THE MOMENT FANS STEPPED INSIDE Atlanta’s Omni Coliseum on the night of March 5, they could tell that U2, the politically correct band of the ’80s, had retooled for the ’90s. Gone were the low-tech stage sets of tours past, replaced this time by totems of the new world order. Six boxy East German Trabant cars, their headlights converted into spotlights, hung from the rafters—and symbolized, perhaps, the collapse of European Communism. Onstage, stacks of giant TV screens flashing messages such as CELEBRITY IS JUST A JOB…CALL YOUR MOTHER…WATCH MORE TV as well as live bits from the Home Shopping Network and other shows suggested the worldwide communications revolution. For part of the show, lead singer Bono, 31, performed in wraparound bug-eye sunglasses, which may have been (a) just really cool or (b) a subtle allusion to dangers posed by the Mediterranean fruit fly.
The set wasn’t the only thing that has changed about U2; the music was new too (not to mention the idea of selling $1.50 condoms that read ACHTUNG BABY to benefit an AIDS charity). Bono (Paul Hewson), guitarist the Edge (Dave Evans), 30, bassist Adam Clayton, 32, and drummer Larry Mullen Jr., 30, concentrated on music from their latest album, Achtung Baby, which has sold almost 7 million copies, and played only a sampling of past hits, including “Pride (in the Name of Love)” and “Desire.” Asked if he worried that the absence of more familiar tunes might alienate fans, Bono told MTV: “We might lose some of the pop kids, but we don’t need them.”
Bono may be right. In Lakeland, Fla., first stop on the 31-city tour, 6,000 tickets had sold out in four minutes. In Boston the flood of calls to a special toll-free ticket number for a March 17 concert temporarily knocked AT&T’s 1-800 phone system out of orbit.
“Bono is just so intelligent,” gushed Rebecca Largent, 21, who drove six hours from Mississippi to the Atlanta concert. “This is real music that you’ll be able to look back on in 20 years and say, ‘Yes, I like this.’ ”