The second-to-last song on U2's masterful new album is called "New York," and it's about a man in a midlife crisis writes Megan Turner at NYPOST.COM.
The second-to-last song on U2's masterful new album is called "New York," and it's about a man in a midlife crisis drawn to the city's cacophony of noise and chaos.
"In New York, freedom looks like too many choices," Bono sings on "All That You Can't Leave Behind," his voice full of weariness and urgency. The song's a world away from the idealistic tunes U2 sang when they burst on the scene out of Dublin in 1980.
In reality, the members of U2 can't get enough of our buzz-infused capital, where they'll play two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden tonight and Tuesday.
"To play in the heart of the Big Apple is always an amazing thing to do - the atmosphere is astonishing," guitarist the Edge told The Post from Boston, in between scarfing down a plate of blackened salmon and taking the stage at the Fleet Center there.
"We always find it a thrill to get back to New York - if you can make it there ..., as they say. And, musically, so many of our early influences were New York bands."
The Edge, 39, says the downtown scene that revolved around punk mecca CBGBs and included bands like Television, the Ramones and Richard Hell and the Voidoids had an enormous impact on him, Bono, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr.
This was in 1976, when they first started gigging together as the schoolboy band Feedback.
"As well as the bands that influenced us, some of our favorite bands come from New York - Blondie, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith," says the Edge.
Those early influences are even more evident on "All That You Can't Leave Behind," which critics agree is a return to classic, old-school U2.
The band spent 18 months recording the follow-up to 1997's "Pop," knowing that the stakes were high. As Bono, 41, is fond of saying, the band was re-applying for the job of best band on the planet.
After the relatively disappointing sales of "Pop," on which they flirted with irony and used the loops and samples of dance music, the band opted for a bare-bones approach, reclaiming their unadulterated rock-and-roll roots.
"Initially, I felt that it would be difficult for U2 to be relevant," Bono told The Post. "The only way to puncture the indifference out there toward rock bands was to make each song a single.
"This was no time to waffle, no time for art. That was the only way we could deal with the competition. At times we feel these are the best songs we've ever written.
"I hope it's a soulful record, but it's also a rock record. I always like to say, 'It kicks ass.'"
The fans agreed. "All That You Can't Leave Behind" - U2's 10th studio album - debuted at No. 1 in 32 countries when it was released in October. Rolling Stone dubbed it the group's third "masterpiece" - along with "The Joshua Tree" and "Achtung Baby." The album's top-selling single, "Beautiful Day," won the group three Grammy Awards.
"Probably the biggest surprise for me over the last 12 months was winning at the Grammys," the Edge says. "The music scene is dominated right now by a lot of highly polished pop music. Some I think is actually OK, a lot of it is not particularly good.
"I think maybe why 'Beautiful Day' made such an impact was that it stood out as so different from what is going on. The sound of a rock-and-roll band playing together is like nothing else."
The Elevation 2001 Tour - which kicked off in Sunrise, Fla., in March - supports the stripped-down approach of the new album. Although the group is hardly back to playing clubs, this is the closest the mega-band is likely to come to giving an intimate performance.
It's certainly a far cry from the last time U2 hit the road four years ago.
The "PopMart" tour, an overblown circus of cynicism and tongue-in-cheek egomania, alienated many loyal fans, who didn't get the irony of the excessive commercialism - the giant McDonald's arches on stage and the decision to hold the kick-off press conference in a Kmart.
"I know a lot of people didn't warm to it, which is fair enough," the Edge says.
"But I can't say we didn't fulfill our vision. Going into the huge stadiums seemed inevitable since demand for U2 tickets was so huge, but so many events in stadiums tend to be disappointing because the scale disallows what you expect in a rock-and-roll show.
"We were attempting to create something that made sense in the huge stadiums we were playing, and I think we did succeed."
But surely the demand for U2 tickets has not diminished since then?
"It has slightly, but it's more that we've actually just ignored the demand," he says. "We will play for as long as we feel comfortable, playing no more than four shows in any one city.
"We have in the past occasionally done upwards of 10 shows in a city, but it completely alters the whole thing of playing on the road. It turns it into more of a day job."
The Edge says the band would need to play 20 shows in New York to even begin to satisfy all the fans here. But he adds that they may add more shows to the tour in the fall, meaning a certain return to New York.
At the moment, the band is finding touring "thrilling" and "inspiring," according to the Edge.
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