A little teaser…

I will be posting some pictures (and thoughts) of the two shows in San Jose, California soon. In the meantime, here’s a couple of shots of the main stage and “E” stage from the first night.

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SOE: satisfying or exciting?

So how does the new album stack up against SOI? The short answer is that is a great bookend to it. There are echoes of lyrics in songs like 13 (There is A Light) and Song for Someone, which is a wonderful element that I don’t think has been employed before.

I believe the band is doing what they have always done in exploring and experimenting with new sounds and ideas. They continue to push themselves creatively and when they get it right, it’s magic. When they don’t, the albums are still good, but they receive less attention on tour. It’s no surprise that songs from Zooropa, Pop and NLOTH make the set-list far less often than all the others. Even the band admitted that NLOTH took too long to make and didn’t have radio-friendly songs—though some did at its release.

That sound

For me, there is a sound that I love and I can only describe it this way: if another band were playing it, you’d still recognize it as a U2 song. These are the songs of UF, JT, AB, ATYCLYB and HTDAAB. I want to put their first three albums on the list, too. But, it still feels like they were discovering their sound. However in the albums I mentioned, the sound is so distinctive and it is the sound that I love.

Is that sound on SOE? My first response would be no. It feels like something is missing, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think producers Ryan Tedder, Danger Mouse, Paul Eppworth and Jacknife Lee have done well in finding new frontiers for exploration. The result was a different U2 than what we’ve known before, and that too is good. However, I find I am having a harder time connecting with this album.

I remember hearing HTDAAB for the very first time—and on a U2 iPod—and being blown away at how good each and every song was. The songs were confident and celebratory, while others were tragic and lonely. It was a powerful reminder that—to paraphrase Robert Frost—the band had miles to go before they sleep.

I did not feel that way with SOI, although I wanted to very much.

Better live and up close?

Will the new songs play well on this year’s tour? I have no doubt that some will. The band previewed a couple of songs during JTT ’17. They played The Little Things That Give You Away at Levis’ Stadium and it was fantastic. The true test will be how many songs stay on their set-list. I read something that although the 360° Tour was extremely successful; songs from NLOTH began to be replaced by others as the tour wore on.

Do I believe the songs are strong enough to stay on the set-list? Yes, most of them will sound great live. I think American Soul, The Blackout, You’re The Best Thing About Me and Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way all have that big-sound rock tunes that play well in arenas and stadiums. These songs sound more like the U2 that I recognize.

The good news is that I won’t have to wait too long to hear them live.  Oh, yeah.

U2 Blues (The Miracle)

From the deepest valley to the highest mountain. After nearly three weeks of disappointment—bordering in depression—I have risen out to the pit of misery. Dilly-dilly!! 

After the announcement of more shows being added to the tour (Las Vegas, Chicago, Montreal, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Boston & New York) I was mildly hopeful that there would be a second show for San Jose. The boys usually play two shows here in the Bay Area but I was far from confident. Furthermore even if a second show was added, I had strong doubts on getting tickets, given the whole fiasco last time (see my previous posts).

But Lady Luck smiled upon me and I was able to score 2 GA tickets for the second show (5-8-18). I’m guessing Ticketmaster fixed some of the problems that plagued fans last month. I can attest that I did everything I was supposed to do to ensure access to the pre-sale, but I was locked out. This time around I was successful and it felt like being invited to a very exclusive party.

So, I’ll just keep it short and sweet on this post.  I am happy to be going to another U2 show and on my birthday no less.

U2 Blues (week 2)

The long and ongoing tragedy of trying to obtain tickets to Experience + Innocence 2018 has entered its second week.  I wish I could say there was hope that with addition of shows there would be another chance to get tickets.  But Ticketmaster is employing the very same method of tickets sales as before.  The idea that this was supposed to “put tickets into the hands of fans and not scalpers or bots” seems to have failed.  A quick check of StubHub’s website shows hundreds of tickets available.  Granted, there might be some legit fans that are selling tickets, I don’t believe the Verified Subscriber/Verified Fan process has worked as intended.

The idea was that subscribers of the band’s Official Fan Club—a paid membership—would be the first to get tickets.  A paid membership allowed one to buy tickets before they went on sale to the general public.  I know I’m not in the minority when I say this the primary reason why fans join.  Membership has its privileges and this is the best one.  Yes, the annual gifts are great.  As a fan, I love getting memorabilia (rare CDs, books, Super Deluxe versions of CD/DVDs/etc.) but I joined for the tickets.  I wanna go to the show.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in the forums on the band’s official site and the anger among those that didn’t get tickets runs deep.  The fans/subscribers did exactly as U2.com and Ticketmaster recommended (as described in my previous post) with the hopes getting in on the presale.  And yes, there were those that got in and tickets.  But there were many of us that did not and had little recourse other than call/email TM, call U2.com and/or air our grievances in the forums.  I didn’t get a presale code and there was literally nothing I could do; except what I just mentioned.  I did everything I could and came up empty.

