BY H.L. ROGERS
Straight from Ground Zero via Madison Square Garden the boys from Dublin burst onto the stage with a message. Their customary opener “Elevation” had a different ending: This should be a “celebration, jubilation, celebration, celebration.” In a “Bad”-esque move Bono informed the crowd that tonight would be different. Tonight Providence wouldn’t rock just to rock. Tonight we were celebrating freedom and peace. Edge burst out in a Yankee’s shirt and Bono told us “No more! Wipe those tears away” in a rendition of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” that had a lot more to do with a certain Tuesday than the significant Sunday so many years ago. His voice wavered and he bowed his head, “no more, sing it no more.” From the audience he pulled an American flag (significant that he pulled the American flag out of a sea of Irish). He held it close, hugged it and sang “no more.”
U2 had a lot to celebrate. First, it was Larry’s birthday. The lead singer lead the audience in “Happy Birthday to You” and Larry walked to the front of the stage. “What is amazing is that it has taken me 40 years to stand out here and I really like it,” he said. “Good news is Bono can’t play the drums.” The band had just come from a concert where Irish-American and other New York firefighters rushed the stage. And Bono was amazed as he announced that 10,000 people a day had been calling the treasury secretary to plead for third-world debt relief. “That’s incredible after all you have been through in America that you still care about debt relief. And it’s smart because monsters like bin Laden feed off the lie that we don’t give a shit about Africa.”
The band also celebrated their place on stage. “It’s a thrill for us to be on tour in America at this point in time,” Bono declared. “People pulled together in New York and they pulled together across America.” So Bono returned the honor. He and Edge strode to the end of the heart ramp and delivered an acoustic version of “Please” dedicated to “wealthy revolutionaries — you know who I’m talking about. Those who think their ideas are more important than people.” As the song wound down they added new lyrics: “Please get up off your knees. September flying over, buildings charred to the ground, falling to the ground — and he only cares about himself.” Please, Bono begged all of us.
He had a message he wanted to deliver and the Providence Civic Center was the place he wanted to declare it. The small, 10,000-seat college hockey arena gave the band a chance to express themselves in a way that they haven’t in America for 20 years. The venue was so perfect they played an extra 40 minutes and Bono strode out into the crowd. The music, the concert and the celebration culminated with the second encore. The non-Fly, wearing a NYFD shirt, dedicated the song to a firefighter who lost his life. As the first chords of “One” weeped from Edge’s revamped guitar solo, a screen rose behind the band and listed all the people who lost their lives on the airplanes, all the police officers who died. And finally, as Bono and the Edge played a five-minute, extended, acoustic ending to “One,” all the firefighters’ names were listed — and the list just kept rolling. With every name that passed before our eyes the crowd grew more hushed. As silence reigned Bono demanded, “Don’t forget.”
And no one will. The band seemed to lose their relevancy in the ’90s when money ruled and an American-isolationist peace prevailed. The band kept singing of the violence in their country so far away. They regained their meaning last night. Finally we understood what the world was feeling — fear. But U2 didn’t play to our fears, they played to hope — they played a celebration.