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STRICTLY OBSERVING: A tribute to U2

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As excited as we were to see the Genesis tribute show at the Saltville Labor Day Celebration on Sept. 2, when I read that a U2 tribute band was to follow, I knew we were destined to be there. While my 8-year-old daughter Bella and I are pure Genesis fanatics, my wife, Emily, is a huge U2 fan. U2 is the one band she hasn’t seen live that’s still on her bucket list. However, they haven’t played Charlotte since 2005 and their price tag is much steeper than Emily is willing to oblige.

After seeing the Charlotte-based tribute band, Bullet the Blue Sky, I find it hard-pressed to believe that U2 themselves, in their current status, would sound near as good as these guys, nor would they have played the prime setlist we heard from the immensely talented regional band. Hearing their setlist of just under two hours made me remember just how great a band U2 had been once upon a time. I heard so many songs I had forgotten I liked.

I have heard “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” to numbing effect due to a lifetime of constant radio replay. As a result, I was blown away at the fact that Bullet the Blue Sky played them both with an edgier rock flare that sounded much better than the original. They also offered their namesake “Bullet the Blue Sky” and opened with an electrifying version of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” all of which came from U2’s 1987 “Album of the Year” Grammy winner, The Joshua Tree.

Of course, I preferred some of their earlier tracks from the 1983 album War, such as “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and “New Year’s Day,” which Bullet the Blue Sky covered in flawless fashion. They also closed with another song from that album, with which I was not familiar until this show, but am now a fan. “40” ended the night poetically and seemed to be a fan favorite among a couple donned in Bullet the Blue Sky T-shirts, who obviously followed the band across the country.

Some more of my favorites offered that night were “One” and “Mysterious Ways” from their 1991 multi-platinum album, Achtung Baby. Also offered from that album was “Until the End of the World” and “Even Better Than the Real Thing.” Also, from the 1988 follow-up to The Joshua Tree, Rattle and Hum, Bullet and the Blue Sky delighted true U2 fans in the audience with “Desire” and “All I Want Is You.”

Tracks from U2’s 21st century career were also featured such as “Vertigo” and “Beautiful Day,” the latter of which was repeated toward the end of the show due to first-time front man Derick Hodges inadvertently forgetting the lyrics at the top of the show. The singer was filling in for John Richardson, who was absent due to a family emergency. Considering that Derek had only been with the band eight days before tackling the Saltville show, he did so fairly masterfully.

The highlight of the U2 set, however, was the performance of “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” from Batman Forever, combining one of Emily’s favorite bands with one of her favorite films. “The Sweetest Thing” was another show highlight. Emily knew every song word for word and seemed to be thrilled with every selection as I was. Even Bella, a Genesis purist, emerged from that show a U2 fan.

The entire night of tribute sets of two of our favorite bands back-to-back seemed Heaven-sent just for us. The guys from both bands could not have been nicer to us and we are thrilled that they are based in Charlotte. This means that we will hopefully have the opportunity to see them both again sometime. Emily also noted that she would rather give her money to these tribute artists than big name acts who don’t need the money. We felt like we were stealing something seeing both of these stellar acts for free.

I knew from the moment Al Yasneski walked on stage with his beard and toboggan that he was their answer to The Edge. Hearing his guitar-playing made me unsure as to whether or not the real David Howell Evans was actually on stage. His energy and passion were the driving force behind the entire show.

Bassist Arthur Morgan provided the pulse of the show with his intense playing and gregarious personality, which engaged us with the utmost enthrallment. Drummer Jim Clarey kept the beat with incredible energy and enthusiasm. To have capped off such an amazing day in such an incredible way is something for which we will always be grateful to Bullet in the Blue Sky. Why the Wythe Arts Council hasn’t considered them or Abacab for our annual Chautauqua Festival is beyond my comprehension. They would both be great for The Millwald, which is set to reopen this fall, as well as The Lincoln Theater in Marion. Check Bullet the Blue Sky out at https://www.bullettheblueskycharlotte.com/.

A columnist, novelist and author of various other book genres, Zach Cooley lives in Wytheville with his wife, Emily, and daughter, Bella.

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