Bono’s Stories of Surrender: Bono takes to the stage alone, in a spotlight with no accompaniment, as he pours his heart and soul into the 19th-century Italian song, “Torna a Surriento.”
Bono’s Stories of Surrender
His voice resonates beautifully as the U2 frontman unleashes the pain, glory, sorrow, and joy he’s shared over the past two hours through his stories and songs. Leading up to a stunning culmination, an ode to his late father, Brendan Hewson, you can feel the bruises on his heart. But with this finale, Bono will take whatever is left of your own heart and break it.
In October, the loquacious singer-writer-activist published his memoir, “Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story.” A few weeks later, he embarked on a 14-city international tour to present passages from the book, intertwined with reframed versions of several U2 songs.
Bono at the Beacon Theatre in New York
Now, Bono is back for a limited spring run, taking place only at the Beacon Theatre in New York, with shows on Friday and Saturday, as well as seven scattered dates through May 8. Although tickets sold out instantly, the production holds have just been released via Ticketmaster.com for the May 4, 7, and 8 shows.
At the first of his return dates on Sunday, Bono jokingly stated that he had told the band it was a one-night-only solo detour with a mischievous grin. A relaxed storyteller with a flair for theatrical flourishes – he did lead U2 through tours adorned with space stations and massive mirror ball lemons after all – Bono also proved to be a sincere and reflective host, and of course, a commanding singer.
Backed only by musicians Gemma Doherty (harp, keyboard, vocals), Kate Ellis (cello, keyboard, vocals), and producer Jacknife Lee (musical director, electronic percussion), Bono studded the show with 17 U2 songs, opening with the band’s love letter to New York, “City of Blinding Lights” (“Lucky we, lucky me,” he improvised at the end of the gliding anthem).
The selections from U2’s 40-plus-year catalog were correlated to a story shared from the book:
“With Or Without You” was woven into the origin tale of meeting wife Ali (who was present at Sunday’s show) the same week as U2 bandmates Larry Mullen Jr., Adam Clayton, and the Edge.
“Out of Control,” the first song Bono said he wrote after being musically schooled by The Ramones (his saviors after the death of his mother, Iris, when he was 14).
“Sunday Bloody Sunday,” an Edge creation so defiant on record that Bono turned haunting and hushed.
“Beautiful Day,” shared after the tender recounting of the last moments with his father, his “Da,” in 2001.
Through them all, Bono’s voice soared with few accouterments, the elegant stringed instruments and electronic pulse an undercurrent but not the drivers of these malleable classics.
The production is magical, intimate, and unforgettable. And best of all, these shows come with a no-devices-allowed mandate (phones will be stored in Yondr bags on the way in), allowing fans to commit special moments to memory, uninterrupted by filming, texting, and views impeded by self-involved boors.
In his black outfit, pinstriped vest, and trademark shaded glasses, Bono alternately stalked the stage, sipping from a pint of Guinness, pointed at his sketches illuminated on the screens behind him, and sat in a chair to recount conversations between himself and his father.
The topic of Luciano Pavarotti
a favorite of his Da, a tenor singer with a love of classical music – ran throughout the show. Bono frequently imparted how his father could never understand why a legendary opera singer would want to work with his son (Bono and the Edge performed at the 1995 Pavarotti & Friends concert).
Bono can captivate with a soliloquy about air (the story of the heart defect that almost killed him in 2016), prompt easy laughter with the recollection of his Da – no fan of the royal family – being immediately disarmed when meeting Princess Diana (“800 years of oppression, forgotten about in eight seconds,” Bono quipped), and break into amusingly accurate impersonations of his bandmates and former President Bill Clinton (Bono worked with many a politician in philanthropic efforts such as the One Campaign).
Bono is both professor and maestro of this production, handling both roles with skillful ease.
It’s already been visible for several months for U2. The band received a Kennedy Center Honor in December, while “Songs of Surrender,” their collection of 40 rerecorded catalog gems arrived in March, as did a Disney+ documentary spotlighting Bono, the Edge, David Letterman, and Dublin.
In September, the band will open the MSG Sphere in Las Vegas (sans Mullen Jr., who is sidelined by recovery from surgery) with a high-tech extravaganza dubbed U2: UV Achtung Baby Live at the Sphere (dates will be announced soon).
No doubt, the enduring success of U2 can be attributed to their close-knit democracy and brotherhood. As Bono underscores in his show, “It turns out maybe you can change the world and have fun” – a credo both he and U2 have turned into an art.