U2 360 in NYC

u2_360

Half of you will probably say I’m a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to U2 fandom, half will call me an old-timer. I’m a member of the “Third Round” of U2 fans, the ones who came of age and discovered U2 during the Achtung Baby years (as opposed to the First Round Boy through Unforgettable Fire fans, or the Second Round Joshua Tree fans).

The days of great U2 albums might be long gone, but I still shell out money to see the band play whenever they come to town. I saw them just a few hours ago at Giants Stadium (in the hideous freeway junction known as East Rutherford, NJ), and I have to say, while it’s been years since the band has made any relevant, interesting music, they’re still playing relevant music every night.

A perfect example: Sunday Bloody Sunday, a song written more than a quarter century ago. Tonight’s performance was dedicated to “the heroes who are peacefully protesting in Iran,” and the band played a version of the song that was largely unchanged from tours past, while photos of Iranian atrocities were shown on the huge screen above the stage. The whole stadium was bathed in green, and as Bono sang “How long, how long must we sing this song?” I couldn’t help thinking that’s it’ll probably be at least 25 more years. Will a 75-year-old Bono still wonder how long he has to sing that song? And to whom will the song be dedicated then?

As is befitting a rock concert happening right outside NYC during a meeting of the UN General Assembly, Bono piled on with the causes during the show. The One campaign and Project Red to fight AIDS, poverty, and malaria in Africa; the Iran election; racial and religious intolerance; a somewhat bizarre plug for Mayor Bloomberg (which lasted about 5 minutes); and the band played “Walk On” to honor Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Burmese presidential election in 1990 and has been imprisoned ever since. There was a big group of volunteers who took the stage wearing Aung San Suu Kyi masks in her honor.

Rock-and-roll telethons aside, the show was fantastic. They played enough new stuff to justify a tour to support their album, but also mined pretty deep into their old catalog and found some gems. From my favorite album, The Unforgettable Fire, they’ll typically play Pride (in the Name of Love). Tonight, however, they played MLK and the album’s title track, which is my Favorite U2 Song Ever, and one I’ve never heard them play live. They also dug deep into Achtung Baby for Ultraviolet (another favorite), and played a gorgeous stripped-down version of Stay (Faraway, So Close) from Zooropa. It was an interesting setlist–the band is clearly trying to avoid becoming a touring jukebox, while still pleasing all the old fans, young fans, and middle-aged fans. The high point came when U2 ripped into its first encore with “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Everyone comes together over The Joshua Tree.

U2 shows are also fun because you can look back at past tours and see how far display technology has advanced. In the early nineties, Zoo TV littered the stage with TVs. Some were quite big, with a clear picture, but I’m assuming they were rear-projection televisions,  and they were used with LaserDisk players. (!) For PopMart in 1997, a giant screen was invented and built that was 160 feet wide with 150,000 pixels. I saw that show at the Oakland Coliseum, and the screen stretched from one end of the outfield to the other–it was amazing.

For the Vertigo tour a few years ago, instead of a single huge screen, the LEDs were mounted onto strands of wire to form 7 curtain panels, which acted as seven different displays hanging from the ceiling. Very cool, but I think there were technically only 12,000 pixels altogether.

For this tour, the screen wraps 360 degrees, and they do some absolutely amazing things with it. I’m not sure what the resolution is, but the picture was much sharper than I expected it to be. Wikipedia has a great article on the tour’s set design and requirements. The big claw structure in the middle of the stadium reportedly requires 120 trucks to transport, and there are three of them. When the tour’s over, the band will donate them to be converted into permanent outdoor music venues.

Oh, one last note from the show tonight: “Get on Your Boots” is this tour’s “Vertigo” or “Elevation”: a song that’s lame on the album but awesome live. Also, I didn’t take the above picture.

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17 thoughts on “U2 360 in NYC

  1. That giant structure looks like a spider transformer about to eat Bono.

    Maybe, just maybe, someday it will.

  2. I think U2 albums are still great. They just aren’t earth shattering the way some of their early stuff was.

    I loved both their last two albums, but they missed that catchy aspect to the songs that kept people coming back to them. (Well there was Vertigo but I have to confess it is a tad too similar to Elevation from two albums back)

    I think though that this change is in part due to their age. In the 80′s they were part of a particular generation. Once that generation grew old – even in the late 90′s – the connection changed. That social aspect to music is something people often look down upon but I think it’s really key for a lot of enjoyment. The way you enjoy music between 15 – 25 is just vastly different from how you do after you are married.

