U2 pushed the creative as well as the musical envelope through much of its two-hour performance Friday at the Silver Bowl in Las Vegas. The perf ended a four-year absence from the concert circuit and kicked off the band's "PopMart" world tour by rocking the sold-out stadium with nuggets and newcomers pulled from its nine-disc repertoire.

U2 pushed the creative as well as the musical envelope through much of its two-hour performance Friday at the Silver Bowl in Las Vegas. The perf ended a four-year absence from the concert circuit and kicked off the band’s “PopMart” world tour by rocking the sold-out stadium with nuggets and newcomers pulled from its nine-disc repertoire. Though the crowd erupted most vociferously during the band’s perfs of earlier works, last heard live during its 1992-93 “ZooTV” concert run, tracks from its recently released “Pop” disc found many receptive ears.

Using technology less than a year old, a $6 million, 170-by-56-foot screen captured the onstage action and offered computerized animation so large that attendees in the cavernous venue felt as though they could reach out and touch the projected images. A center-stage, golden parabolic arch framed the band’s movements while flanked by an enormous lemon and an olive perched atop a 100-foot toothpick.

Bono underscored the Las Vegas locale to kick off the show by entering the venue like a champion prizefighter, strutting down the aisle awash in harsh white lights and cloaked in a hooded robe.

The entrance also served as a metaphor for the return of a concert industry champ, as the band’s “ZooTV” roadshow topped the industry’s annual list and, without any serious competition on the horizon for this year, the “PopMart” roadshow is expected to take the crown again.

The outing is also expected to gross more than $280 million in ticket and merchandise sales and will hatch a concert film and a live album.

Bono used the show’s opener, “Mofo,” a track off the band’s new Island Records album “Pop,” to make the most of the prizefighter motif and to fire up the crowd as he rope-a-doped his way across the stage, pumping his fist aloft while snarling the song’s lyrics.

But not until five songs into the set, when the opening strains of “(Pride) in the Name of Love” echoed through the house, did the crowd really come alive.

An unusually pristine sound quality for such a large venue carried every nuance of Bono’s vocals as he traversed the massive stage. It also permitted the riffs of guitarist the Edge to ring with surprising clarity.

Bassist Adam Clayton (sporting an orange jumpsuit and dust mask) and drummer Larry Mullen came in equally clearly.

Though the set list boasted a hefty contingent of chestnuts woven in between tracks from the new disc, the crowd responded most often during such hits as “I Will Follow” or “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” the latter an especially fitting track, as its popular video was filmed a short distance from the stadium in downtown Las Vegas nearly 10 years ago.

Bono apparently sensed the crowd’s occasional waning enthusiasm for the newer stuff and noted once, “If we get closer to you, maybe it will make you a little louder.”

But it wasn’t until after the main set ended, when the lemon transformed into a huge disco mirror ball, rose from its stageside perch and traveled over the heads of the crowd, that the magnitude of the proceedings became evident — especially when its center parted to reveal the bandmembers contained inside. They alighted onto a staircase before launching into “Discotheque,” the disc’s first single and the set’s first encore.

Show closers “One” and “Mysterious Ways” (both off the 1991 “Achtung Baby” album) fueled the hysteria further and sent the crowd home with a feeling of getting more than money’s worth.

The band plays tonight at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego and will hit the L.A Coliseum on June 21.

Opening act Rage Against the Machine powered through a nonstop 45-minute set of its booming hard-rock rap. The raw vocals and no-frills presentation of Zack De La Rocha as he thumped and gyrated on the stage kept the front-rowers interested, especially during “Bullet in the Head.”

U2; Rage Against the Machine

Sam Boyd Silver Bowl; Las Vegas; 37,118 capacity; $54.50 top

Production

Promoted by The Next Adventure. Reviewed April 25, 1997.

Cast

U2: Paul (Bono) Hewson, Dave (The Edge) Evans, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen; Rage: Zack De La Rocha, Tim Bob, Brad Wilk, Tom Morello.
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