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U2, Live From Outer Space: Launching the Biggest Tour of All Time

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The band was apprehensive about debuting this version in front of its less groovy American fans. On the plane from Zagreb, Mullen and Bono discuss the possibility of starting with the standard arrangement of the song and then moving to the remix, before the drummer turns to me. "It would really help," Mullen says, "if you wrote that it's one of the highlights of the show." They end up not changing a thing for the U.S., and in Chicago, the "Crazy Tonight" remix is, in fact, one of the highlights of the show, with the Edge wildly pogoing and Bono singing snippets of Sly Stone.

In the most jarring transition of the night, "Crazy Tonight" moves directly into "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which the group has effectively re-contextualized by adding footage from this summer's Iranian protests. ("We tried just using green backgrounds," says the Edge, "but it was too subtle. People thought, 'Ireland.'") Images from Iran begin to appear on the screen as Bono sings the final chorus of "Crazy": "It's not a hill/It's a mountain/As we start out the climb."

At that point, as Bono sees it, the second and more political section of the show begins. "The first act is a sort of personal narrative, about overcoming obstacles," he says. "Suddenly, from this song about hedonism and self-destruction ...  you're on the streets of Tehran. 'It's not a hill, it's a mountain/As we start out the climb' — your personal odyssey is thrown into harsh relief with what's going on in the outside world. Maybe this is how I've sorted my life — all the saddest people I knew were people focused on their own well-being. 'I, I, I, I, I, me, me, me, me.' The way I found a route out of depression, the way I found a route out of idiocy, has been the harsh juxtaposition of other lives, be they around me or in the wider world. I love that moment in the show — I really understand that feeling."

The 360° tour's sound system may be the loudest ever built — but in a surge of voices tonight in Zagreb, the crowd is somehow almost drowning it out. "Love is a temple," they sing, latching on to the line as if it's from their national anthem, "love the higher law." Standing at center stage, holding a green guitar, Bono repeats the line, his own voice shaking with sudden emotion. "We get to carry each other," he sings, tweaking the lyrics slightly to lend the lines some more syncopation: "Whether you're my sister, or whether you're my brother."

Moments later, as the Edge turns the chord progression into a keening cry and the rhythm section churns the song into something too propulsive to be a ballad, Bono has the house lights turned out and asks the crowd to take out their cellphones — a concert cliché that becomes something much larger: "Turn this place into a bigger universe," he says, and then, maybe surprising himself, starts to yell, "Turn on your own light! Your own light!" The lights blaze, a miniature galaxy of souls. The show achieves liftoff.

Bono had carefully introduced "One": "This next song means a lot of different things to a lot of different people," he said, as a Croatian translation appeared on the video screen. "Tonight we want to play it for everyone in this region who's had their warm hearts broken by cold ideas." There was a hush as the crowd took in the words, then an explosion of applause.

The next night, Bono is still thinking about those moments. "The Balkans invented a certain doggedness, a certain stubbornness," he says. "And so it would take a bitter and twisted love song like that for them to really relate to: 'Did I disappoint you?' The anger, the bile, the spleen of that song makes it OK. We're not one. We're one, but we're not the same. We are not the same. These people gave up everything over a difference. I think everybody has a different take on that song, and on a nightly basis it changes for me. I can hardly breathe when I'm singing it. I can hardly get the words out."

For the first time in my half-dozen encounters with Bono, his sunglasses are pushed up on his forehead, and his naked blue eyes are blazing with intensity — either he's still adrenalized from the shows, or that's just what they look like without the shades. He's sitting in the band's leased jet as it heads back to U2's touring home base in the South of France. This one is almost disappointingly unflashy — the back, where the band's touring staff sits, looks like a first-class section of a commercial airliner, while the front, for the band members and their families, is something like first-class-plus, with tables to sit around.

Across the aisle sits Bono's wife, Ali Hewson — striking, dark-haired, with the brown eyes that he's never stopped singing about — who is reading newspapers and eating dinner, and their two young sons, who are both curled up for naps after sprinting about backstage for most of the night while their dad did the same onstage.

"Love is a big word to be throwing around in these parts," Bono continues, building up steam, talking over the engine noise. "Carrying the badge of nonviolence, at first glance, looks well on an Irishman, but we lived 100 miles from troubles. So in a way, it was no great act of courage for us to drain the flag of color and preach nonviolence.

"It's a completely different thing if you live in Croatia or if you live in the western Balkans. These people have, within recent memory, seen just what a thin skin of civilization we had in the late 20th century. We had just made Achtung Baby and Zooropa — and people weren't only not loving their neighbors, they were torturing their neighbors. They were attaching electrical cables to their private parts and making them squeal. I would not be at all offended if somebody were to say, 'How the fuck dare you come and speak about love?'"

Bono is wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, and he's at peak tour fitness, looking a few pounds lighter than he did in January. He doesn't drink much on the road anymore, but he's not exactly an ascetic. (Later, he sheepishly admits to "an Elvis moment": stopping a motorcade rushing out of Chicago so he could get a Big Mac.) Underneath the table, his pale feet are bare — he's kicked off an extremely un-rock & roll pair of sandals.

He reaches an unexpected conclusion, making the case that his band, among the few rock superstars without Woodstock-era roots, is still driven by the best ideas of that time. In the end, maybe the spaceship is a time machine — and the destination is 1967. "You think of the Beatles and you think of 'All You Need Is Love,' and that burst of ideas, that renaissance that was the Sixties," he says. "The core of it was this idea of love, out of which came the women's movement, gay movement, anti-war movement. It was all based on this simple Judeo-Christian idea, the philosophy of having to love your neighbor, it not being advice, it being an order, an edict: 'Love your neighbor.'"

Bono smiles for the first time since he started talking about torture and hate. "It's a strange thing," he says, "when you come out with this stuff at a rock show."

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Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

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