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U2's technically and musically impressive Zoo TV Tour is even better than the real thing

U2
Worcester Centrum.
March 13, 7:30 p.m.
By Chris Roberge
Arts Editor

Tickets for the four New England dates of U2's Zoo TV Tour were certainly hard to come by. Phone lines were overloaded for hours during the days of the tickets' release and, excluding those willing to sacrifice hundreds of dollars for scalped and auctioned seats, admission was available more to the lucky than the devoted. But the fortunate few who were able to get tickets to the show at the Worcester Centrum certainly acted like thankful worshipers of their gods of Bono, the Edge, Adam and Larry, and U2 delivered a performance that was more than worthy of all of the enthusiasm they generated.

The stage for the Zoo TV Tour was possibly the most impressive that I have ever seen. Several East German Trabant automobiles were suspended above the stage's immense floor, with light pouring onto the band from the cars' front windows and headlights. A narrow walkway extended halfway to the back of the Centrum from the main stage to a much smaller one with a floor that could barely fit all four band members. The light emanating from the cars and from several other sets of lights and lasers was used in very complex and creative ways during most of the songs. Surrounding both stages were dozens of television monitors and four large screens that helped to suggest the omnipresence of television and its images.

These images created some of the more amazing effects of the two hour-long show. After opening with a loud and frantic version of "Zoo Station," the band played an incredible version of "The Fly," accompanied by a constant barrage of words projected on each of the many screens. "Achtung," "KKK," "CBS," "Wear a condom," and other phrases flashed onto the televisions at a rate so fast that they could barely be distinguished. The intense effect created was overwhelming, as every aspect of the song's production combined into a full frontal assault on the audience's collective senses. As the song came to its end, the message on the screen became "It's your world. You can change it."

Another excellent use of the screens came in a medley performance that began with "Bad." On their latest tour, the band has decided to leave their records prior to The Unforgettable Fire untouched, and in a show that relied very heavily on Achtung Baby, (ten of the album's twelve tracks were performed at Worcester), the earlier songs such as "Bad" stood apart. The song was played beautifully, with the band bathed in blue light and shown on the monitors with enhanced video effects. "Bad" flowed very smoothly into "All I Want Is You," which was played for less than a minute before exploding into a ferocious version of "Bullet the Blue Sky." The passive images of Bono and the Edge on the screen gave way to a more arresting one of a cross filled with fire. In the middle of the wonderfully aggressive song, the fire was replaced with the vertically scrolling static of an off-line television channel.

A moving version of "Pride (In the Name of Love)" was another of the concert's highlights. Bono yelled at the mesmerized audience to "tear the roof down" as he led U2 through all of the power and intensity of the song. The usual speech that Bono delivers during "Pride" was replaced here with footage of a Marin Luther King Jr. speech shown behind the band, and the effect was strongly empowering. Of the Achtung Baby selections, the best were "The Fly," a perfect performance of "One," a terrific "Until the End of the World," and a "Mysterious Ways" that was much darker and well ... mysterious than the album version.

At one point during the concert, Bono reflected on the astonishing amount of technology surrounding him and the rest of the band, saying "The best thing about all of this sh*t is that we don't really need it." U2 then walked to the smaller stage and played a wonderfully pared down "Angel of Harlem" which was much better than the overblown Rattle and Hum version. Bono was definitely right, though. The staging, lighting, and effects helped create a Zoo TV Tour more technically impressive than any other concert that I've seen. But the show would have been nothing without the incredible musical talent of U2. They are definitely one of the world's greatest bands, and their show at the Worcester Centrum only confirmed this.