A history of U2 in Tampa, Part IV: The PopMart Tour (1997)
At times it was pure sensory overload, an artistic thrill ride that often challenged the technology that brought it to life. At other times it was mired in a weird vagueness that soared above its audience's collective heads.
But U2's colossal PopMart show Monday night at Houlihan's Stadium for a little over 20,000 fans was all it was purported to be: an unforgettable night out.
Steeped pretty much within the enigmatic confines of the band's Pop album, the 2-hour show served the new material well.
Leaping into the crashing techno rhythms of Mofo the quartet made the most of its imposing 170-foot-wide video screen stretched across the south end zone of the stadium.
A garish blend of bright color designs interplayed with live band shots, giving the effect of a giant crazy screen saver. There were times that the effect was especially useful. Folks in the far seats felt like someone had remembered what it was like to be a cheap ticket holder.
"Feel free to spread out," guitarist the Edge told the crowd, poking a bit of fun at the fact that the show drew only about 50 percent capacity.
Nonetheless, U2 played at times with a vengeance. After dispensing with its electronic foray early on, the band settled in to deliver rugged new material like Gone and I Will Follow that sounded much closer to pure U2 pop live than it does on the album.
Older fans got a treat midway through the first half with the band's revisitation of the 1980's Pride (In the Name of Love) and New Year's Day, highlighted when lead vocalist Bono strutted the length of a 150-foot stage runway, urging the audience to help on the chorus.
Certainly one of the wonders of a U2 performance is watching Bono work the audience with his charismatic persona. Dressed in a red shirt, black jacket and his trademark bubble-style glasses he danced and flirted with the audience, briefly interacting at one point by letting their hands bang on his guitar to produce a feedback frenzy of noise while the band played punishing rhythms.
A brief acoustic duo by Edge and Bono blended delicate harmonies for Staring at the Sun one of Pop's few recognizable radio ditties. Bono left the stage to Edge to deliver the band's plaintive early political ballad of Irish strife, Sunday Bloody Sunday, explaining that the band brought it back into its PopMart set after performing it in Sarajevo this summer. "It still has something to say," he said.
Launching into the the bracing social anthem Bullet the Blue Sky, the band once again summoned its ability to provide a blistering aural treat, rocking the stadium with the monumental force that only one of the world's most adept rock bands could deliver, while a cadre of megawatt spotlights speared the night sky.
PopMart is an arrogant statement for U2, whose loyal audience was built by the band's sticking to its minimalist guns and serving serious social statements for so long.
The tour may ultimately be judged as a last-chance dance for U2 before the band returns to smaller venues.
For that, plus the fact that the tour was so expensive to produce, many have called it a failure.
That may be true, but it's sure a beautiful failure.
-- Logan Neill, St. Pete Times. Photo by Thomas M. Goethe, St. Pete Times.
SETLIST (via U2gigs.com
I Will Follow
Even Better Than The Real Thing
Last Night On Earth
Until The End Of The World
New Year’s Day
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
All I Want Is You
Staring At The Sun
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet The Blue Sky / America (snippet)
Where The Streets Have No Name
Discothèque / Black Betty (snippet) / The Fly (snippet)
If You Wear That Velvet Dress
With Or Without You
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
Mysterious Ways / It’s Raining Men (snippet) / Can’t Stand The Rain (snippet)
Wake Up Dead Man