  3. I’ll have to hear Get On Your Boots live. I never have heard a live version. To me it is by far the absolute worst song on the album. Mainly because they are intentionally singing flat and slightly off between them and the music. Ugh.

  4. I was supposed to be going tonight, but when they moved the Friday show to Wednesday instead, that eliminated that opportunity for me. My wife was able to go last night with her family, though, and she said it was a fantastic show. She saw them about 7 years ago in MSG, and said she thought last night’s show was the better of the two.

  5. I’m really looking forward to seeing this show. Thanks for the review.

    I saw ZooTV in the Tacoma Dome, Pop in Rice-Eccles Stadium, All that you can’t leave behind in the Delta Center. They were all great shows but I have a real soft spot for the ZooTV show because we were on the 6th row and it was the kind of show that just blew the doors off every other concert I had ever seen to that point. I really think U2 is a band that must be experienced live.

  6. Finally, finally, FINALLY I am going to be able to see U2 live on Oct 6th in Atlanta. I can’t wait!!

  7. Awesome. I don’t know if anything beats U2 live. Bono should’ve been a preacher.

    Wish I had the motivation/money to see them these days but I just don’t.

  8. Meaning they used to innovate with their music and say things with their lyrics. It’s been a long time since those days. Remember when they used to reinvent themselves and surprise everybody every couple albums?

  9. Kyle, saying that their music hasn’t been relevant for years is a bit much. You may not find their recent albums as innovative and topical as some of their previous albums (and many would agree with you, there) but Bono still does “say things” with his lyrics and you can’t seriously mean that there’s nothing innovative about their latest album.

  10. That actually is what I mean, MCQ; I think the past couple albums are bland. Case in point: the SNL performance last night. The best of the three songs U2 played was “Ultraviolet.” On Achtung Baby, it was practically a filler track, but it would have been the Big Hit Song on either of the last two albums.

    But anyway, the point of the post is that even someone who doesn’t appreciate their newer music (like me) will still be totally blown away by their amazing live show.

  11. I actually think that’s right. The past two albums, with one or two exceptions, don’t have pop songs on them. There just aren’t songs that necessarily even work as pop singles. I don’t think that’s a bearing on how good they are as albums. Some see that as bland but a lot of my favorite albums really lack that “pop hit” mentality. (My favorite Dire Straits album was their last one, On Every Street which was self-consciously anti-commercial in style)

    What I think the U2 of the past years has missed (that they interestingly did have with All You Can’t Leave Behind) is that ability to work across multiple levels and connect on all of them.

    In a way the past couple of albums remind me of the early stuff where there would be a few hits (Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year’s Day) and then a bunch of other songs that were great songs but definitely not pop hits. What’s unusual about them is that this “other style” dominates. Vertigo is the only real strong pop styled song on them. With maybe Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own coming close (but ultimately not being that popular a song). With their last album the closest is Breathe, but it really isn’t that much of a single. Get On Your Boots, which was their single, always struck me as just odd. With a little different production they could have made it poppy, but chose not to.

    What U2 managed, arguably starting around The Unforgettable Fire but peaking with Joshua Tree was merge the two styles. Achtung Baby is interesting because it verges on that, yet most of the songs on the album weren’t big pop hits even though the album as a whole was. I think that a lot on the album was more difficult to approach than Joshua Tree. That’s not a criticism of the album, mind you. It was the point where U2 became quite complex on numerous levels ranging from percussion, to lyrics, on up.

    I do agree though that the last 3 albums haven’t been as musically inventive. All You Can’t Leave Behind was a conscious return to the late 80′s with a quite a bit of rejection of the electronica they had embraced in the 90′s. The next two albums have very 80′s feel at times both in terms of early U2 but other bands like Depeche Mode and others. The best you could say is that both innovated with singing flat (with Yahweh on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb or Get On Your Boots on No Line On the Horizon) That’s an innovation I could do without.

  12. Notice I said “as musically inventive…” I think there’s been some inventive stuff, but not nearly as much in past albums (including Pop, which for all its flaws was very innovative – I just think it needed a few months more work).

    What else about the last paragraph do you disagree with? I’m curious. You think I overstated the 80′s vibe to both albums? I don’t think it’s the only influence by any means. But it’s a pretty strong one I think.

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