighting choices, drops and projection devices, but there were only two standout props during the show: the songs and the fans.
Unlike U2's PopMart tour of 1997, which played almost the entire catalog of the "Pop" album and otherwise stuck to material from "The Joshua Tree" and "Achtung Baby," Elevation offers a wider array, displaying roughly half of the tracks on "Behind" and tracing the group's entire career trajectory. Though such favorites as "Pride" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" were gone," gems like "The Sweetest Thing" and "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" got their live debut stateside.
The crowd, however, never missed a beat -- though lead singer Bono did, occasionally getting lost in his own lyrics. That's not the only time he lost his way. During "Until the End of the World," as he and guitarist the Edge approached each other along the heart-shaped catwalk that extended to the middle of the arena floor, Bono suddenly disappeared. He had fallen off the stage into the audience. The show went on without a hitch, with the Edge continuing his brilliant guitar lick while a momentarily stunned Bono picked himself up and proceeded to limp for the rest of the two-hour show's first half.
Later on, Bono made more deliberate contact with the floor audience after finishing "The Fly," running through the crowd toward a rear tunnel, giving a few avid fans a tactile victory to cherish forever.
Regardless of seating (a silly term, because the audience always stood), I look back on the concert and remember just how close everyone felt to each other, united by the music. Besides "Elevation," the band's spirited opening number -- which had everyone chanting Bono's "woo-hoo"s -- "Where the Streets Have No Name" saw a surprisingly energetic reception. The audience also met the plaintive "Stuck In a Moment That You Can't Get Out Of," dedicated to late singer Michael Hutchence, with the appropriate amount of fervor and compassion. Only the mellower, less familiar strains of the current album's "New York" cooled down the Miami heat.
I haven't meant to leave out the more reserved Larry Mullen, Jr., and Adam Clayton, who provide the left and right leg that U2 stands on and without whom songs like "I Will Follow," "Mysterious Ways," "New Year's Day" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" would be lifeless.
But the evening reached its pinnacle during "With or Without You," the band's biggest hit, as Bono stopped singing and turned the mic on the audience (perhaps he had forgotten lyrics yet again?). With the crowd singing the words, the song never missed a beat, proving that U2's music is now, and forever will be, as much ours as it is theirs.
One of the night's biggest motifs was the freedom to be fearless. U2 had already found it, but now they have reclaimed it.
It's been three weeks since I left the Car Rental Center, but those feelings of hope, communion and uplift I felt during the "Elevation" show, I cannot leave behind.