Sunday, February 15, 2009

Under Lincoln’s Unblinking Eyes”: U2 Welcome the Obama Era

U2 rocked the nation’s capitol as part of a pre-inauguration parade of pop stars called “We Are One.” Held under Lincoln’s statuesque presence, the daytime concert entertained thousands wrapped in winter wear and thousands more listening on the radio or watching on television. Rips of the various songs were soon available on YouTube for those of us who missed the various live broadcasts.

Away from the computer most of the weekend, I only learned of the festivities at a dinner engagement Sunday night. My friends were excited to tell me that U2 had performed, but I had to wait until Monday morning to watch the footage.

When U2’s anthem “Pride” first brought tears to my idealistic teenage eyes in 1984, I never imagined I’d watch the band perform the song on a January day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just hours before the inauguration of America’s first black president. While I believed then and now in dreaming the impossible, I never imagined this day would be possible in my lifetime.
The same chills and thrills that this song instilled in me some twenty-five years ago were writ larger than life on an epic backdrop as Bono introduced the song, first with the words “Let Freedom Ring,” and then, with the invocation: “On this spot, 46 years ago, Dr. King had a dream. On Tuesday, that dream comes to pass.”

Decked out in his standard spectacles, black boots, blue jeans, black sweater, black military overcoat, black scarf etched with text, and fingerless black gloves, Bono worked the crowd and the epic stage with his usual splendor.

During the always spine-tingling “whoa-oh” section of “Pride,” Bono inserted a speech we’d heard before about it being a universal and international dream, an African and Irish dream, with a stunningly current political addition about an Israeli and Palestinian dream.

While “Pride” was an obvious choice to honor this important occasion, the last song of the two-song set made infinite sense as well. After more reciting more snippets from the “I Have a Dream” speech to close “Pride,” Bono spoke over the familiar opening strains of “City of Blinding Lights,” addressing Obama directly:

“What a thrill for four Irish boys from the north side of Dublin to honor you sir, the next President of the United States, Barack Obama, for choosing this song to be part of the soundtrack of your campaign.”

Continuing to entrance the enormous crowd and take a promenade along the perimeters of the profound setting, Bono brought new lyrics to “Lights” early in the song. As reported by U2 fan Axver, “Its lyrics featured modifications for the occasion; in the first verse, instead of singing the ‘day-glo eyes’ line, Bono instead sang ‘America, let your road rise/Under Lincoln’s unblinking eyes/They’re advertising in the skies/For people like you.’ He also altered ‘I’m getting ready to leave the ground’ to ‘America is getting ready to leave the ground.’”

With the new U2 single “Get On Your Boots” out today, with the new tour later this year rumoring outdoor shows, the band welcomed the new world promised by this symbolic moment with a great show for the masses, with majesty, with magic.

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