Category Archives: U2

Now Witness the Firepower of This Fully Armed and Operational Battle Station!: U2 Takes Baltimore Like the Muppets and Leonard Cohen (Separately) Took Manhattan

Why yes, I am fairly pleased with this hed for my DCist review of U2’s visit to Baltimore last night on their stadium-straddling 360 Tour. I can talk your damn ear off about this band, which you know if you’ve known me longer than ten minutes. Now it can be told: U2’s most famous member, whom I had more class than to refer to as “the world’s tallest short person” in my review, is responsible for the title of this very blog.

My confederate Kyle Gustafson did not take the photo above, but he did shoot many excellent photographs at the concert, which I encourage you to enjoy as part of the review or on his own site.

U2, Rolling the Dice on FedEx

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U2 announced deets of their U2360 Tour this morning, and I wrote it up for DCist. FedEx Field, with a unique stage setup that Live Nation chief Arthur Fogel says will increase its 91,000 football-game capacity by 15 to 20 percent. So that’s more than 100,000 tickets up for grabs. Only 10,000 are promised at the entry-level price point of $30.

You can’t accuse U2 of being timid! They had no trouble selling 40,000 tickets (two nights at the Phone Booth) on both the 2001 Elevation Tour and the 2005 Vertigo Tour. But 100K-plus seats, in a bum economy? You know I’m rooting for you, Fellas, but seriously: McGuinness signed off on this?

Because I Just Can’t Help Myself, Random Musings RE: U2’s No Line on the Horizon

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So here we are, a dozen years to the day since the release of U2’s first perceived failure, POP. Their second album, October, didn’t set the world on fire in 1981, but U2 weren’t huge then, expected to do big numbers every time out of the gate.

Today also marks the U.S. release date of No Line on the Horizon, U2’s 12th and longest-in-development studio album, though of course it leaked weeks ago and has been streaming on U2’s Myspace page for a week already. U2-biquity week here in the U.S. began last night, with the airing of the first of the band’s every-night-this-week live performances on The Late Show with David Letterman. A raft of radio show appearances and a Good Morning America slot are also booked for the next few days, and secret gigs are rumored at Boston’s Paradise Theatre (recording site of the two of the best bootlegs from U2’s early period) and on the Fordham University campus.

There is also a Comcast commercial in heavy rotation on late-night promoting a new deal that will give subscribers on-demand access to previously-released U2 videos and concerts presented in high-definition for the first time. (I just cancelled my Comcast service a couple of months ago. Thanks, Boys!) U2 made the rounds of the U.K. outlets last week, performing a four-song set on the room of the BBC’s Broadcast House last Friday, and generally appearing on so many Beeb shows that some people accused the government-funded entity of making itself U2’s publicity arm.

Great times, if you’re a U2 fan, of which there are many. And if you’re one of the many who despise U2, perhaps for the very shock-and-awe saturation of the media campaigns that accompany each new album release, well, it’ll all be over in a week or two. Maybe.

Anyway, the fact that No Line on the Horizon is being issued officially on the same day as POP feels significant, because POP was the final album of the band’s Adventures in Irony Phase that began with the paradigm-shifting Achtung Baby in 1991. And after two relatively safe returns-to-form, U2 are once again back in more experimental country with No Line. There’s a symmetry there that I haven’t seen anyone mention. (More symmetry: U2 will also be playing U.S. stadiums this year for the first time since 1997. And Bono’s cut his hair again. Meaningful connections abound!)

No Line‘s looooooong gestation period, and the aborted Rick Rubin sessions, were both danger signs, I thought. Time was, the fact that Achtung took an entire year to make was taken as a sign of how arduous that particular U2 album was. But with the exception of 1993’s tossed-off-in-three-months-and-all-the-better-for-it Zooropa (the most underrated U2 record), every U2 album since then has taken longer than that. And not, presumably, because Bono is away campaigning on behalf of AIDS-stricken Africans most of the time. (He wasn’t in 1996, for example, when U2 were making POP — the album they said they had to release before its time because the PopMart Tour was already booked!)

I’m just relieved that the new record — for all my fears to the contrary — is good. I was nervous even before they pushed its release from November (the month of Achtung and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb) to March (the month of The Joshua Tree and again, POP). The choice of “Get on Your Boots” as the lead single did nothing to reassure me. I don’t dislike the song, but it sounds too much like “Vertigo,” and it isn’t in any way representative of the tenor of the album. Worse, it has the same, lame sloganeering-as-lyric that afflicted the prior two U2 full-lengths.

