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“Like everyone else in L.A., I have a screenplay,” Bono told the sold-out crowd at the Orpheum Theatre Sunday night for Stories of Surrender, a combination one-man autobiographical show and stripped-down U2 tour (minus his three bandmates) in support of his new memoir, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story.
The line drew a big laugh from the crowd. But were he being serious — and Bono’s life story is certainly as worthy of the rock biopic treatment as Freddie Mercury’s or Elton John’s — then he came to the right the place. Among the adoring fans were J.J. Abrams, Colin Farrell, Sean Penn, Rita Wilson (husband Tom Hanks caught the Nov. 2 tour opener at New York City’s Beacon Theatre), and Cindy Crawford and her tequila-magnate spouse Rande Gerber, to name a few of the Hollywood movers and shakers in attendance.
By 7:45 p.m., a line to gain entry snaked down Broadway and around 9th Street — a process slowed down by Bono’s insistence that every phone be locked away in a Yondr pouch. Once inside, every attendee was handed a hardcover copy of his book. Fans who paid $250 to see their idol perform in a 2,000-seat theater (resale tickets went as high as ten times that price) buzzed around the lobby, including Marc Maron, who waited patiently in line at the bar.
A little after 8:30 p.m., Bono took the stage by launching into a rendition of “City of Blinding Lights” from the 2004 U2 album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Bono, in strong voice, was backed by cellist Kate Ellis; harpist, keyboard player, and backing vocalist Gemma Doherty; and U2 producer Garrett “Jacknife” Lee on keyboards and percussion. The audience jumped to its feet and sang along.
Yes, Bono can sing and can command the farthest reaches of a stadium behind a pair of bug-eyed sunglasses. That’s pretty much a given at this point. But did we know he could act?
It turns out the Dublin-born rocker is a gifted actor, as, over the course of the two-hour performance, he embodied bandmates Larry Mullen Jr., the Edge and Adam Clayton; his droll, withholding father (whom he calls “Da”); Princess Diana (who easily wins Da over); and — in the most amusing running joke of the evening — a very-eager-to-collaborate Luciano Pavarotti.
Through it all, Bono revealed a new side of the rock star we thought we knew. The evening is book-ended by two deaths: The shocking loss of his mother from an aneurysm in his youth; and the loss of his father to cancer many years later, after he has achieved massive worldwide fame and the two finally began to find common ground.
All that Bono bravado, it turns out, is just the product of a boy trying to get his father’s approval.
By the end of the evening, Bono captivated the Orpheum with many of U2’s smash hits — “With or Without You,” “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Where the Streets of Have No Name,” to name just a few.
But it was his show-closing performance of the Neapolitan song “Torna a Surriento” — famously recorded by Pavarotti and beloved by his Da — that stirred the heartstrings most. It was a pop star-turned-maestro moment that evoked the 1998 Grammys when Aretha Franklin stepped in for an ailing Pavarotti to perform a “Nessun Dorma” for the ages.
The Orpheum performance marked the final North American date for the tour, which picks up again for its European leg at the London Palladium on Nov. 16.
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