No JT songs? No problem

When it comes to U2 shows, I consider myself a seasoned veteran—thirty shows since 1987. But every time I think I’ve got the band figured out, they do something that I did not expect.

With barely a year passing since Joshua Tree 2017, it never occurred to me that the band would not play a single song from The Joshua Tree. I knew that the set-list would be heavy with new songs from SOE and probably SOI, but there was no way that they would leave out hits like Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For or With or Without You. No way, right? Wrong.

I really didn’t think about it until after the show. It turns out it was a brilliant idea. Leaving out songs from TJT left room for other songs—songs not played in a while. But they didn’t stop there; they also dropped One from Achtung Baby. That perennial favorite was also left out. I don’t think I’ve been to a show since ZOO TV when it was not played. Did I miss it? No. Did I miss any of the songs from TJT? No.

What impressed me the most was they finally played Acrobat. It is a song that they have never played live before. It is a fantastic song. Bono’s soaring vocals blew the roof off of the building. I remember reading in fan forums since the early 2000s that maybe they would play it on their next tour. But it never happened.

I always assumed with a growing catalog of songs and a need to still play the hits they never had a good enough reason to add it to the set. I wasn’t part of the chorus of fans that passionately appealed the band to perform it. It’s a great song and while I wasn’t waiting for it, I loved hearing it live.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I realize how cool this new tour is. An interview with Rolling Stone magazine cites Adam as saying that this tour is about their newer songs and deeper cuts. I only wish I knew about that before seeing the show. It would have put me in a better frame of mind.

They did play Pride and Sunday Bloody Sunday and it would have been even better had they dropped those songs as well. But taking into consideration the video that was played with these songs, there is no way they would keep it off of the set list. With what is going on in the country right now, I’m sure the band wanted to keep significance of these songs timely.

I am not so sure if they will keep those two songs during their European leg. The video might not resonate strongly across the Atlantic. I could be wrong. And if they were to ask me, I’d say drop those two as well and leave more room for back catalog songs. I would also cut I Will Follow (they played it both nights in San Jose).

How awesome would it be to play even more deep cuts? If they were to drop the three songs I mentioned I’d love to see Love Rescue Me, So Cruel and The Wanderer added.

Perhaps during the break between the North American leg and European leg, they can find more ways to revitalize the set list a bit more.

From what I’ve read, the current set list doesn’t vary too much and fans that go to more than one show are hearing the same sets. Understandably with such a carefully choreographed show, making significant changes is difficult. It didn’t used to be that way. I remember certain tours had more variety.

With the video screen being less than a fifth band member, but more that just an instrument, it get harder and harder for our boys change things up. The technology that liberates them in so many ways, confines them in others.

In my next post I will take a longer look at Experience + Innocence 2018 and consider if it is a fitting sequel to Innocence + Experience 2015.

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Two tours, two slightly different “experiences”

When I first saw the floor plan for this tour, I knew that U2 and company kept the stages from their Innocence + Experience Tour 2015. I was very pleased because I really liked the set-up. There literally was not a bad seat in the house.

i+e Tour 2015

e+i Tour 2018

Taking into consideration that Songs of Experience is a companion piece to Songs of Innocence, the accompanying tours should also follow suit. My guess is that this was probably the plan from the very beginning.

Of all of the tour stages that the band has used since Joshua Tree Tour 1987 (my first), this is probably the best in allowing them move through crowd. I chose reserved seating for both nights during i+e 2015 at SAP Center in San Jose. Although I wanted GA tickets—for both nights—it was impractical. It was also presumptuous to submit my party to the all-day affair that is General Admission.

Having reserved seats did have the advantage of enjoying the full visual spectacle of that massive screen. I had reserved seats again for the first night of this tour and was again treated some technological wizardry. I downloaded e+i Tour app and got my first taste of Augmented Reality.

