This tour has been a bit of a love fest," says U2 frontman Bono, sounding genuinely humbled and slightly surprised that a tour by one of the most celebrated bands in the world in support of one of its most acclaimed albums in years would generate any sort of affection at all. "I've nearly wept reading some of the reviews of the shows, they've been so effusive." He pauses and smiles. "It's just great being in this band at this minute."
There have certainly been other great moments to be in U2 over the course of the past two decades. The band's previous outing, the Popmart tour--when the boys from Dublin appeared in a huge onstage lemon and got pelted by (metaphorical) rotten fruit by critics in the U.S.--probably wasn't one of them. But their latest CD, All That You Can't Leave Behind, which was released last October, went to No. 1 in 32 countries, won the band three Grammys and helped spark an acclaimed, sold-out tour. Building on the fresh momentum, U2 is gearing up for a new series of U.S. shows this fall. Forget the lemons. This time the band is making lemonade.
With the new album and tour, U2 has left behind the techno trappings of 1997's Pop for straight-on, earthy, lusty rock 'n' roll. "Our last albums were in a way deconstructing what a band was about," explains drummer Larry Mullen. "It's great to be playing as a real band again." U2 is also excited about being able to connect with an audience in an intimate way again. "People have been coming to U2 shows for 20 years now. It's almost like the Deadheads at this stage," explains bassist Adam Clayton. "People realize that it's about them as well as us."
It's also about politics. What's most surprising about U2's comeback is that the band hasn't toned down its idealism to fit today's junk-rock, glam-rap times. In fact, the performers have amped it up. During the North American leg of the Elevation tour, the band showed footage of Charlton Heston defending his views on firearms followed by stark footage of a small child playing with a gun and violent scenes from Vietnam as a sarcastic introduction to the song Bullet the Blue Sky. The new album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, takes its title from a song dedicated to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Burmese resistance leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and the liner notes urge fans to remember victims of Sierra Leone rape and war crimes and to support Amnesty International, Greenpeace and the children's charity War Child. These aren't topics you'll hear addressed at, say, a Limp Bizkit show.