U2 Rock Paris: Bono, Patti Smith Help City Heal at Inspiring Return Show
This was the kind of moment that Bono had been born for, dispensing self-help advice mixed with punk anger and Irish wit in a way that makes him the United Nations Special Envoy to the Power of Rock & Roll. And it was hard to see him alone on the runway that led from the stage into the crowd, surrounded by thousands of strangers, and not think of it as an act of courage. Yes, there was tight security at the arena, and yes, there were bag checks and pat-downs, but still, it had only been three weeks since 89 people had been gunned down at a concert just on the other side of town.
The show modulated between grief and anger, reconciliation and rebellion. “Grief is like a wound that never closes,” Bono said at one point. “I was 14 when my mother left me.” Then he talked about how this was the moment he met “his three mates” with whom he went on to form U2. “Rock & roll saved me,” he said, then led the band into into the quietly intimate “Cedarwood Road” before opening into the frothing sense of injustice that animate “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Raised by Wolves.” Hearing these songs, which are animated by the dark history of religious war in Ireland, it’s spooky to realize how well they speak to today’s fight against Islamic fundamentalism. Later, “Bullet the Blue Sky,” which Bono sang through a bullhorn, captured the isolation and estrangement of modern life, especially the modern life of a rock & roll superstar: “Can you see those fighter planes when you are flying in a private plane?” Bono didn’t have an answer, but at least he had the guts to ask the question.
The show reached an emotional peak with “Elevation”, when Bono hauled a black Parisian woman out of crowd and danced with her on the stage while she used an iPhone to film the moment and broadcast it around the world — a technological gesture at global unity and togetherness. Bono’s moves with the woman were just awkward and human enough to feel true (as was her fumbling with the iPhone). Throughout the show, there was perhaps a little too much messaging, a few too many moments when Bono’s between-song patter sounded like he’d sat a little too long on the lap of the late Winnie Mandela: “What do you want? A Europe with its heart open, or a Europe closed to compassion and mercy?” And: “You don’t have to become a monster to defeat a monster.” And: “Love over fear.” And: “Let’s make the future a place we want to visit.”
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