But fear not: Complexity is back. Depth is back. The need to listen more than a couple of times to get it is back — I haven’t felt that about a U2 album since POP. And Zooropa was the last time the pendulum of my reaction to a U2 record swung from hate to affection like this. The day No Line leaked, I was mocking it via I.M. to several parties as I listened, all of whom seem to have come ’round to liking the album. I degraded my own virgin listening experience. Another reason why listening to music the way I do, mostly — sitting at a computer — is no way to do it, no matter how high the bit-rate of your files, or how good your speakers are.

Sure, it might have been better without the bet-hedging, foursquare U2 safe cuts: “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy” tonight feels like more of the Classic U2 Pastiche that felt reassuring on All That You Can’t Leave Behind in 2000 and troubling on Atomic Bomb in 2004. But “Magnificient” and “Breathe” sound like classic U2, too, and they’re marvelous. (Bono’s opening rap on “Breathe” reminds me of Mick Jagger’s delivery on the Some Girls country parody number “Faraway Eyes.”) “Moment of Surrender” and “Fez – Being Born” and “Cedars of Lebanon,” meanwhile, push the boys out of their comfort zone, with thrilling results — they’re as good as Eno’s collaborations with David Byrne on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today last year. Though you get the feeling it took Eno a quarter of the time to get there swapping files via broadband with Byrne as it did physically in the studio with U2.

I’ve read probably close to two dozen reviews at this point, beginning with the major Irish and U.K. papers, all of which issued glowing notices that I first suspected were inflated. But, no — the U.S. critics tend to like the record, too. Nobody thinks it sucks except Pitchfork, and their pan of it is — as my pal J. Freedom du Lac said to me today — as unsurprising as Rolling Stone‘s five-star rave.

The more interesting domestic write-ups I’ve seen have come from The Los Angeles Times’ Ann Powers, my pal J. Freedom’s in the Paper of Record, and from the Chicago Sun-Times’s Jim DeRogatis – usually the U2-hating half of the the Sound Opinions duo. (I’ve even left a voice message this week on the Sound Opinions listener-feeback line expressing my surprise and delight at DeRogatis’s favorable verdict on the album.)

Most critics seem to agree there are only six or seven essential tracks among the eleven on this album; tellingly, nobody quite agrees on which those are. There are pockets of consensus: Everyone loves “Moment of Surrender,” while nobody is much impressed by “Get on Your Boots.”

Welcome back, guys.

“Under Lincoln’s Unblinking Eyes”: We Are One

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U2 perform “Pride (In the Name of Love” at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday.  Photo by Martin Locraft.

Yeah, words largely fail me these last few days here in Our Nation’s Capitol.  Or more truthfully, my will to sit at home trying to think of the right words has failed me, because there’s been too much to do, see, and experience.

I covered the big We Are One all-star concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday for DCist.    But after watching our new president take the oath of office yesterday  (albeit via  Jumbotron), down on the National Mall with one to two million of my closest fellow citizens, that seems like no big deal now. 

Read all about it anyway!

This Song Is Not a Rebel Song; This Song Is “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” 14 Years Later

(And now another dozen years beyond that.)

U2, the oldest (well, longest-standing), sacredest of my sacred cows, will release No Line on the Horizon, their 12th studio album, on March 3, and you’ll be able to spend as much money as you want on the thing. (A pay-what-you-will, just-the-music download edition a la Radiohead would be the decent, tasteful thing for U2 to do — they can easily afford it — but it ain’t gonna happen.)

I’ve long believed U2 to be superstitious about the months in which they drop albums, and their long-awaited latest was originally rumored to be a November release — like 1991’s Achtung Baby, 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind (which actually came out on Halloween, as I recall, which is almost November), and 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

The Joshua Tree, still U2’s most beloved and iconic album despite strong competition from Achtung, was a March release, way back in 1987. But the new record will be U2’s first March record since — gasp! — 1997’s POP.

Am I going to re-open the debate about U2’s most controversial album? Hell, no. (But if you feel like delving into that, you can stop by Carrie Brownstein’s superb Monitor Mix blog, where she recently suggested that POP and the subsequent PopMart Tour — which I saw four times! — might stand as a textbook case of shark-jumpery.) I just hope No Line on the Horizon isn’t an overhyped, undercooked, and yet still ultimately underrated album that we’re all still fighting about in 2021. That seems to have been POP ‘s fate, though it still gets revived and defended in unlikely places by unlikely people. The Imposter, for example. His cover might be the definitive version of “Please.”

