Originally published on June 6, 2001 at Ticketmaster’s LiveDaily.com
BOSTON, Mass. — In a city that houses one of the most prominent Irish-American populations in the country — in a state that Senator Ted Kennedy calls “the most Irish-American state in the union” — a sold-out, four-night visit from Ireland’s U2 is more than just a series of concerts; it’s a cultural event.
By 6 o’clock on Tuesday evening (6/5) — the first night of the band’s four scheduled performances — there is not a parking spot to be found near Boston’s FleetCenter, and traffic around the venue is a snarled mess. By 6:30, the surrounding neighborhood is filled with throngs of people, many of whom are standing in lines that lead into the neighborhood’s half-dozen Irish pubs — places with names such as The Irish Embassy, McGann’s, the Harp and Sullivan’s Tap.
At Paddy Burke’s Pub — one of the neighborhood’s cozier Irish staples — a banner welcoming U2 fans adorns an outside wall, while a non-stop barrage of both new and vintage U2 CDs blares from within. Inside, all four of the narrow pub’s floors are filled to capacity. Pints of Guinness and Murphy’s Irish Stout flow non-stop. Sometime around 7 o’clock, “Elevation” — the new song after which U2 has named its current tour — blasts from the speakers, and most of the well-lubricated crowd howls right along with U2 frontman Bono’s falsetto intro.
By 7:30, the masses of bar-goers are heading to the venue. From a block away, the sound of bagpipes begins to bleed through the competing staccato of city noise. The music of the pipes grows louder, and is finally traced to a lone, kilted player who has positioned himself just outside the venue entrance.
Fans straggle in throughout P.J. Harvey’s well-received opening set, and, by 9 o’clock, a capacity crowd of 18,000-plus has filled the FleetCenter. As they’ve done throughout the tour, the members of U2 — Bono, guitarist the Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. — take the stage and break into “Elevation” while the houselights remain on, the arena never darkening for their entrance, and the tactic immediately wins over the audience.
Here’s that opening rendition of “Elevation,” taken from the concert DVD that the group filmed during their four-night stand in Boston:
During the two hours that follow, the group runs through a lengthy setlist comprising both old and new favorites. Bono divides his time equally between the main stage and the heart-shaped walkway that juts into the middle of the arena floor. Mullen — who surely is the heir to the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts as the most subdued drummer in rock — provides a solid, if not quite loud enough, skins-bashing. The equally subdued Clayton rattles the hall with more bass than has ever been present in the mix on the group’s albums.
The Edge is the breakout star of the night, serving up a rousing display of classic U2 rhythm licks and compelling solos. More so than for his six-string work, however, the guitarist gets the MVP award for his beautifully sung back-up vocals — which, when Bono’s voice begins to falter halfway through the set, help to keep the band on its collective feet.
And though the singer’s vocal delivery isn’t full-strength, Bono’s displays of affection for Boston and its Irish heritage keep him in the crowd’s good graces.
“[For] 25 years [we’ve been] coming to this city,” he tells the audience. “From the days of the Paradise Club. [We’ve] made a lot of friends in Boston.”
Later, as the band performs the mellow “New York,” another track from last year’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” (Interscope), the crowd erupts with cheers as Bono places emphasis on the line “The Irish have been comin’ here for years.”
By the time the group launches into a rousing rendition of the anthemic “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” the Irish-American faction of the audience is roiling; no less than seven full-size Irish flags are hoisted by groups of fans throughout the arena. At the rear of the stage, Bono spreads out a flag tossed to him by a fan.
A song later, the singer brings the simmering Irish pride to a full boil while explaining his recent penchant for touting his own band as the world’s greatest.
“That stuff about bein’ the greatest band in the world comes from being from Ireland,” he says. “[It comes] from being from the wrong side of Dublin. It comes from not being cool. Irish people aren’t cool; Irish people are hot.”
The frenzied crowd eats it up, and is further incited when all four band members set up shop at the front of the heart-shaped walkway for an acoustic version of “Desire.”
Later, after an energized delivery of crowd favorites such as “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “With or Without You,” Bono precedes the final encore by thanking the group’s fans “for giving us such a great life.”
As the band leaves the stage two songs later, it is clear that, for many in attendance, the members of U2 are more than just musicians. They’re cultural icons.
Until The End Of The World
Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
I Will Follow
Sunday Bloody Sunday
In a Little While
Where The Streets Have No Name
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Bullet The Blue Sky
With Or Without You