“I don’t want to go home,” admits a clearly elated Bono as U2’s Cape Town show draws to an end. The feeling — echoed by the capacity crowd — is completely understandable: it’s been a shared evening of rock ‘n roll showmanship, political soapboxing, and surprising intimacy.
For all the size of the show — six days to set up; 204 shipping crates of equipment; 32 000 fasteners for the video screen alone — it’s ultimately about the four men at the middle of the 360-degree stage. This spectacle has soul.
Bono puts so much effort into mock charging and mugging at the video cameras that he needs to catch his breath after the opening salvo that includes Beautiful Day, I Will Follow, and Mysterious Ways. The Edge, who’s played some of these songs for over 30 years, still manages to eke new sounds out of his endless collection of guitars. Laid-back bassist Adam Clayton spends the entire night with a broad grin on his face. And even the forever cool Larry Mullen Jr. breaks his traditional look of pained stoicism as he steps up from his drumkit to bash on a bongo during Crazy Tonight.
Together they manage to make a tightly rehearsed, carefully calculated show seem playful, even spontaneous. Bono’s joy is obvious as Yvonne Chaka Chaka (not Idols judge Mara Louw) joins him for a duet of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and Stand By Me. He acts like a child in a park as he swings from a suspended microphone during the jaggedly dangerous Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me. He gets intimate with every woman in the audience as he does his familiar slowdance with a fan during In A Little While. He and Edge mesmerise the die-hard fans with a keening bare-bones performance of all-new song North Star. He surprisingly plays down his dedication of Pride to Nelson Mandela, but effortlessly works the crowd into a frenzy as he wishes Madiba well. And, with his powerful performance of With Or Without You, he even diverts attention from the mirrorball 50 metres above the stage splashing the stadium in light.
But the human touch also leaves the show open to flaws. City of Blinding Lights doesn’t sound as majestic as it should. Miss Sarajevo, although still as beautiful as it was in 1995, seems oddly out of place. The ‘Pop’-style dance mix of I’ll Go Crazy turns the group into a bunch of 50-something white men trying to be cool. And the recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi has given Bono’s “Free Burma” grandstanding a bit of a knock.
Yet, every time the show seems at risk of losing focus, the group launch into one of their signature songs – Vertigo, Sunday Bloody Sunday, or One (following a video introduction from The Arch) – to remind you that they’re capable of bringing a city to a standstill, even if everyone (even Bono) eventually has to go home.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.