November 23, 2004



Self-indulgence/promotion mar free U2 gig

I'm getting the feeling U2's Bono wants me to know that his band has a new album out today. Or else he just really wants me to plunk down money for that kick-ass iPod.

It was a long afternoon at Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, which is where U2 gave a free "surprise" show yesterday between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. It ended with the one moment the thousands of us in the crowd knew would inevitably come: a performance of the searing new single, "Vertigo." (For non-U2 fans, that's the song that has been blaring out of your TV every half hour in that nifty Apple iPod/iTunes commercial.)

Normally, this would be a good enough capper to the show -- that is, if the band hadn't already performed it some 50 minutes earlier to open the concert, which was taped for an MTV special airing next month. "This one's for us," Bono told the crowd before relaunching "Vertigo," sending many in the crowd, weary from waiting hours for the concert -- which began more than 90 minutes late -- out of the park to beat the traffic.

In honor of the new disc, titled How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, that U2 was promoting yesterday on a trek through New York City on a flatbed truck, let's call the Nov. 22 event an exercise in how to turn a free big-name concert into an underwhelming experience.

The self-indulgence may have ended with the anti-climactic finale, but there were other irritating moments from Bono and Co. After the set's smoking second selection, "All Because of You," U2 settled into a few plodding mid-tempo numbers from the new record. Obviously, these tracks were largely unknown to the crowd on the eve of the CD's release; Bono's painfully long and unfocused explanations about a few of the new cuts further killed the momentum. By going into explicit detail while introducing "Miracle Drug," revealing that the song's inspiration was a former schoolmate who overcame near-total paralysis to become an author and poet -- a touching story, to be sure -- he rendered the song almost moot.

The band rallied a bit with a crowd-pleasing rendition of "Beautiful Day" and the rousing "I Will Follow," which whipped the fans into a frenzy. Then came a big ego-stroke moment: a completely unnecessary encore break. The band left the stage, after having performed barely 45 minutes, and was presumably coaxed back out. Were they really whipped from having cranked out nine songs?

And to think, on my subway ride to the park, I was reminded of another public performance in U2 lore. It came 17 years ago this month, when Bono stirred things up by famously spray-painting the phrase "Rock 'n' roll stops the traffic" on a fountain in San Francisco. Yesterday, U2's self-promotion efforts, and not so much the rock 'n' roll itself, stopped me from going to the record store today.

From what I understand, I can always log on to iTunes.

-- By George Henn

Sounding Off, a music opinion column, appears regularly on

Posted by medleyville at November 23, 2004 11:29 PM