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U2 spends a rocking 'Late Night' with O'Brien

''The pride of Ireland is here this evening," Conan O'Brien said to much applause on Thursday's episode of ''Late Night," which was devoted entirely to U2.

''I meant me," he added.

Fortunately, O'Brien did not let his reverence for Bono and the boys turn his celebration into anything heavy or sappy. For a brisk hour, he was his usual ironic self, and the band was its usual rocking self -- while plugging its album and world tour, of course.

U2 sounded great in the confines of the ''Late Night" studio, which happens to be the first American TV studio in which the group appeared when it played Tom Snyder's late-night show in 1981. The band can certainly rock a stadium, but it can also bring down a smaller house with a lot less flash and strain.

U2 opened with ''All Because of You," the Edge conspicuous in a T-shirt with the words ''New York City" on it, and later on performed ''Original of the Species" with a small but impassioned string section. At the end of the night, the band played ''Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out of," broadening from an intimate acoustic sound to a full band with horns, and ''Vertigo," in which Bono fit ''Late Night, Conan O'Brien" into the lyrics. All the songs were satisfying.

The music was broken up with comedy and talk segments. Early in the show, O'Brien visited the line of fans waiting for tickets outside the studio, teasing them for their obsessiveness. At last he announced, ''The good news is that I think many of you will get into tonight's performance. The bad news is you're standing in the line for 'The Tony Danza Show.' " O'Brien also did a special edition of ''In the Year 2000," with contributions from both Bono and the Edge. Turns out that in the future, U2 will admit that it wrote ''I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" after searching four supermarkets for a box of Boo Berry cereal.

The first conversational segment featured O'Brien at his desk teasing all the band members to their faces, revealing doctored pictures of them looking suspiciously like the band A Flock of Seagulls. It was a mellow chat, with jokey looks back at the start of the band and Bono's one-time illusions about playing lead guitar.

The second conversation, between Bono and O'Brien, was less jovial and entertaining, as Bono predictably plugged his causes and philosophized about America: ''America's not just a country, it's an idea, as far as I'm concerned. And I love the idea." The best little snippet was his description of Jesse Helms's description of the audience at a U2 concert: ''They were blowin' like a field of corn," is how Bono said Helms put it.

Bono also took the opportunity to acknowledge his Nobel Peace Prize nomination. ''I don't think it's going to happen for an Irish rock star, but I'm so deeply honored to even be thought of." Friday morning, of course, he was proved correct.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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