That U2 played “Sunday Bloody Sunday” every night on their last two tours after having rendered the 1983 song all but obsolete with “Please” in 1997 is just straight-up pandering, Man. At least play both!

Bruce Bowl I

I was hours behind the curve when the Man called Feedom pointed me towards this bulletin this morning, reacting to the announcement that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will play the Super Bowl Halftime Show in February. (A few hours later, E Street Band guitar man, “Yankee Stadium” composer, and local hero Nils Lofgren announced he will undergo double hip-replacement surgery tomorrow.)

Anyway, let the setlist-handicapping commence!

Bruce has a history of throwing curveballs in at high-profile appearances with limited stage time. The Sept. 2, 1995 concert celebrating the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland was one of only a handful of times when he performed with the E Street Band between 1989 and 1998, and he threw “Darkness on the Edge of Town” in his short set. When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame himself in 1999 (Bono gave him an induction speech for the ages; Bruce returned the favor when U2 were inducted in 2005), he and the ESB played “The Promised Land,” “Backstreets,” “Tenth Ave. Freeze-Out,” and, er, “In the Midnight Hour” with Wilson Pickett, who looked younger at 58 then than Bruce looks at, well, 59 now.

For the Super Bowl, my best guess is he’ll do career-shortest versions of:

Tenth Ave. Freeze-Out
The Rising
The Promised Land (if Obama wins) or Darkness on the Edge of Town (if it’s McCain)
Born to Run
American Land (snippet)

To New or Not to New?


On their 1992 Zoo TV Tour, U2 opened with six-to-eight songs in a row from their then-most-recent album, Achtung Baby, and the crowd was with them. But they didn’t have the confidence to repeat this approach on the 1997 PopMart Tour — and of course, the POP album was far less popular than Achtung, especially in the U.S.

Ace Paper of Record music critic J. Freedom du Lac pre-viewed his re-view of Jackson Browne’s Warner Theatre concet with this blog post, chiding Brown for apologizing for his new material.

Since you asked, here’s my take:

If you’re going to apologize for playing your new stuff, you forfeit the right to refer to yourself as an artist, I think. Based on JFdL’s review (I wasn’t at the show), I’d give Browne a pass for apologizing once on account of the album not having been released yet. It sounds like he was apologizing repeatedly, though, which is just weak.

But bellowing out song requests is almost always obnoxious. Sure, there are exceptions — like when the performer asks, “So what do you guys want to hear?” But few artists work that way, and no artist worth listing to works that way all the time, and the idea that a performer just walked out there without having made up a setlist that expresses whatever it is they want to express is borderline insulting. More irritating still is when the request-shouters call for obvious warhorses — like “Running on Empty” or “The Pretender” — that everybody knows with 90 percent certainty they’re going to hear anyway! If you’re only interested in the half-dozen or so most familiar tunes in the artist’s catalogue, why bother attending a concert? Make a playlist, save yourself an evening and $150 or so, and spare the members of the audience who actually know how to show their appreciation in a respectful way the headache of having to deal with you all night.

A lot of this depends on what kind of artist you’re dealing with. When U2 or Bruce Springsteen tour a new album, they typically play half to three-quarters of the new material at least for the first leg or first couple of months. Radiohead are playing In Rainbows in its entirety and then some, including bonus tracks that (I think) are only included on the pricey deluxe editions of the album. R.E.M. are playing most of their new album this year, but then again, the album is less than 35 minutes long, leaving plenty of room in the set for crowd-pleasers and rarities alike. With an act like Tom Petty or the Rolling Stones, you’ll hear maybe two or three of the new songs, tops. But when Aimee Mann played the Birchmere last February to preview songs from Smilers several months (not one week) before the album was on sale, she didn’t apologize for playing the new stuff. She believed in the songs, and she sold them. Period.

I also believe a lot of artists are more willing to risk playing a preponderance of new stuff in a small venue than they are in a large one. (The Warner would be about mid-size, I guess.)

Scrolling the BrucePod!

brucex-large.jpgElysa Gardner has a nice feature on Bruce in USA Today, er, today. But what’s really cool about it is the interactive graphic that lets you scroll through Bruce’s iPod.

The opportunities for analysis here are endless (The only Johnny Cash track is a freaking Sting cover!? The only Steve Earle song is a Johnny Cash cover? The lone Sleater-Kinney tune is a Bruce cover; did you even know S-K did “The Promised Land”? From Lucinda Williams, he’s got her gorgeous tribute to my former address, “Ventura.” And only one from Patti Scialfa?), but come on: iPods are the 21st century closets; we’ve all got some skeletons in there.

