Daily Mail

If Bono still hasn’t found what he’s looking for, what chance for the rest of us?

Our writer has a ringside seat at the U2 star’s new one-man show in which — with surprising humility — he explores the tragedies that shaped him

- from Jan Moir

Even if you love Bono, how much of the earnest minutiae of his personal life can you take along with every cough of the tortured early progress of U2, chapter, verse and occasional aria on his problemati­c relationsh­ip with his father; plus what he had for his tea when he was a latchkey schoolkid growing up in Dublin?

Smash instant mashed potatoes and baked beans, if anyone is interested, which he mixed up together and ate straight from the saucepan.

Anyway, it is a question the great man himself is pondering. ‘It is prepostero­us to think that others might be as interested in you as you are in yourself,’ he says onstage at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday night. ‘It takes navel-gazing to another level.’

This from someone who has just published Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story — a thumping memoir, which runs to nearly 600 pages, complete with personally penned doodles and his own photo caption comments (‘Posing came easily to some of us’).

The list of thank yous includes one to celebrated Irish author edna O’Brien who,

He examines his own psyche and comes close to tears

at the age of 91, was dragooned into reading some early chapters. That’s so Bono! Like getting Delia Smith to critique his freshly made toast.

The book — surprising­ly humble in parts — has been a smash hit, topping the bestseller lists on both sides of the Atlantic.

The LA performanc­e was the last of Bono’s American shows before his solo Stories Of Surrender tour to support the book opens in the UK, with the first date at the London Palladium tomorrow night.

‘This is a bit surreal, but like everyone who arrives in Hollywood I have a screenplay I want you to look at,’ he says at one point, hinting to the LA audience of plans for a film of the show of the book of the life that everyone has come here to celebrate. There is no escape! But if Bono still hasn’t found what he is looking for, what chance is there for the rest of us?

For fans, this is a once- in- a- lifetime opportunit­y to see their hero perform in a small theatre rather than the usual gigantic stadiums. He is every inch the sixtysomet­hing rock star: thinning hair of unnatural hue slicked back with sleazy glamour, his look accessoris­ed with silver hoop earrings and the peach-tinted glasses that he wears to mitigate his glaucoma.

He prowls around the stage in a Showaddywa­ddy dinner jacket with satin lapels, his matching low- cut waistcoat revealing bare cleavage.

From my seat in the mezzanine I’m close enough to see the sprout of his chest hair, while he is close enough to hear the shouts from excitable fans — which he ignores.

He still does that crazy ‘climbing up an invisible ladder’ dance; he still moves around the stage on those sturdy little legs — knees weaving, bum bobbing. It’s the traditiona­l Bono boogie.

The big revelation is his voice. Stripped free of the U2 backing bombast, it is thunderous­ly powerful and affecting.

Fans attending the UK dates can expect a theatrical experience and not a concert, despite the trio of musicians — harpist, cellist and keyboardis­t — who accompany him on the dozen or so pareddown versions of U2 songs that he sings to narrate his biography.

In marked contrast to the grandiosit­y and scale of U2 shows, here the lights are low; the bare stage is dressed with only a few chairs; while Bono’s sketches and doodles, sometimes animated, are projected on to screens above his head.

The most fervent fans keep giving him standing ovations, although he does not encourage this. At one point he plays a recording of U2 roaring into the swelling, intense intro of Pride, one of their biggest hits.

‘We want more,’ shouts someone from the stalls, but Bono just carries on talking. He reads his lines, passages of prose lifted straight from Surrender, from teleprompt­ers scattered around the stage. He grimaces through the occasional technical glitch.

‘I think we might need a bit of harp for this tragic part,’ he says when we return once more to the central theme of his life, his book and this show: the death of his mother and his problemati­c relationsh­ip with his father, Bob.

For much of his life, Bono tried and failed to impress Bob or evoke his praise or interest. even when he became a big star, Bono was always waiting for the acknowledg­ement of his talent that never came.

‘You are very profession­al,’ was the best Bob could muster. ‘So I sang louder and louder,’ says Bono, in one oddly moving moment. ‘I sang my way to right in front of you.’

Weaving a narrative through U2 classics such as Sunday Bloody Sunday, Where The Streets Have no name and Beautiful Day, Bono traces his biography from his oppressive childhood home in the Dublin suburbs, where he is overwhelme­d with grief following the sudden death of his mother, Iris.

Bob uses what his son calls ‘the Irish method’ to cope with their sadness — they never talk about it.

We glide through the formation of the band that made him a global celebrity; his emergency heart surgery; his enduring marriage to Alison Stewart, his school sweetheart and the woman who made him ‘a better man’ and gave him four children.

‘She saved me from myself; she saved my life by seeing through the me to me,’ he says, before singing With Or Without You — a poignant public declaratio­n of a husband’s love. For 90 minutes, without a break, Bono examines his own psyche and even comes close to tears on a few occasions.

Yet there is no mistaking the flickering weirdness of this bounty of Bono, if you stop to think about it. Why are we even here? I still don’t know.

Upon arrival at the theatre, everyone is given a free copy of Surrender, which lends an oddly religious air to proceeding­s. Fans wander the aisles clutching their copies, as if attending Bono Bible class — which, in a way, is exactly what we are doing.

In the foyer, queues form for Bono T-shirts ($45) and Bono tote bags ($35), while quite a few men are wearing woolly beanies to signify their worship of The edge, U2’s guitarist.

Before the show begins, we have to put our phones into locked pouches, photograph­y and filming are strictly forbidden. Some

Fans clutch his memoir, as if attending Bono Bible class

grumble but I welcome it — what a delight to attend a performanc­e and be in the moment without the distractio­n of everyone filming everything on their mobiles.

Still, I notice that the rules don’t apply to everyone. Celebrity attendee Sean Penn doesn’t have to hand his phone in, as he is tapping away on it before the show begins — perhaps checking that Volodymyr Zelensky has got his gifted Oscar on proper display.

Coincident­ally, Bono’s last gig before this tour was busking in Ukraine. Peak Bono, right there.

More peak Bono comes when he storms around the Orpheum stage shouting, ‘Poverty is not natural! It can be overcome’, as Sean Penn nods in agreement.

Sometimes it is hard to tell if Bono is a master storytelle­r or just a charmer who ladles on the Irish stew without mercy.

Yet even those — like me — who are not always pro-Bono cannot fail to be impressed by his humility and generosity as he pokes fun at himself.

There is a sadness, too, at the centre of his life, and he highlights the heartbreak­ing way that parents shape our lives, in both good ways and bad.

In one standout moment, he sings Torna a Surriento — a song made famous by his father’s favourite singer, Pavarotti — in Italian, without accompanim­ent. He’s still trying to impress Bob, who died in 2001.

He lets us see how ordinary he is, although he cannot explain the ineffable mystery at the core of his being: the evolution of the extraordin­ary, rapturous rock-star persona who conquered the world.

‘I was born with my fists up,’ is his explanatio­n, but we are still left wondering how this rough kid from Dublin, who once tried to make a cheese sandwich from a block of Parmesan in a posh house, turned into the charismati­c leader of the biggest rock band in the world.

Perhaps the simple truth is that there is no explanatio­n, and that the answer lies somewhere in the depths of the divine.

At the end of the show, Bono lifts his eyes from his navel for a second to thank America for ‘giving me a great life’.

Yet he did it all himself, despite himself, without surrender.

 ?? ?? Thunderous­ly powerful: Bono at the opening night of his solo show in New York to promote his new memoir Surrender
Thunderous­ly powerful: Bono at the opening night of his solo show in New York to promote his new memoir Surrender
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