My experience with U2 fans—for 30 years now—is that we are all decent people.  There might be some that fall outside that description, but I don’t know of any.  Over the years, the camaraderie had with total strangers, other than they were fans, has been great.  I’ve also been touched by the little things that was done for me, like hold my place in line while I or my party went to the bathroom, grabbed some food, or took our pictures.  All of those things I happily reciprocated.  There was always this “We all here together” attitude that I loved.  Then there were the things that surprised, like fans selling their extra ticket for face value.  The first time I saw that I was during Elevation ‘01.  Wow.

So, it is with great frustration knowing that I have done all the things expected of me and still not get tickets.  Yes, I understand that there is always this Oklahoma Land Rush race to get tickets.  But I have always been in the race.  This time I wasn’t.  No presale code means no race.

I’ve read many fans exasperation, confusion or sheer anger at this new system.  Some have said that the days of going to a U2 show is over.  I don’t believe this is hyperbole.  It’s not just the rising cost of tickets/memorabilia/etc., which is understandable.  It’s the $50 parking, $9 beers and $11 hot dogs.  It’s the ubiquity of smartphones and social media during the show.  To now be locked out of buying tickets—and one did everything one was supposed to do—might be the bridge too far.  One can only march for so long.  While I’m still in the fight, I’m not the young guy I once was.  I make more money now, but I’m definitely not rich.  In the end, I may have to go over to the dark side (i.e. StubHub) but maybe not.  The culmination of all that I have described, plus the element of disappointment, might be enough for me to stand down and let someone else carry on.

It’s not over yet, so hope remains despite the current travails.

U2 blues

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The Good, The Bad and the Not So Pretty (part III)

There has been something I started to notice since i+e 2015 that has had me rethinking the value of social media and music shows. As good as they are, I think they sometimes distract us from the moment. As a result, we end up missing something.

Let me start by mentioning that I like social media. Maybe not as much as some of my friends, but I do enjoy it. Hell, I’ve got a blog and I use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to help expand my reach. By the way, if you would ask most friends, I would be one of the last people they think would have blog. But I digress, without social media, I would have a much harder time getting the word out. So, it is a very useful tool.

But something happened on the road to the future. I first noticed it with my friends who embraced social media much earlier than I did. They spent a good amount of time on it and I sometimes found it impolite on occasions like dinner or at the movies. What would last for several seconds began to stretch to minutes as everyone checked their phones and cycled through their apps. Since I was one of the last ones to embrace these technologies, I was first to poo-poo them. I saw it as a waste of time. It wasn’t until years that I finally was seduced to the dark side (I’m kidding).

I’m not a Luddite. I like technology. What I didn’t think would happen was how much it would change my experiences at a U2 show and not all for the better. Sure, it is wonderful to be able to shoot, record and even share the content with others. But, when did it become more important to do that than to simply sit (or stand) back and just enjoy the show? It’s happened to my friends, too. We all do it now. I can say that I’m shooting as much as I can so I can have content for my blog—and that is true—but I’m also doing because it seems like the best way to get people to notice my site.

My buddy who is far more proficient at social media than me has thousands of Twitter, Instagram and Periscope followers. When he posts something on any of the channels, many take notice. I want that for my blog, but have yet to figure that one out.

What started out as an interest (my blog) has grown into something else. I enjoy writing about my favorite band and it’s awesome when someone responds to my work, which is why I will continue do it.

The challenge comes from finding that middle road where I am not letting it overtake my actual enjoyment of the show.

What I noticed during Joshua Tree 2017 was how many people were recording, live-streaming or Periscoping the show. It was astonishing. I learned about Periscope about a year ago and didn’t think much of it. My buddy uses it and I see the appeal. The ability to interact with so many people is kind of cool. So, ‘scoping (as I have learned) a U2 show can be cool. I say can because it lets people who were not able to go the show, still see it. It’s a good way to share your experience with fellow fans and that always feels good.

But, you can become so fixated on ‘scoping the next song or what’s going around you that you miss the whole song yourself. What was supposed to be a shared experience is reduced because you are trying get the best shot instead of simply enjoying the band with your friends.

The strangest thing about it was how it seemed to affect the band, primarily Bono. Our beloved front man has always been the best at engaging the crowd. I first noticed it during ZOO TV way back in 1992. He had such a connection to the fans because he made one. During The Elevation Tour 2001, when they were “reapplying for the job”, I felt such a bond with them. There was something very special about that tour and I was lucky enough to be in the heart. I got a high-five from Bono and that was awesome.

With each tour, I felt like they were getting better at connecting with us. A part of that is due to stage design, but most of it is because of them, particularly the B-Man.

This time around it felt like something was missing, or maybe withdrawn. That’s the best way I can describe it. It appeared that performing to a field of raised smartphones was affecting the way he was interacting with the crowd. It looked like he was competing with their devices for their attention. It was weird. He’s a pro, so he didn’t stop trying.

The show got better when the band returned to the main stage. Bono seemed more comfortable even though the smartphones were still in the air, he was farther away. I can’t be sure if that was the reason, but it’s the only one I have.

