I really wasn’t expecting much from this latest concert video from U2. After all, I found their previous two albums Zooropa and Pop to be experimental blunders (to put it mildly) that signaled the beginning of the end of a once great band. Their subsequent world tours for each of these albums were even more disappointing–and I love huge, over-the-top stadium spectacles as much as the next fool, but come on guys! In 2000, U2 released All That You Can’t Leave Behind, an album that would have made a perfect follow up to 1987’s The Joshua Tree,
and is definitely their best since 1991’s Achtung Baby. This is a good
thing, because Elevation 2001 features seven songs from that album, and their is hardly a weak one in the bunch. The Elevation 2001 tour was basically the anti-Popmart tour. Gone are the enormous sets, giant props, and ridiculous costumes. Back is U2 the rock band, with an arsenal of great songs, and a desire to get very intimate with their fans again.
Elevation 2001 was filmed on 6 June 2001 at the Fleet Center, in
Boston. This would be the 40th show of their tour, which included a dry run of the immense recording task during the previous night’s Fleet Center concert. This was superbly documented in the special features section of the disk. By
the time of the second night’s show, most of the bugs had been ironed out and we are left with a remarkable document of a band that has recaptured their power and charm.
The show starts brilliantly with a hypnotic, black and white, slow-motion
view of the band members making their way from the back of the stage to their
positions onstage. Bono is last, of course, and his entrance is shown through
the vantage point of a "spy-cam" that was fitted to his glasses. The
stadium is completely lit up at this point, the crowd is going bananas, and
thousands of flash bulbs are going off. As Bono kicks off the opening song "Elevation", the picture changes to color, and the music changes from a subdued recording of the song, to the roaring live performance. About midway through the song, in perfect unison with a monster power chord from The Edge, the arena lights go dark, and the brilliant stage lighting takes over.
The stage is augmented by a heart-shaped catwalk which extends out around the first several rows of the crowd, surrounding a few hundred blessed fans. The light show is not overly extravagant, consisting mostly of solid, whitish colored spotlights, some strobes, and a bright, ever-changing backdrop. There are four huge screens above the stage, with one dedicated exclusively to each band member. The manner in which this concert is filmed, the configuration of the stage, and Bono’s performance make this one of the most intimate arena concerts I have ever seen. The "this is what it was like to be there" factor has never been captured so well. The multitude of cameras were expertly placed (such as cameramen down in the crowd) to give a perfect perspective of being inside the catwalk. The "spy-cam" fitted to Bono’s glasses showed just how much the crowd was right on top of the band with this particular stage setup.
Almost every song performance was great and had something worth mentioning, but I will only highlight some of my favorite moments. "Elevation" kicked things off incredibly, with the fantastic lead in, followed by an intense, rocking performance. Right away you realize that they have dispensed of all the bullshit involved with the Popmart tour, and are ready to show that they are still a great live band. The first half of the show features mostly songs from the All That You Can’t Leave Behind album,
but also mixes in some of their oldest material including "I Will Follow" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday". I was not previously familiar with a lot of the new songs, but they went over surprisingly well along side the classics. I never felt the urge to use the chapter skip button. U2‘s excellent performance of "Bad" took me right back to my high school days when I used to fall asleep to The Unforgettable Fire album after working my graveyard shift job every weekend. "Bad" indeed. The true highlight of the concert was the stirring transition from that song to "Where the Streets Have No Name", in which the crowd was chanting along with Bono as if at a religious revival. It was as if these songs were made to be played back to back in this fashion.
Things only continued to get better here on out as Bono stalked the stage with a powerful, hand-held spotlight during an intense "Bullet The Blue Sky", picking out innocent audience members along the way. "With
Or Without You" was the most moving version I have ever heard. Bono picks a star-struck young lady out from the audience and sings most of the song while they are lying side-by-side on their backs. He continually makes it more
personal for her by holding her in his arm, and eventually facing and singing
the song to her. The astonished girl is moved to tears when Bono gently
kisses her and helps her back to her place in the crowd at the end of the song.
The pace picks right back up with a phenomenal performance of "The Fly", which has Bono sprinting laps around the stage, amazingly never seeming to lose his breath while singing. He even jumps down into the crowd for a few bars, and eventually impales himself on the giant backdrop like a splattered fly on a windshield. The concert ended the same way it started, with a great song from the new album. "Walk On" was a majestic and uplifting performance that closed out the show beautifully.
The set list may not be very satisfying to many longtime U2 fans, which is quite understandable. I was rather disappointed myself the first time I watched this DVD. Classic albums such as Boy, War, and The Unforgettable Fire are only represented here by one song each, while the new album gets seven. People who attended the actual Fleet Center show on June 6th have reported that additional songs, such as "Mysterious Ways", "Pride", and "One" were also performed, but for whatever reason never made it on the DVD. It all really comes down to how much you like All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which will determine whether you absolutely love or just simply like Elevation 2001.
The production of this DVD is equally as impressive as the performance. You get a thunderous PCM stereo track that sounds phenomenal, but it just sounds like a phenomenal CD. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is equally impressive, but brings you more of the live concert experience. The bass mix is very aggressive and will give your subwoofer plenty of exercise. The music is mixed exceptionally well across the front soundstage, while the rear channels are used predominantly for crowd noise. The instruments maintain adequate separation and sound very crisp. The video had a high definition look to it and there were no major noticeable problems, with the exception of the occasional blurry shot. The camera work was some of the best I have ever seen. Their were tons of unique camera angles used that gave you perspectives from every corner of the arena, as well as what each band member is experiencing. The lack of a widescreen transfer was a disappointment, but this was still a very satisfying presentation.
Their were loads of special features on this two disk set highlighted by an excellent 24 minute "making of the making of " segment that showed all that goes into the production and recording of something this huge. Also included is a six minute time-lapse segment of the setup and teardown of the show, several multi-angle song presentations, and a few bonus tracks.
Admittedly, I had gotten a little sick of U2 during the last decade or so. Between terrible albums and excessively gaudy world tours, Bono was busy incessantly cruising the globe with every unlikely politician, in is effort to rid the world of all its injustices. He came across to me as the typical liberal, multi-millionaire crusader who was out of touch with the average Joe who makes up most of his fan base. After seeing him recently in an interview with Bill O’Reilly, I changed my mind about him. He came across as very down-to-earth and sincere, which is exactly what the Elevation 2001 concert was. I am a fan again.
Until the End of the World
Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
I Will Follow
Sunday Bloody Sunday
In a Little While
Stay (Faraway, So Close)
Where the Streets Have No Name
Bullet the Blue Sky
With or Without You
Wake Up Dead Man
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