I’m always impressed with how our boys find new ways to incorporate technology into their shows. Once I launched the app from my Jurassic iPhone 5S and it used the camera lens to capture the LED screen

I’m always impressed with how our boys find new ways to incorporate technology into their shows. Once I launched the app from my Jurassic iPhone 5S, it used the camera lens to capture the LED screen and stage in front of me. What I saw was a huge waterfall spilling over the top of the screen and crashing into a pool below. It was a very cool effect. My buddy tried it on his iPhone 8 Plus and I immediately wished I wasn’t so cheap and bought a new phone—the effect on his was much better. Alas, I’m a guy on a budget.

One of the advantages of this tour was that I knew what to expect. I knew the layout of the floor and where the band liked to play. That gave me a good idea of how to set up my shots. I used the same camera as I did for i+e 2015; but adjusted some of the settings to improve—hopefully—from the last time. What I quickly learned from that tour was that I needed to set the camera to shoot faster and in rapidly changing light. In addition, I needed to find a way to steady the camera better. And, I needed an SD card to could write faster.

While I did accomplish all of that, it is still very difficult for a fan to get good shots at a concert. I have tons of respect for concert photographers.

At that point, I was as prepared as I could be. I knew that when the house lights came down and the band took the stage, there was nothing left to do but shoot.

In my next post, I will write about how our boys kicked off the show.

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Another Time, Another Place

My buddy’s daughter commented on the fact that TJT doesn’t sound like an eighties album. I found this strange because it is firmly rooted in that decade for me. I replied saying that it was because she was young (mid-twenties). But she said no, there were a lot of albums that had the eighties sound and TJT didn’t have it. Evidently that sound has been very popular with Millenials, but what do I know? I’m about as Millenial as a VCR (what?).

However, her comment did get me thinking about what the band was trying to do at the time. I’ve been rereading old Rolling Stone magazines and there is an interview with Bono where he grouses about eighties music—rock stars in particular. He saw the coolness by fellow musicians as a kind of detachment and something he and his band mates loathed. For all the criticism they received, detachment was not one of them. Their earnestness and seriousness was what drove much of their music. And it was what connected them with their fans. These guys believed in things very strongly and weren’t afraid to let the world know.

Bono also complained about the commercialism of music.  He felt that there are record companies “who treat music like a tin of beans—a product to be sold.” It could be said that this was ironic coming from the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world at the time. But what I think he as getting at was that U2 endeavored mightily against the notion of being mediocre, though commercially prosperous. They were not content with treading over familiar ground—even though it was lucrative and praiseworthy—simply because it successful.

In the interview, there is a sense that the band’s superstardom is not necessarily something to reject but to understand that with that position comes a responsibility to the music and the fans. And this is where I think they took the road not taken.

I can’t think of another band from that time that sang more about social and political issues than them (although I did not understand much if it). Songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday and Pride (In the Name of Love) had gravitas. The Police had gravitas, but I always felt they were more literary than political. Sting was political. But it was the subject matter of U2’s songs combined with their music that made them so different.

In the DVD Classic Albums – The Joshua Tree, Edge recalls that they felt very disconnected with what was going on in music at the time, even their music videos were “so different, like they were from some other place”. And though I relate all those songs with the eighties, it is because I listened to them so much during that time. But to someone like my buddy’s daughter, she doesn’t get that eighties-feel like she does from Def Leppard, INXS or Bon Jovi.

No blind alleys for Streets

I remember the first time I saw the Where The Streets Have No Name music video on television. The band set up on the rooftop of a liquor store in downtown Los Angeles and played to a captivated and growing crowd. The part that really struck me was there was a moment when the crowd was still respectful and stayed on the sidewalk while the police tried to keep order. And then—all of a sudden—they run into the street seemingly oblivious to the traffic. I thought how cool would it have been to be there. And in my new-to-rock naiveté, I realized this band was going to be huge. Even watching the video now, there is this sense that this very event was marking a significant change in the growth of the band. They were going to be megastars from that moment on.

