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Wednesday, May 7, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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U2 -- Eugene Was Cold, But Once The Band Warmed Up, The Fifth Concert In The `Pop Mart Tour' Was Hot

Seattle Times Staff Critic

-------------- Concert review --------------

U2 and Rage Against the Machine, last night at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.

EUGENE, Ore. - Only the fifth performance in a world tour of more than 100 dates, last night's U2 show here in Autzen Stadium qualified as part of the "Pop Mart Tour" shakedown cruise.

That may have been why it took the band a good half-dozen songs to hit its stride. Or maybe it was the chilly winds blowing across the Oregon Ducks' venerable football field, which had all four U2 men bundled up.

When Bono and company did find their groove, all the hype and publicity overkill attached to the launching of this huge tour fell away and the magic experience of a great concert took over.

Forget the world's biggest video screen. Forget the giant lemon-shaped mirror ball and the huge olive atop the four-story swizzle stick. They're fun and amusing, but who needs gimmicks when you've got a showman like Bono and a great guitarist like the Edge?

The best moments in U2's nearly 2 1/2-hour set weren't in the big, extravagant, showy numbers but in the quiet, yes even intimate moments, and when they cut loose and rocked like days of old.

When Bono finally warmed up, after a listless "Pride (In the Name of Love)," the fifth song in the set, he doffed his hooded black sweatshirt and went to work, transforming "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" into a tender prayer, ending with a soft falsetto solo.

"Until the End of the World" had Bono and the Edge trading vocal and guitar improvisations, quoting the Doors and Led Zeppelin. "If God Will Sent His Angels," from the new "Pop" album, actually created a quiet sense of intimacy in the huge stadium. "Staring at the Sun," also from the new album, compared favorably with such U2 classics in the set as "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "With Or Without You." But the best song of the night was the aching "Please," which Bono poured his heart and soul into.

It was wonderful seeing Bono as himself again, rather than as a character like the Fly or MacPhisto, personas in past tours. He was totally in his element, strutting and toying with umbrella and bowler during "Bullet the Blue Sky," bopping cooly to "Discotheque" and menacingly prowling the stage during "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me."

Creative use was made of an auxiliary stage jutting out from the right of the main stage. And the visuals and light effects - especially the bright beacons shone into the starry sky - were awesome.

But in the end it came down to the songs and how they were performed, and that's what made the concert memorable.

When the tour finally makes its way to the Kingdome Dec. 12, it will probably have taken on some new dimensions, or been transformed in some way. But as long as U2 remains true to the music, the show will remain as fresh as it was last night.

Here in Eugene, the show was opened with a tight, powerful, energizing set by Rage Against the Machine, a young group with a radical leftist political stance. The opening act for Seattle has not yet been announced.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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