Flashback: U2 Close Out PopMart Tour in South Africa
Eleven months after kicking off their PopMart tour with a disastrous Las Vegas gig marred by false starts and mixed reviews, U2 wrapped up the global odyssey at Johannesburg Stadium in South Africa in front of nearly 65,000 screaming fans. By this point, all the bugs in the show had long been worked out. Shaky new tunes like “Do You Feel Loved” and “Miami” were gone, “Staring at the Sun” had been radically stripped down and the Edge’s karaoke bit had been dropped in favor of a tender, solo acoustic rendition of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” It was a truly spectacular stadium show and a worthy follow-up to Zoo TV, even if the early reviews and the occasional less-than-sold-out venue created an indelible impression that the whole thing was a disaster.
Most shows on the tour wrapped up with sing-along rendition of “One,” but on the final night in Johannesburg the band stuck around for a bonus performance of “40.” The War track was their traditional closer all through the 1980s, often with Edge and bassist Adam Clayton swapping instruments. But this night the Edge played lead while Adam and Larry merely looked out at the sea of people singing along. “You’ve got it in your hands,” Bono said at the end. “Goodnight from U2.”
They walked offstage into a very uncertain future. Even though the tour recovered, Pop didn’t come close to living up to the sales and acclaim of Achtung Baby and Zooropa. This was the era of the Spice Girls, Matchbox 20, Shania Twain and the Backstreet Boys. Most 1980s bands were fighting for survival and it seemed like U2 might be headed to the same pit that swallowed up Dire Straits and INXS. Instead, they took an old B-side from the Joshua Tree, “The Sweetest Thing,” slightly re-worked it with a little help from Irish boy band Boyzone and released is a single the next year on a greatest hits collection. It became an unlikely hit, paving the way for “A Beautiful Day” in 2000 and the beginning of a whole new era of the band.