Irish rockers U2 are in Toronto this week on the second leg of their highly successful Vertigo tour, which alongside The Rolling Stone’s most recent outing and Green Day’s American Idiot tour has become one of the most successful tours of the year.
The band kicked off the first of four sold out concerts at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre last Monday by putting on a high intensity, nostalgic filled show that catered to new and old fans alike. Ripping through such classics as “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, and “Where the Streets Have No Name”, the band whipped the crowd of 18,000 into a frenzy incorporating the right balance of song and politics.
At the show Bono, whose relationship with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has been strained to say the least, called the Canadian leader “a friend” who has improved his record in the fight against global poverty. The two had a falling out last spring when the PM reneged on his promise to boost Canada’s foreign aid to the promised level of 0.7 percent of the gross domestic product.
At the G8 meeting this past July in Edinburgh, Scotland, Bono candidly expressed his growing frustration with the Canadian Prime Minister saying, with a clearly uncomfortable Paul Martin by his side, “He’s very difficult to deal with because he won’t agree to things that he doesn’t believe he can deliver, although that is very frustrating and annoying and infuriating.”
Canada is currently giving between 0.2 and 0.3 per cent of its national income to foreign aid, whereas the U.S. gives 0.16 per cent, which is the smallest percentage of any G-8 country. Martin has agreed to double Canada’s foreign aid by 2008-09 but would still fall short of the 0.7 per cent target.
“We will ultimately reach the 0.7 percent, but we’re not going to do it … until we can basically say to Canadians ‘Here’s how we’re doing it and here’s when we’re going to do it and there are no caveats and conditions’,” Martin said.
Martin laughed over Bono’s vow to “kick his butt” and insisted that both he and the outspoken U2 frontman “each have a job to do.”
“My job is to make sure that we achieve the 0.7, and I’m going to do that. And his job is to push me to do it as quickly as we possibly can … He’s doing his job and I’m doing mine.”
During U2’s stop in Vancouver back in April Bono told CBC radio that he was very disappointed with Martin and accused the Canadian leader of holding up history. Recognizing the troubles Martin and the Liberals were facing with the sponsorship scandal, Bono urged the Prime Minister not to lose focus. He than asked Canadians to flood the Prime Minister’s office with phone calls. Later that night during the U2 show, Bono flashed Martin’s number on the jumbo screen calling on the crowd to phone the number and leave messages urging Martin to keep his promise to increase foreign aid.
“It was a touching moment,” said U2 fan Andrea Clarkson who was in the crowd that night in Vancouver. “With the music and the flags and the screens that showed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was a very moving event that caused my eyes to swell.”
The Vancouver incident is a reminder of how much power and influence Bono has in the world right now. The U2 singer has been a tireless campaigner in fighting global poverty and the raging AIDS epidemic in Africa lobbying many world leaders and important government figures to increase aid and drop debt.
He was a central figure in organizing the global concerts that were to become Live 8 back in July and is one of the celebrity supporters to be involved with the One and Make Poverty History campaigns whose soul purpose is to eradicate world poverty by lobbying people to ask their governments to increase foreign aid, drop debts and deliver trade justice.
“Like him (Bono) or not, he has been smart enough to use his power discerningly,” wrote Vancouver Province writer Tom Harrison back in April. “He (Bono) knows that whatever he says will be newsworthy, so he has been careful to align himself, with meaningful causes. His stand on reducing third-world debt has resulted in people from the first world being aware that there is such a thing as third-world debt. That’s a very dangerous power, for which rock musicians usually aren’t prepared.”
Bono is probably the only celebrity to probably have both singer Beyonce’s number and British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s number on his cell phone. He has associated himself with the world’s most recognizable individuals and can be regularly seen hobnobbing with the rich and powerful in the world of religion, entertainment, and politics.
Last year Bono was nominated for the second time for the Nobel Peace Prize making him and Live Aid/Live 8 organizer Bob Geldof the only musicians to be nominated (each have two nominations) for the award.
But for all the love and praise showered upon him there are his detractors as Orange County Register journalist Ben Wener pointed out in an article he wrote earlier this year.
“This always surprises the true believers, but there are people who can’t stand U2,” wrote Wener. “St. Bono, the living embodiment, for better and worse, of John Lennon’s social concern and indefatigable optimism. No wonder people grow resentful of his omnipresence. Best intentions aside, we love to destroy crusaders,” he added.
Bono knows that U2 offers him a stage to communicate his concerns to an audience unfamiliar with such issues. The marriage of rock and politics has been U2’s specialty since they formed over 25 years ago. Recent U2 concerts have been described as “rocking temples of Bono worship.” The devotion seen at some of these concerts rivals that of religious gatherings.
Which brings us back to Monday’s show in Toronto where the crowd greeted the band with extreme adulation singing along with each song with such passion and vigour that even the band was impressed.
“What a strange year,” Bono declared at the show. “These are strange times to live in London or New York or wherever.”
And as he did in Vancouver almost five months prior Bono challenged Prime Minister Paul Martin to increase Canada’s foreign aid to the poorer nations of the world.
“Take out your cell phones,” said the singer clad in his trademark wraparound sunglasses.
“You can even call my friend Paul Martin.”
Bono has always complimented Canada and it’s global role as peacekeepers mentioning on more than one occasion that the country has avoided a stigma that’s attached to the West that other parts of the world regard with suspicion.
And on Monday Bono let up a little praising Martin for his attempts fulfil the promises he made to raise the country’s spending on foreign aid to 0.7 per cent of the gross domestic product by the year 2015.
“He’s (Martin) a good man and he’s been improving,” Bono told the Toronto crowd. “Every time you shout he hears you.”
“We look to Canada to lead, not to follow.”