U2 lack lemonU2 at the Air Canada Centre, May 24. Tickets: $35-$125. Attendance: 19,000. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
climbing onto the sparse stage with the house lights still on, the members of U2 appeared shockingly small Thursday. With no giant television screens to hide behind, they almost looked like a normal band playing a show. Almost.
The quartet's current tour is "all about the music," just four guys in jeans and T-shirts playing arenas, not football stadiums. Hell, Bono even referred to the Air Canada Centre as a club, and made a few tentative attempts to dive into the crowd, or at least onto his bodyguard's shoulder.
The reality is that U2's self-consciously irony-free tour is as staged as any of their big-budget stadium rock operas. As electrifying as it was to see the biggest band on the planet drive through songs like Bullet The Blue Sky with raw power and a minimum of flash, those moments were rare and largely restricted to older material.
Stripped of the histrionics, U2 sounded a bit exposed live, as if they'd gotten soft in the shadow of the lemon. U2 are a stadium band, and despite all their rediscovered earnestness, going back is hard.
When they were on -- like at the beginning of the set, when they strode onstage with no introduction, plugged in and began playing -- the room seemed tiny. When the novelty wore off, though, the lack of toys caught up with U2. With no remote-control cameras or Elvis karate kicks to do, a bored Bono was left running laps around the heart-shaped stage and turning vocals over to the Edge for entertainment.
It's rare that a band sounds better in a field than in a barn, but in U2's case, bigger, at least now, is better.