With stories to tell and songs to sing, Bono brings his book tour to the Orpheum

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When U2 graduated from Paradise to play the Orpheum at the end of 1981, he recalls, it was the big moment for the band. “It always is,” he yelled.

Befitting a fledgling author, her trademark wraparound shades have been retired in favor of a pair of round, rose-tinted metal-rimmed glasses. Perhaps inspired by the resounding success of Bruce Springsteen’s Broadway storytelling, “Stories of Surrender” featured the Irish singer in a theatrical setting, alternating between recitations from the book and back-up versions of some U2 classics – “I Will Follow”, “With or Without You”, “Pride (in the name of love)”.

On a dark stage with a table and several straight-backed chairs, three Irish accompanists joined the singer: cellist Kate Ellis, harpist Gemma Doherty and keyboardist-percussionist (and accomplished producer) Jacknife Lee. Two large vertical screens displayed Bono’s own nervous drawings of people and places, some brought to life through the magic of animation.

Bono at the Orpheum Theatre, performing on the same stage U2 played in 1981.Ross Andrew Stewart

Bono’s parents and his wife, Ali Hewson, got most of the credit for the bizarre and surprising story of this great personality’s checkered history. Iris, his mother, died when he was just 14, after collapsing at his own father’s funeral.

“It’s almost too Irish,” he said of the horrible circumstance. Later he acknowledged, “I might have filled my own life trying to fill the silence my mother left me.”

There was a lot of self-deprecating humor about his legendary chatterbox. His father “didn’t hear me”, he said, “so I sang louder and louder.”

He described each of his bandmates — whom he met, incredibly, during the same high school week in which he met his bride-to-be — in a few concise sentences. Drummer Larry Mullen makes the “inner thunder” sound. Bassist Adam Clayton had a “white blond Afro like a Jimi Hendrix photographic negative”. And Edge (the guitarist who once answered David Evans), a young man who bought an angular guitar the same shape as his head, taught his lifelong mate a lot by saying little.

“Things you can learn from people who don’t tell you anything,” Bono joked.

Most of the time, however, the night was about Bono. “It’s absurd to think that others might be interested in your story,” he conceded. But the book – of which each ticket holder received a copy – is nearly 600 pages. “Me booook,” as he called it more than once, pulling his Irish accent to poke fun at the absurdity of his own navel-gazing.

At one point he looked into his own heart, literally. As a sketch of the organ pulsed above his head, he revealed the story of his own open-heart surgery in 2016 and the out-of-body experience it sparked. Centerpiece of the show, Bono has indulged here in a bit of the atmospheric spoken-word style that has long influenced his writing.

His voice was in top form as he reinvented many of U2’s best-known songs; he sang the Christian protest anthem “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, for example, more wistfully than angry, accompanied only by Lee’s minimalist keyboard washes.

Bono on stage at the Orpheum Theatre.Ross Andrew Stewart

Surely Bono must be the only direct link in the world between the Ramones (briefly mentioned as a great inspiration on U2) and his late friend Luciano Pavarotti. Towards the end of the show, Bono took a seat in the only padded chair on stage and bellowed a perfect rendition of the traditional Italian song “Torna a Surriento”.

“I was born with raised fists,” he said as he rounded the show towards its conclusion. “It’s not easy to surrender.” But he surrendered – to his group’s long-standing squabbles, to the wisdom and advice of his wife, and to the contradictions inherent in his own human rights campaigns, for which he courted the wealthiest and the most powerful in the world.

Before concluding with a chorus cover of “City of Blinding Lights”, which also opened the show (“Oh, you’re so beautiful tonight”), he explained at length why the idea of ​​​​America was so important. for U2 in their childhood, and why it remains so for him all these years later.

“We all need America to work for,” he said. The Democratic Experience, he said, “is a song yet to be finished”.

This disproportionate voice has not finished singing either.

Email James Sullivan at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.

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