Actually, there are only one or a handful of tracks for most artists, suggesting that either the Boss has the blue-collar model iPod, with a capacity of maybe one gig, or else this was a carefully edited list pulled off his is iTunes library by his personal assistant for redlining by the Man Hisself. I’ve done stuff like this in my checkered professional past.

I spotted Elysa Gardner (saw her nametag, I mean) at the press preview for the Edward Hopper show at the National Gallery last fall. I really wanted to walk up to her and say, “You wrote the introduction to U2: The Rolling Stone Files!” But since I was there in a semi-professional capacity, it seemed important that I not appear insane.

This Movie Is Not a Rebel Movie, This Movie is U23D

Bono fronts the World's Biggest Band while sporting the World's Most Inclusive Headband.

Bono fronts the World's Biggest Band while sporting the World's Most Inclusive Headband.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of being right up close at a U2 concert, let me divulge with a spoiler: Bono — a.k.a. Paul Hewson, a.k.a. The Fly, a.k.a Mr. MacPhisto; champion of Africa and two-time Nobel Prize nominee; debt-relief crusader and F-bomb-dropping bane of the Federal Communications Commission; the big-brained, big-hearted, big-mouthed and wholly unembarrassable frontman for The (all together now) World’s Biggest Band — is a wee, short little dude. Five-seven, five-eight, tops. When he performs — and truly, no rock and roll frontman has ever looked more at ease serenading a stadium-load of air guitarists than this guy — he wears thick-soled boots that give him an extra inch-and-a-half on the vertical plane. Every little bit helps, right?

But to paraphrase Al Capone, you can get further with a pair of platform shoes and a 3-D IMAX film that captures your every messianic gesture in close-up — and then projects your mug with frightening, acne-scarred digital clarity on a screen six stories high — than you can with platform shoes alone.

Thus arrives U23D, the most unambiguously-titled movie since, um, Aliens vs. Predator. It’s an 85-minute concert film compiled from a half-dozen early 2006 stadium gigs from U2’s Vertigo Tour. (Two other concert DVDs from the Vertigo Tour have already come out, making it perhaps the most exhaustively-documented rock roadshow since Bono created the world in seven days. Oh, relax, would you? I’m kidding now.) Released through National Geographic (!) exclusively in IMAX theatres, it’s the first live-action film to be completely shot and edited using a digital 3D process that James Cameron helped to develop and is using to shoot Avatar, his post-Titanic return to features. The results are, from a purely technical perspective, extraordinary.

The images have a convincing illusion of depth, and the film’s sound design contributes to the immersive feel of the thing by discretely separating different vocal and instrumental sounds. On “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” for example, your hear Bono’s lead vocal in front of you and the Edge’s backing part somwhere behind your head.

While this captures the feeling of being there more convincingly than traditional concert movies, it’s still a wholly unique experience, equally removed from a gig or a film. For one thing, you can both see and hear better than you would from even the best seat in the house at an actual concert, with the cameras giving us a variety of perspectives that would be impossible to achieve in a live situation. Of course, many concert films do this much, but at the cost of immediacy. Not so here: You feel the crowd (or, in some thrilling band POV shots, your fellow performers) around you at every moment.

The sound design, too, emphasizes the rumble-in-the-gut feel of a concert over a pristine presentation of the music, allowing crowd noise to remain a constant presence in the mix. No overdubs were added after the shoots. Bono’s once-mighty vox, an uncertain quantity in recent years, gets a little help, with the film’s audio selectively mixed to hide its limitations. (The culprits seem to be poor vocal technique and smoking rather than age — though it seems impossible given all he’s achieved, Bono is only 47 in Earth-years.)

With their two world tours of the 1990s, Zoo TV and PopMart, U2 did more than any band ever had, practically or artistically, to compress the space of a football stadium into a place where something like intimacy was possible. So it makes sense that they’d want to try to advance the medium of the concert film in the same way. As co-directred by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, both longtime associates of the band, U23D errs on the side of taste, preferring long takes to the hyperactive jump cuts of many concert films and avoiding the eye-poking novelty of the other 3D movies you’ve seen. There’s little sense of Bonozilla terrrizing Tokyo (or indeed Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Santiago, or Buenos Aires, the cities where the movie was shot). The “wipe your tears away” passage of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is the only point I can recall at which he directly reaches out to “touch” the viewer.

