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.)