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Who wants to hear a bedtime story? On the evening of Nov. 4, 2000, at 11:55 p.m., in a dubious nightclub on a shadowy corner in the southern soul of the city of Philadelphia, U2 mattered again for one short, sweet moment.
That’s right: I said, “U2.” And “mattered.” And “dubious nightclub”which, to tell you the ‘fess-up truth, was actually a swanky, skanky strip joint at which I got completely lit on sickening-sweet test-tube shots with ridiculous nail-polish names, then managed to thoroughly piss off a bouncer/kitchen appliance with feet who looked like Hawk from Spenser: For Hire.
But hold on: This isn’t some naughty, frattish yarn drenched in strategically placed glitter and errant dollar bills. No, not at all. Because within this tawdry tavern of toplessness there occurred a galvanizing musical fairy tale. Yes, indeed: In this strobing, flashing, throbbing monument to girls! girls! girls! and sourly betrothed CPAsa place the conventioneers call Delilah’sBono & Co., for a mere four minutes and six seconds (or exactly one lap dance), managed to turn the guilty-pleasure palace into a den of deliverancenot to mention make themselves relevant for the first time in nine confused-identity years.
And miracle of miracles, there I was, drunkenly toasting the pending nuptials of my good friend Chris. Stuffed on obligatory Geno’s cheesesteaks, Chris’ 10-man bachelor partymade up mostly of nerdy married guys and nervous soon-to-be-fathers awkwardly shaking off their cobwebsshowed up at Delilah’s around 11:30 p.m. We were much more concerned with imbibing mass quantities and trying to pull off coolly disinterested airs than doing anything truly wicked with our walletswhich is not to say we weren’t appreciating the entertainment, because, well, SportsCenter wasn’t flashing scores on the big screen.
But ephemeral forgiveness for our sins was right around the corner, in the form of a 20-year-old rock band fading fast: Twenty-five minutes after our arrivalright around the time I was offered another chance at an $8 Budweiserwas when it happened. After enjoyinh the final few whip cracks of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”and fully anticipating a followup tune from the Mötley Crüe oeuvreI was suddenly awash in the echoing, synth-pop keybs of a strangely familiar, although entirely unstripperish tune. (OK, a little dramatic setup before the big finale: Before stepping inside Delilah’s, I had yet to hear a single note from U2’s new album. However, because I subscribe to both Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone, it was impossible for me to ignore the tsunami of slobbery hype ordaining All That You Can’t Leave Behind as the final piece to the troika of masterpieces also comprising 1987’s The Joshua Tree and 1991’s Achtung Baby.)
Just as a thick, weathered voice whispered the opening lyrics of the song”The heart is a bloom/Shoots up through the stony ground” (wait, I know that poet…)the full-bodied blonde parading on the catwalk a few feet in front of me brought her stilettos to a pause, grew a goofy grin on her tanned, tired face, and shouted to the rafters: “This is U2’s new song! I love this song!”
And with that exclamation, she let her black-gloved hands float into the smoke-swirled airwaiting, waiting, waiting for Larry Mullen’s initial explosion of jackhammer drums and the Edge’s unforgettably fiery guitar line and Bono’s unfettered wail of what-the-hell happiness: “It’s a beautiful day/Don’t let it get away”and wiggled a nothing-sexual shimmy of pure joythe most original thing anyone, Greil Marcus or otherwise, has “said” about U2’s effect on the musical universe in nearly a decade.
But then it got even better: Within seconds, it wasn’t just the blonde who was aglow with U2phoria. It was as if Bono, donning the chain-smoking, murky-past preacher guise he cast off back where the streets have no name, had bathed the entire place in a blissful penance. The creepy raincoats hugging the club’s walls perked up to see the rest of the dancers abandoning their sultry struts and joining in the center-stage celebration. The bartenders, barely dressed (but still dressed) women either too old or too shy to take to the scuffed stage, laughed at their bedollared sisters cutting loose, and G-tucked a few playful bucks themselves. Hell, even a grinning Hawk was bobbing his smooth pate (and this guy was definitely not a frequent bobber).
Just like yesterday, Bono, the Edge, Mullen, and bassist Adam Clayton were once again the high priests of the rock ‘n’ roll universe; just like yesterday, they were uniting saints and sinnerswith or without clothesand forgiving our trespasses and ill-spent paychecks. Sure, outside Delilah’s, U2’s fan count has dwindled by millions, and the current tastemakers and trendsetters are all younger than the band. But inside Delilah’s? Well, inside it was just like that goddamn video from the late ’80s where Bono’s strutting around the neon-sprayed sidewalks of Vegas hugging the good, the bad, and the ugly.
In fact, the club’s unseen DJ could have played pretty much anything from the uplifting and ultimately satisfying All That You Can’t Leave Behind and achieved the same jubilant reaction. Unlike such cool-sounding but emotionally dead efforts as 1993’s Zooropa and 1997’s Pop, the new disc (produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, the wonderboys who worked the soundboards for The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby) unapologetically revisits the schmaltzy, easy-access pop gloss of yesteryear. Bono has gone back to singing about L-O-V-E in all its bittersweet incarnations, and he’s set aside political gripes for some feel-good proselytizing (although the lovely “One”-ish “Walk On” is dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who’s been under virtual house arrest in Burma since 1989). And after trying so hard to make his guitar sound like anything but a guitar for a good part of the ’90s, the Edge has returned to his old MO, setting the groundwork for each of the 11 songs with epic, hard-driving six-string lines that are both manipulative and, ultimately, irresistible.
And at least the band was smartand commercially savvyenough to rework the best of the old stuff. “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” is a hands-across-the-universe swayfest that borrows from “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “Wild Honey” features the Stonesian shuffle beat, sweet acoustic base, and lusty sentiment of “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses.” Although Lanois’ ambient roots-rock sound dominates most of the album, Eno’s trippy influence resounds in fuzzier numbers like the hard-thumping “Elevation”very Achtung, babyand the intricately layered “New York,” which features one of Bono’s most intensely primal outbursts. And almost all the songs are centered around brilliant, hold-your-breath bridgesa U2 trademark no matter what genre the boys are trying outthat inevitably lead to the band’s bigger, stronger, faster climaxes.
For the next hour or so, Christina Aguilera and Limp Bizkit and the Beastie Boys and the Offspring all had a chance to shine on the strip joint’s sound system, but no songnot even the bings, beeps, and whistles of U2’s own “Discothèque” (from muddled soft-techno attempt Pop)had such a mood-altering reaction as “Beautiful Day.” Under the throbbing roof of Delilah’s, U2, with the first single from the most certainly single-rich All That You Can’t Leave Behind, had somehow conjured an illuminating T&A time warp, allowing all in attendance to momentarily forget where they wereand fondly remember where they’d been. CP