On December 19, Portland hosted the last show of U2's Vertigo tour in the USA . I was struck by a comparison of the two: U2, the most politically active rock band in the world, and Portland, the most politically active city in America. There's no other city where Bono's message should get a better reception.
And the message was heard loud and clear.
U2 knows what they're doing. We had thirty minutes of a good rock show before Bono started talking with the audience. Like any good rabble rouser, he knew we had to get warmed up before we'd start to listen. The song Vertigo rocked particularly hard, with red lasers chasing each other Tron-style around the elongated runway into the audience and Bono giving it all up for the "Feeeeel" shouts. The song got the crowd up on its feet and ready to follow the band anywhere they wanted to take us.
The first couple of "shouts out" weren't quite what I was expecting for a call out to the progressive values we all shared. A thank you to Father Paul Allen for use of his hall, and a thanks to Danielle for finding some lost lyrics.
But about halfway through the show, Bono started talking more, and the crowd enthusiastically threw back cheers and shouts of support for everyone he name-checked except for one: Phil Knight.
When I got home, I did some research, because I was one of the Nike boo-ers. Turns out Nike has been moving in the right direction: they became the first apparel company to release a list of all their factories in their 2004 corporate social responsibility report.
So Bono did well. Then they went back to the music, slowing down a little to get some ballads in, make us all a little more reflective.
Once we were all sitting down again, they brought out the big guns, pulling us to our feet and remembering why we all liked U2. The next song, they said, was for America now, not Ireland . We were warned "Don't become a monster to defeat a monster" and then they kicked into a full strength Sunday Bloody Sunday.
It was the beginning of a string of political songs, with extended instrumentals so Bono could talk to the crowd. He explained the story of Miss Sarajevo, a beauty contest held in the middle of the Bosnian war with women marching down the street in ball gowns asking "Do you really want to kill us" and went on to sing the part that was originally performed by Pavarotti. I had no idea Bono could do a proper tenor. Then he tied it back to America with Bullet the Blue Sky and Pride (in the name of love), U2's eulogy to Martin Luther King Jr.
Each song Bono talked a little more in between songs, and their video show started to support what he was saying until finally he had us where he wanted us. We'd been up and down, shaken and stirred and now we were ready to listen, so he told us about One, the organization encouraging us one person at a time to end poverty and fight global AIDS.
With the band still playing quietly he asked the audience to take out their cell phones and hold them up in the dark. The whole arena was lit up in the ghostly pale blue, "like a 21 st century Christmas tree" said Bono.
"These things can be dangerous. Capable of great evil, or great good. For example, right now you can text your name to 86483 to show your support for One."
It's hard to tell how texting a number to Bono will change American foreign policy. But as Bono told us a couple of times, "this stuff works," and he was right about Phil Knight.
Finally, Bono thanked the people I was listening for, Portland's Mercy Corps. He noted their good works across the world, and thanked them for the work they're doing in Pakistan.
Bono did go a little overboard at one point, blindfolding himself with a Justice headband and wriggling and writhing on the stage for a while, which actually looked fairly silly, but I think he's just trying any angle he can to get his message across to people.
Suddenly it was a rock show again, as if the band knew exactly how long we'd listen to the politics before we wanted to sing along again. Where the Streets Have No Name was the last song of the regular set, then my favorite U2 song Until the End of the World started a full 30 minutes of encores including Instant Karma and Merry Christmas to finish the evening and indeed the North American leg of the tour.
Bono's goal is simply to get people involved anyway he can, one person at a time. For the rest of the evening, the names of people who had texted were displayed on U2's giant video screens. It did bring the idea of getting involved a little closer to home, that if your name can be seen by 5000 people at a rock show, maybe you can be do something outside the arena as well.