Long after Bono became a world-famous, mononymous rock star, he and his father made a commitment to work on their distant relationship by meeting regularly for a drink at a favorite Dublin pub. Bob Hewson typically opened the conversational bidding with his son with the same question.
“Anything strange or startling?” he’d ask.
Bono, the U2 singer and international activist, related this tale and many more on Friday at the Orpheum Theatre, the second stop on a 14-date book tour marking the publication of his new memoir, “Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story.” Bono has often credited Boston as the city that helped his young band gain a foothold in America more than 40 years ago.
When U2 graduated from the Paradise to play the Orpheum in late 1981, he recalled, it felt like the big time for the band. “It still is,” he whooped.
Befitting a first-time author, his trademark wraparound shades have been retired in favor of a pair of round, rose-tinted wire rim glasses. Perhaps inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s wildly successful storytelling turn on Broadway, “Stories of Surrender” featured the Irish singer in a theatrical setting, alternating between recitations from the book and spare versions of selected U2 classics — “I Will Follow,” “With or Without You,” “Pride (In the Name of Love).”
On a dark stage set with a table and several straight-back chairs, three Irish accompanists joined the singer: cellist Kate Ellis, harpist Gemma Doherty, and keyboardist-percussionist (and accomplished producer) Jacknife Lee. Two large vertical screens displayed Bono’s own jittery drawings of people and places, some of which came to life through the magic of animation.
Bono’s parents and his wife, Ali Hewson, got the bulk of the credit for the strange and startling tale of this large personality’s high-arcing story. Iris, his mum, died when he was just 14, after collapsing at her own father’s funeral.
“It’s almost too Irish,” he said of that horrible circumstance. Later, he acknowledged, “I might have filled my own life trying to fill the silence my mother left me.”
There was plenty of self-deprecating humor about his legendary gift of gab. His father “didn’t hear me,” he said, “so I sang louder, and louder.”
He described each of his bandmates — whom he met, incredibly, during the same week of Secondary School in which he met his future wife — in a few pithy phrases. Drummer Larry Mullen makes the sound of “indoor thunder.” Bassist Adam Clayton had a “white blond Afro like a photographic negative of Jimi Hendrix.” And the Edge (the guitarist who once answered to David Evans), a young man who bought an angular guitar the same shape as his head, has taught his lifelong mate much by saying little.
“The stuff you can learn from people who don’t tell you anything,” Bono joked.
Mostly, though, the night was about Bono. “It’s preposterous to think others might be interested in your story,” he conceded. But the book — a copy of which each ticket holder received — is nearly 600 pages. “Me booook,” as he referred to it more than once, drawing out his Irish accent to poke fun at the absurdity of his own navel-gazing.
At one point he looked into his own heart, literally. As a sketch of the organ pulsed overhead, he revealed the story of his own open-heart surgery in 2016, and the out-of-body experience it triggered. A centerpiece of the show, here Bono indulged in a bit of the atmospheric spoken-word style that has long influenced his writing.
His voice was in fine form as he reimagined several of U2′s best-known songs; he sang the Christian protest anthem “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” for instance, more wistfully than in anger, accompanied only by Lee’s minimalist keyboard washes.
Surely Bono must be the world’s only direct link between the Ramones (briefly mentioned as a big inspiration on U2) and his late friend Luciano Pavarotti. Near the end of the show, Bono took a seat in the one cushioned chair onstage and bellowed a note-perfect rendition of the traditional Italian song “Torna a Surriento.”
“I was born with my fists up,” he said as he rounded the show toward its conclusion. “It’s not easy to surrender.” But surrender he has — to the long-running squabbles of his band, to his wife’s wisdom and guidance, and to the contradictions inherent in his own human rights campaigns, for which he has courted the world’s richest and most powerful.
Before closing with a sing-along reprise of “City of Blinding Lights,” which also opened the show (“Oh, you look so beautiful tonight”), he spoke at some length about why the idea of America was so important to U2 in their infancy, and why it remains so to him all these years later.
“We all need America to work,” he said. The democratic experiment, he said, “is a song yet to be finished.”
This outsize voice is not done singing, either.
Email James Sullivan at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.