Elevation 2001: U2 Live From Boston (DVD)

U2

Interscope, 2001

http://www.u2.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/06/2008

I'm no road warrior, but I’ve been to a fair number of concerts over the years.  Springsteen seven times, Yes three, Queen twice, Genesis, Green Day, the Rolling Stones, et cetera, et cetera.  And while U2 barely cracks my top ten in terms of either favorite bands or favorite albums, there is not a doubt in my mind that not just the most amazing but the absolute best rock show I have ever attended was the one U2 gig I’ve ever caught, on their 2001 Elevation tour.

As the millennium rolled around – and a gap of several years dawned between the band and its mostly unsuccessful Pop album – Bono began to assert the groups interest in “reapplying for the job… of the best band in the world.”  As a first step, the group brought back former producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno and issued the gripping, purposeful All That You Can’t Leave Behind.  Next came the formal interview -- the ensuing tour -- and it quickly became clear U2 meant to land the job. 

The big innovation was the replacement of all the post-modern satirical excess of the Zoo TV and Popmart tours with a stripped down stage featuring a giant heart-shaped walkway extending out of the wings of the stage and halfway across the arena floor, with the audience on both sides of most of its circumference.  The setup was designed to remove all other distractions and get back to what the band has always done best – pump out heart-pounding anthems of hope and pain and joy and sorrow that bring crowds to their feet over and over again.

The opening duo of “Elevation” and “Beautiful Day” sets the bar as high as any band ever could.  The floor crowd erupts with the first notes and pogos all the way through the churning, hammering “Elevation” and doesn’t miss a beat as the band and audience feed on one another’s energy all the way through the soaring “Beautiful Day” and the positively cataclysmic “Until The End Of The World.”  The ultimate compliment to their performance, though, is that the crowd stays in the palm of their hands even as they segue into the slower paces of the soulful “Stuck In The Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and the soaring “Kite.”

The middle section of the show is highlighted by strong performances of album cuts like “Gone” and “my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 New York” and old favorites like the driving “I Will Follow” (the very first track on their 1980 debut album) and the raw “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”  Moments later, “In A Little While” (which Bono touchingly dedicates to Joey Ramone) plays gentle yin to the hammering yang of “Desire,” which drops into an acoustic “Stay (Faraway So Close)”… and then they’re ready to blow the roof off the place once and for all.

The Unforgettable Fire’s very best album track “Bad” executes a steady, satisfying build until it bleeds right into “Where The Streets Have No Name,” which finds Bono exhorting the crowd into a frenzy and then running a full lap around the heart-shaped walkway before bellowing out the song’s first line “I want to run” as lights behind the band spin and send the entire arena into what feels like orbit among the stars.

Oh yeah.  And then they bring on the encores…!

The screeching-thunder opening chords of “Bullet The Blue Sky” threaten to rip the building open, though the choruses take on a sort of trance-y cadence here under blood-red lights.  Later, Bono turns the final section of the song from an indictment of US intervention in Central America to a furious treatise on gun violence in the U.S., keying on the death of John Lennon at the hands of a madman with a cheap handgun.  Then “With Or Without You” keens and pleads as Bono pulls an appropriately overwhelmed fan out of the audience to lie flat on the walkway with him while he sings to the rafters.  “The Fly” starts out softer than on Achtung Baby, easing through the first verse before exploding into the dirty-sweet chorus riff; an abridged “Wake Up Dead Man” bravely plumbs the darkest corners of the band’s collective faith; and then we’re at the close.  Is there a more fitting exit song for a band with the emotional character and ambition of U2 than the elegiac yet ultimately optimistic “Walk On”?  I think not.

Besides superb cinematography and sharp editing, one of the cool tricks director Hamish Hamilton throws in is the Bono-cam, whereby every so often the scene will cut to the perspective offered by a pinhole black and white camera located in Bono’s omnipresent sunglasses.  It’s hard not to get caught up the moment while catching glimpses of the scene from Bono’s perspective at moments like his bullfight/duel with The Edge far out in the center of the arena at the climax of the positively incendiary “Until The End Of The World.”

The June 2001 Boston show captured on this DVD is missing several personal favorites from the show I caught that November – “Mysterious Ways,” “Pride (In The Name Of Love),” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” – as well as uniquely post-9/11 touches like the projected list of victims that scrolled down the giant screen during “One,” which the band immediately followed with an impassioned “Peace On Earth.”  But the two shows have this in common – a band at the height of its powers, coming out with something to prove to both its audience and itself, playing its gigantic heart out.

I’ve been to a lot of concerts; I’ve also watched a lot of concert DVDs.  Only the rarest of the latter manage to pull you directly into and make you feel a part of the event you’re watching, to sweep you up in the surging emotions of the moment being chronicled.  This one does.

Rating: A

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