After all of the hype surrounding the new album and immense anticipation, the band launched the release with the force of a supernova. Streets raced up charts all around the planet. For a moment, everyone was playing U2 on the radio. They were, as the April 27th issue of Time Magazine stated on the cover, “Rock’s Hottest Ticket”.

Into the arms of America

What nearly all of us can agree on is the sound. The moment I hear the beginning of Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With Or Without You, I know what it is. These songs are recognizable for their towering vocals and soaring guitars. They are the gold standard for bringing-the-house-down noise that only the best bands can produce.

When I first listened to the album what knocked me off my feet was the open, ambient nature of the songs. There was something sweeping and spacious about them. I visualized the band playing atop a barren mesa beneath a domed night sky. But there was also this strangeness that was a part of every song. It was a little hard to express other than the album felt otherworldly and unlike the times.

If that is what my buddy’s daughter meant, I agree. I have so many memories from that time it is hard to separate the album from the decade. I needed to step out of my own experience to see her point.

1987 was such a momentous time for the band. The culmination of their efforts was put to test to the country that held their fascination. It was a big album by a big band on a very big stage. And we here in the United States ate it up.

It was the album of the eighties that didn’t sound like it came from there.

Technology and U2 tours

I had a thought recently: has technology made going to a show better? My initial answer would be yes. From our ability to buy tickets to recording a live performance, everything has been improved upon with the advent of technology. So, that must be a yes, right?

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My own history has shown that the answer is not that simple. No one can deny how much easier it is today to learn about an upcoming tour, a new album or directly connect with band member. It’s absolutely great.

The band itself has been on the leading edge of it for decades. From its use of multimedia during the ZOO TV Tour (’92-’93) to its relationship with Apple, they embraced it instead on shunning it. So where’s the problem?

With the emergence of social media it now has become important for us to record so much of our lives and to receive approval (in the form of likes, comments and/or emojis) for it. And, when did that happen? When did it become so important to let others know what we are doing at any given moment? Sure, a U2 show is a special occasion so it would justify documenting that moment of our lives. But, that is not what happens. We tend to document both the momentous and prosaic in equal measure. Obviously, technology has much to do with that. If it were harder to do, we would most likely do less.

The sad part is that I spent so much time recording the moment, that I missed a substantial part of it. That didn’t used to happen. I can remember the tours of Joshua Tree, Zoo TV, PopMart and Elevation with great detail, all because I didn’t have a camera (no camera phones existed during these tours as well) and I simply watched the show. Beginning with Vertigo and through i+e, camera phones continued to improve and my focus shifted to capturing the event. I’m glad that I did, but it is a little different now and I can’t say it is all for the better.

Bono & Edge City

U2’s shows are fantastic now. They have harmonized skill, practical knowledge, technology and artistry to create a truly enriching spectacle. The thing is, it is so good I can’t just sit back and observe; I have to record. The very thing that makes it worth watching makes me want to do something else in addition to that.

The worst part of that is that my friends are also doing the same thing. At any given moment they’re trying to get that great shot, record a particular song or post something in real-time that it has become a less shared experience than in the past even though we’re standing right next to each other.  I can remember in older tours feeling so connected to my friends and the band at the same time when my favorite songs were being performed. There was this whole cool dynamic of completely being in the moment, surrounded by friends and fans and totally immersed in the music that it almost felt like floating.

This is not to say that I don’t feel that anymore; I do. And I don’t want it sound like I’m lamenting for days before social media and mobile phones. I’m just saying that it was a little simpler back then. I did less. As a result, I experienced more.

I remember seeing a clip on YouTube from a recent show (I can’t remember which) where Bono invited a bunch of people on stage, as he has done so many times. But during this time, many of them were concentrating on taking selfies that it seemed like they had forgotten they were on stage with one of the biggest bands on the planet. Bono did what he could to bring them back, saying, “Live in the moment. Be in the moment.” However, it was strange that he had to say that. It was strange that he had to compete for their attention. And it is even stranger that this will likely be the new normal.