2008_0123_TheEdge.jpg The 3-D effect is most striking in the crowd shots, wherein the sea of heads and arms seems to extend outward from the screen even as they vanish into a horizon of camera flashes and illuminated cel phones. Bono’s hand gestures get some John Madden-eqsue etch-a-sketch accompaniment during “Love and Peace or Else.” In most concert videos, this sort of embrodiery is always a mistake, but the way the digital “chalk lines” seems to hover in midair actually makes you wish U23D indulged in a bit more of this sort of gimmickry.

Dramatic low angles and backlighting only make The Edge want to rock harder. Photo courtesy @U2.

At 14 songs and 85 minutes, U23D is only about two-thirds as long as a typical Vertigo Tour concert, which will be enough for all but the diehards. Things begin rather clunkily with the ubiquitous iPod jingle “Vertigo,” a fun rocker but not a show-starter. U2 know how to make an entrance like few other bands, but that’s one aspect of a U2 show that Owens and Pellington have missed entirely, instead giving us some dull slo-mo footage of fans running into the venue.

Predictably, the songs included are mostly U2’s Greatest Hits — “Beautiful Day,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “One” — but a few worthy album tracks make the cut. Most notable is “Miss Sarajevo, the band’s 1995 elegy for that war-torn city. When Bono sings the Italian verse that Luciano Pavarotti performed on the recorded version, it’s one of the highlights in terms of sheer performance. Meanwhile, the unholy sonic mess that is the botched start of “The Fly” is one of the carefully-chosen moments of imperfection left in, like Adam Clayton’s bungled bass solo on “Gloria” from the Under a Blood Red Sky live EP a hundred years ago. (Okay, it was 1983, but you know.)

Of course, we’ve never needed U2 to point out their own shortcomings. Witness the wonky close of “With or Without You,” a tune U2 have played at every full-length concert they’ve given since 1987, and still they bungle it as often as they don’t. (For a more assured version, see Rattle and Hum, U2’s prior theatrically-released concert film, from 1988.) But it doesn’t really matter — hearing 70,000 voices wail the song’s bridge is so hair-raising that the rest of the performance is little more than afterthought.

Bono’s sometimes eloquent, sometimes tiresome, always criticized sermonizing is all but absent, perhaps because all of the footage is from concerts in countries where English is not the native tongue. But the centerpiece of the Vertigo Tour shows, wherein “Sunday Bloody Sunday” segues into “Bullet the Blue Sky” while Bono dons a headband/blindfold bearing the command “Coexist,” with an Islamic crescent moon representing the “C,” a star of David the “X”, and a cross the “T,” is as powerful on film as it was in person. A few minutes later, when a recording of a woman reading the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights introduces “Pride (In the Name of Love),” you might have to stop yourself from pumping your fist in righteous solidarity.

You’ll want to stay through the credits, which feature some cool animation effects left over, presumably, from the movie proper, as well as a live performance of “Yahweh.”

“You’re all so much smaller in real life,” Bono once told a concert audience. In U23D, the long-lived Irish quartet has finally found the film format to match their outsized ambition. The World’s Biggest Band has become, beyond all argument, the world’s biggest band. Like, quantifiably. Seems appropriate somehow.

U23D opens Jan. 23 at the National Museum of Natural History’s Johnson IMAX Theatre. Advance tickets are available here. The film, if you care, is rated G.

It’s Irish Genius Week in my Clip File!

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po-faced [poh-feyst] – adjective, Chiefly British. having an overly serious demeanor or attitude; humorless.

And U2 Week in the Style section at the Paper of Record, apparently, what with yesterday’s gushing front-page profile of Bono, my review of the 20th Anniversary reissue of The Joshua Tree in today’s paper. Maybe I’ll post a longer version of that review here. Or maybe I’ll just say “enough is enough” and get on with my life, too much of which has already gone to cutting that thing down to the not-ungenerous length at which it ran. Verily, writing about your sacred cows can be a tricky business.

The other Irish genius of whom I speak would be Samuel Beckett. The National Theatre of Great Britain Production of his 1961 Happy Days starring Fiona Shaw is at the Kennedy Center’s Terrance Theatre for a short run of concluding the day after tomorrow. I reviewed it for DCist. Not exactly light entertainment — for that, there’s A Christmas Carol 1941 at Arena, which I took my parents to the following night; DCist review forthcoming — but, you know, thought-provoking, imaginative, ballsy. Beckettian, I guess.