Stuck in a moment you can’t get out of

U2’s drop-in date, on only two weeks notice, was as much of a surprise to this writer as it was to the capacity crowd at last Tuesday’s show. Unlike most events at Arco Arena, the colossal package, touting Interscope star acts U2 and No Doubt, boasted triple-digit ticket prices. Could the band fill a venue at $130 a pop? Or, even more importantly, live up to people’s expectations?

No Doubt, openers for the West Coast leg of the tour, were given the insidious task of opening for U2—which, no doubt, were the night’s headliners. From the beginning chorus of “Spiderwebs,” Gwen Stefani and her Orange County brethren played an energized set, highlighted by their TRL smash and current single “Hey Baby.” Sporting her navel and long blonde extensions, Stefani commanded the stage with reckless aplomb and her bandmates, who date back to the Tragic Kingdom era, worked the early crowd into a frenzy.

Those in the pit section, located in between U2’s heart-shaped walkway—part of that band’s minimalist stage show—showed great enthusiasm for No Doubt and were treated to the hits, including the smash ballad “Don’t Speak.” Although the band was confined to a small (60 x 40) section of stage, and couldn’t use U2’s platforms, all six players—including two horn players, percussion and keyboards—worked their magic. There were some avid fans throughout the venue. But, of course, nothing could prepare the crowd for the spectacle that is U2.

After the appropriate blasting of “All You Need Is Love” through the house speakers, U2 launched into “Elevation” and, similarly, took the crowd to dizzying heights. The first section of the show, pairing songs from All You Can Leave Behind and Achtung Baby, worked astonishingly well. Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. played like seasoned road veterans, even changing bridges in songs like “Mysterious Ways” and the time-sensitive “Sunday Bloody Sunday” from the War album.

During such numbers as the epic “Where the Streets Have No Name,” any other songs in our collective memories were rendered diminutive. You could forget everything watching Bono sway and run the ramps alongside The Edge. Even “Angel of Harlem” from Rattle & Hum was given renewed vigor in the live setting. My favorite track, “Bullet the Blue Sky,” set behind a backdrop of red gels and the rhythm section’s plodding repetition, never sounded so good.

Even compared to the band’s Joshua Tree tour stop in Oakland several years back, the evening’s performance far exceeded people’s expectations; it exuded all of the important qualities in a rock ’n’ roll show. Even the band’s memorial to the victims of September 11 were played to the numbers—names of the deceased or missing were displayed on the backdrop canvas—with the utmost respect for the families. U2 may have not changed the world but, for a fleeting moment, we were able to realize how life-affirming a good rock show can be. Amen.