Flop Mart

U2 brings its carnival to Denver--and Denver shrugs.

That's not to say that the satire that was part and parcel of Pop Mart was a complete bust. Although the golden arch was a predictable notion, it was a striking one, and the video bank was an impressive technical innovation. Most such screens merely reproduce visuals, but this one used simulated pixilation to stunningly abstract effect. Moreover, the direction and editing was first-rate, cleverly blending graphics, animation and live shots to heighten the overall impact. Even when the music wasn't captivating--and songs like "If God Will Send His Angels" and "Staring at the Sun" sounded surprisingly flat--there was always something intriguing to watch.

Still, a concert is supposed to be about music, not architecture, and it was obvious that U2 connected best with its audience when it was spinning out the smashes. The only one that underwent substantial changes was "Bullet the Blue Sky," which was interpolated into an interesting medley with "Miami" and a few snippets of the score from West Side Story. (A light display that formed a pyramid of sorts over the field also helped make this segment memorable.) Otherwise, the biggest curveball was Bono's decision to cheer the election of Tony Blair as England's prime minister in the coda of "Pride (In the Name of Love)." Too bad it made little sense: Linking Blair, the Bill Clinton of Britain, with Martin Luther King Jr., the subject of "Pride," made about as much sense as likening me to Mahatma Gandhi because I once ate Indian food.

The denouement was equally quizzical. The players briefly left the stage, later emerging from inside the giant lemon, revealed to be an oversized mirror ball. Immediately thereafter, they played "Discotheque" on the walkway, but rather than following this superficial ditty with something similar, they went directly into "With or Without You," supposedly among the combo's most heartfelt and meaningful odes. A similar clash occurred between "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," a soundtrack offering from 1995 that sounds like off-the-cuff Duran Duran, and the finale, "One." A sober plea for love and understanding, it received a tender reading that was capped when a huge heart filled the video screen. Were we supposed to be warmed by this image or to view it as a con--just another piece of consumer crap? Probably even Bono didn't know for sure.

U2 didn't leave Denver whipped. The gig was not as popular as it might have been, but most of the people who went to it were sufficiently diverted. However, the band's immediate future looks bleak. Ticket sales in several other cities are even lower than they were here--and word of the poor turnout thus far is bound to spread, increasing the likelihood that music lovers will find other ways to spend their money. Pop Mart is limping badly and might eventually collapse under its own weight. But the consequences of this debacle could be positive. Bono could look in the mirror, realize that one of the reasons things went sour was his own egotism, and decide to make some changes. Anyway, that's what the Greeks would do.

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