TAMPA — On an otherworldly stage that looked as if it could snack on the Death Star, and in front of more than 70,000 screaming, singing, stinking fans, four middle-aged dudes from Dublin once again gave us ample reason to unload hosannas and hyperbole.
Life-affirming. Transcendent. Just when we needed "em most.
Was U2's record-setting show at Raymond James Stadium on Friday perfect? Nope. Was it the best local show of the year? Maybe, maybe not.
But therein lies the magic of Bono & Co. They don't do concerts. Oh no, my brethren: They host revivals, rallies. They excel at rock and redemption, pop and proselytizing. Merchants of possibility, they gave out great gobs of hits and hope at a time when paying the electric bill is a contact sport.
Over the course of 22 songs — and in front of the largest crowd ever at RayJay (more than the Super Bowl's 70,000, Bono announced) — U2 blended intimacy and arrogance, their preferred cocktail. They uncorked sing-along spirituals (I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For) while standing upon the most shameless stage to ever tour the world. Dubbed "the Claw," and featuring a 54-ton hi-def video screen, the strobing, shifting contraption stretched from the 50-yard line to the end zone — and some 165 feet into the air.
"You have a pirate ship," the 49-year-old Bono deadpanned, pointing to the Bucs infamous seacraft. "We," he added after a perfect pause, "have a spaceship."
The band's latest album is the totally mediocre No Line on the Horizon. But the guys love the new stuff as much as they love themselves, so a half-dozen new cuts were shoehorned into the set list, including ho-hum kickoff tunes Breathe and Get on Your Boots. Did they snuff the buzz? A little.
But U2's not-so-secret weapon is The Edge, who just doesn't abide by bathroom-break songs. The guitarist's ringing, chiming licks and effects-pedal derring-do made average stuff soar (Magnificent, Vertigo) and great stuff move us — okay, me — to tears (Beautiful Day, Until the End of the World).
Of course, it also helped that this was the best-sounding stadium show I've ever heard. The Claw may look like a steroidal cactus, but man, that's one sweet-sounding cactus.
U2 built its set list with slow-build strength, and when drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton counted off the jackbooted beat of Sunday Bloody Sunday, you knew things were about to get really good. In a strangely mellow mood all night, Bono let the music do his most of his speechifying. A plea for civil rights was handled with a merging of MLK and Walk On. For the latter, the runway was awash with people sporting paper masks of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader.
The show closed with the new, and rather turgid, Moment of Surrender. But by then, U2 had us floating on our way to the packed parking lot, the traffic-choked road. Let the hosannas and hyperbole commence.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.