A history of U2 in Tampa, Part I: The Unforgettable Fire Tour (1985)
(In celebration of U2's concert Friday at Raymond James Stadium, we're revisiting some of the band's most memorable Tampa performances over the past 30 years. Today, we present Bob Andelman's St. Pete Times review of U2's concert at the USF Sun Dome on May 2, 1985 -- the Unforgettable Fire Tour.)
For Matt Simmons, the sold-out U2 concert was one he won't soon forget.
After all, how many 15-year-old kids can brag that they played guitar with the hottest band in the world, and in front of 11,200 screaming, envious fans?
It began when U2 came out for the first of two encores during its Thursday night show at the USF Sun Dome. Lead singer Bono had been talking about learning to play guitar, and how anybody could do it. With that, the band launched into a cover of Bob Dylan's Knockin' On Heaven's Door. (Click here to listen.)
Midway into the song, Bono asked if there weren't some guitar players in the audience. Suddenly everyone knew how to play.
"Everyone we were with knew (Matt) could play and pointed at him," explained his sister, Rosemary, 17. Bono was paying attention and soon the Lakewood High School sophomore -- dressed in Bermuda shorts and wearing a sleeveless, untucked shirt -- was accepting the singer's own guitar and slipping it over his shoulder.
"I thought I was going to freeze up," Simmons said later. "I guess I did okay."
Much to the band's surprise -- and everyone else's -- Simmons accepted the guitar without missing a beat. As he got into the song, first Bono, then lead guitarist The Edge and bassist Adam Clayton left the stage. For several minutes, Simmons -- who has played for two years and has portrayed Bono in lip sync contests -- was living out the ultimate rock fantasy.
"I was totally freakin' when they left me by myself," he said, wondering to himself, "Are they coming back, or what?"
When it was over, Bono escorted the young man offstage, where Simmons could be seen shaking his head in disbelief at what he had just done.
As for U2, they performed up to all notices and expectations. For more than one and a half hours the Irish quartet made repeated pleas for peace through a language its legion of fans understood -- music.
Not since Huey Lewis and the News came to the Sun Dome has an audience spent an entire concert on its feet, but U2 earned such devotion.
The appeal of U2 is most basic and humane. The four band members are average looking men, lacking far-out haircuts or flashy costumes. They sing about life and its possible end, and reach out in between for understanding. U2 has, in five years and without a monster LP or number one single, joined rock's elite.
Bono is the focus of attention on stage as lead singer and occasional guitarist. Of all the young men who have come forwared to lead in rock 'n' roll movements over 30 years, he is possibly the most plain, bearing a face that is unsculpted. Yet an admonition from those ordinary lips can bring down the house and his smile is tender, coming from the heart, endearing.
The band went to each of its own albums for a handful of songs, inserting verses from the Rolling Stones, John Lennon, USA For Africa and Amazing Grace along the way.
Sunday Bloody Sunday -- from the War album -- is one of U2's best songs, and it shines in live performance. The opening lines -- "I can't believe the news today / I can't close my eyes and make it go away" -- sum up much of the group's general message.
"I want you to sing this not for my country but for your country," asked Bono. "I want you to sing this for those who lost their lives in Vietnam. I'm sure you have not forgotten." With that, he led several choruses of "No more! No more!" to the beat of Sunday Bloody Sunday. (Click here to listen!)
Also noteworthy: New Year's Day and 40 from the War album and I Will Follow from Boy. Like Sunday, U2's latest single, Pride (In The Name Of Love), sounds even better live than on record. Written to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., Bono adds a handful of stars who died young to the song's honor roll, including Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones (Rolling Stones), Keith Moon (The Who), Dennis Wilson (Beach Boys), James Dean and Janis Joplin.
The generation of young people falling under U2's spell is one to watch, to root for, to envy and perhaps endure. Unlike the sexual excesses of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the comic strip stupidity of Motley Crue or the economic extravagances of Duran Duran, U2 has adopted the ultimate banner, the fight against self-annihilation. Perhaps many of the younger fans simply mouth the words of a song like Seconds ("take a second to say goodbye") without understanding the nuclear war references, but there's a chance something will click one day. That's more than can be said for Frankie's Relax.
"I'm here because I like their music," said USF student Mark Hopper. "But I believe in what their songs are saying. Music is supposed to bring people together. It's like the Beatles. John Lennon tried to get the same message across."
Before U2 came out, and up-and-coming outfit called the Red Rockers played a strong 40-minute set. Like U2, all of its songs seemed politically oriented, leading to this question: Does a band now choose its opening act based on a similar political philosophy?
This is not a complaint; it's encouraging to hear rock stars drawing their young follwers' attention to life and death issues as well as sex and drugs, but there is a danger of turning a $14 concert into a tedious lesson in high school civics.
"Y'know, in America, you don't know how lucky we are to have freedom!" admonished the Red Rockers' lead singer at the start of Freedom Row. "I want you to remember that when you go home tonight!"
Incidentally, the Red Rockers polished of an old '60s chestnut -- Eve of Destruction -- and showed it still had appeal, made stronger with a powerful backbeat. The Rockers, with a twangy guitar sound not unlike U2, made a good first musical impression.
-- Bob Andelman, St. Pete Times. Photo by Cherie Diez, St. Pete Times. Sunday Blood Sunday clip via U2concertslive.com; click here to order a bootleg of this show.
SETLIST (via U2gigs.com):
11 O’Clock Tick Tock
I Will Follow
The Unforgettable Fire
Sunday Bloody Sunday
The Electric Co. / Give Peace A Chance (snippet) / Amazing Grace (snippet)
A Sort Of Homecoming
New Year’s Day
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door