I tell myself that if I were ever lucky enough to be pulled on stage, I definitely would not be taking selfies. I don’t really fault the people that do. But, I just don’t want my memory of that unique point in my life being of me trying to frame the shot with me in the foreground and the band and audience in the background, while Bono waited.

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So, does that mean will I leave my smartphone and camera at home when the next tour comes to town? No. I will be bringing them with me. My hope is that I can find the balance of capturing key points of the show and simply enjoying the rest. I want to be more present for their future shows, not less.

In a way, I just want to be the guy who went to the show and marveled at what the band had in store.

U2 i+e Live in Paris coming to Blu-Ray & DVD

U2 Paris.i+e

As if you didn’t know already. U2’s latest concert in Paris will arrive on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 10th, so mark your calendar. Or, you can just pre-order it.

U2 i+e

If you missed this concert that aired on HBO last December, you now have the opportunity to own it. This was a fantastic show that must be seen. Our lads from Dublin put on something a little extra for this event given the ordeal Parisians experienced. These versions will also contain behind-the-scenes extras that were not shown on television.

U2 i+e Super Deluxe

For the hardcore fans, there is a super-deluxe version includes the Blu-Ray and DVD, plus a trove of memorabilia (postcards, book, buttons, even a USB light bulb like the one suspended above the stage). It isn’t cheap at $119.88 on Amazon. It might mean saving up, but it looks to be well worth it.

U2 Live from Paris premieres Monday (12-7)

U2 Live in Paris 2015

Just a quick reminder that this Monday, December 7th will be returning to Paris to perform their last two shows from Innocence + Experience Tour 2015.

The concerts will be held at Accorhotels Arena in Bercy.  Their final show will be airing live on HBO, so set your DVRs.  Even if you’re watching it live, you will want to see it again and again.  I sure will.

There is no doubt that the band has something special planned for these night.  Their shows are already spectacular.  And in light of recent events, I’m sure they will use the time to bring everyone at the arena, and the rest of us watching at home, just a little bit closer.

It’s gonna be awesome.

U2 announce dates for Paris shows

U2 I+E 2015

The band announced the dates for their final Paris shows.  Originally scheduled for November 14th and 15th, the band was forced to cancel their shows due to the terror attacks in Paris on Friday, November 13th.  Many venues were also cancelled as the officials took all necessary security measures to keep the public safe.  Even though they pledged to return, they could not provide a date due to the fact much of the situation was out of their control.

Bono expressed his dismay and anger on the radio saying it was the first direct hit on music that we’ve had on this so-called was on terror.

With the circumstances changing daily, it was nearly impossible for them to know when they could return.  However, they are back and ready to rock.

This is very welcome news as the band has proven again their commitment to its fans, Paris and music itself that they stand with all of us who truly believe that love is stronger than hate.  As fans, I know we can all agree that they have always put the emphasis on the music and us.

U2, Live Nations and HBO all deserve hearty congratulations for rescheduling such a large event so quickly, in what I am sure must be a very complicated and very difficult situation.  So set you DVRs for December 6th and 7th because our favorite lads from Ireland are going to elevate the City of Light.  These shows will takes on special meaning, as they will prove that nothing creates solidarity like music.

Hats off to Paris as well.  I hope these are two more giant steps towards normalcy.

#strongerthanfear

U2 pays its respect to terror victims

U2 in Paris 2015

U2 laid flowers and a memorial for the slain victims of Friday’s terror attacks.  They looked somber as the gazed at the collection of flowers, candles and signs set out near the site of tragic events.

There is still no word on when the tour will resume or when the Paris shows will be rescheduled.  A state of emergency has been declared by President Francois Hollande and many events in around Paris have been cancelled.

The band has promised that they will return but did not offer a time due to the ongoing situation.  Bono expressed their determination to return for their music fans during a radio interview with Dave Fanning of RTE 2fm.  However, their return was not up to him or the band but with French officials.

I am hoping to provide more developments as they occur.