I also realize that this may be the way it will be from now on. The days of going to a show and just seeing it might be over. If I sound like and old guy lamenting about days long past, I might be. Technology is awesome and I wouldn’t want to do without it, but it also has its drawbacks.

Our boys are the best in the business and I’m sure they’ll figure this one out.  From what I’ve read since seeing the show, they are.

The Good, The Bad and The Not So Pretty (part II)

If the laws of the universe is return everything back to balance, then the magnificence of U2 show must balanced by the suckitude of Levi’s Stadium.

First, the cost for parking was $50.00. In my opinion, that’s a little steep. I knew that is wasn’t going to be cheap, but wow. I also realize that this may be the going rate for parking and I just need to be good with it.

In addition, the parking attendants and security personnel seemed quite disorganized. The traffic flowing into the lot was quite slow even though we arrived several hours before the show. After we parked, we immediately got into line, which was about 50 people. The security folks told everyone in line that they would start letting people in at 5:00 pm.  Turned out to be 5:40 pm.

I will say that the ticketless/credit card entry method is not for me.  I realized that I would not have a real ticket and this would be my first show where I did not have a cool keepsake of the show. Second, it takes several seconds to print up this little receipt that functions as your ticket. This is where the bottleneck occurred. By this time there were several hundred people behind us in our line alone. Thanks goodness we got there early, because it got exponentially worse as time wore on.

My party had club level seats—although we didn’t know it at the time—and we all stood in line for food & beer at the regular level. This is where Levi’s fails. The staff working the counters were at best, below average and at worst lame. It took about 20 minutes to get to the front of the line. The guy who to took my money for a $12.00 hot dog (yeah, that’s right) had difficulty of knowing where to put the $20 bill I handed to him. There was a sense that many of them were brand new. There was this woman supervisor who was walking behind cashiers and kept scolding everyone, but beyond that did little to help. One cashier processed a customer’s order only to learn that they were out of the item. The supervisor told the cashier, “Remember what I said about not taking the money unless you are sure you have the food,” right in front of the customer and then walked away. No apology to the customer or how they would fix the problem. Wow.

After getting our food and eating quickly, we proceeded to find our seats. It was then that we realized we were at the club level. I have never stayed at the club level and what little I know is that it is supposed to offer the guests a luxurious experience. If that is the case, then Levi’s left me a little unsatisfied. The club level did have its own entrance with staff members checking tickets to make sure all guests were approved.

But there were pros and cons. There was a bar and it only had two bartenders serving drinks. The lines were at least 25 people deep and given that the bar was quite large, there should have been a minimum of four, if not six bartenders (three for each side). It was obvious that the bartenders were new because they were using measuring cups to to mix the drinks. I assumed they were contracted by Levi’s, but holy hell, they couldn’t find people who had served drinks before? When the bartender has to measure out the alcohol for each and every drink, it takes more time. Multiply that by hundreds of thirsty but patient guests and the wait was about a half-hour. To their credit, the drinks did have the proper amount of alcohol. I’ve been to venues where the bartenders were stingy with the spirits and it was disappointing.

There were better food concessions, but again, the people preparing the food looked like they were new. At the burger concession, there was one guy working the grill and two others standing around him, but not really doing anything. There was another person working the cash register; so I still don’t know what those two people were doing. I didn’t see them serving the food. Yet as less-than-great that that was, it was far better than the concessions at the regular level, where one guest told me he waited an hour in the hot dog line.

On the pro side, the club level is the best level to enjoy a U2 show (besides the GA floor in front of the stage). It offered an elevated view but not so high that you couldn’t see the band. Inside, the were far less people and plenty of seating. One nice perk was there were several outlets so all guests to charge their phones. In this age of living life online, being able to charge your phone at the venue is a benefit.

The men’s room was far superior at the club level. Having used both, the club was less crowded, bigger and better maintained. This is a definite plus.

My opinion—as well as many other guests—is that Levi’s need to do much better.

If they want to heal itself of its black eye, it needs to hire better staff. I realize that cost is a factor that weighs heavily when making that decision and I would respond with, you get what you pay for. My guess is that it might not be enough motivation to make these important changes.

Where The Streets Have No Name, Levis Stadium (5-17-17)

Hey everyone,

Here’s our boys performing WTSHNN in front of that incredible screen.

This song never gets hold (for me) and I just wish I was closer to the stage. My little Canon G-16 did the best that it could, but it struggled a bit. Plus, it was tough staring at the little color LCD screen to keep the image properly framed.

I was also surprised at how tired my arms got trying to hold the camera steady for only one song. How do others keep it steady?

Anyway, hope you enjoy the fellas doing their thing. Drink it all in.

The Good, The Bad and The Not So Pretty (part I) [Spoilers]

Now that a month has passed, I’ve had time to reflect on the show. The thing that comes to mind first is that there are advantages and disadvantages of seeing a show early. The advantage is obvious: seeing the show early. I get to see it before all of the footage, photos, reviews (i.e. spoilers) affect my opinion. I try to keep a wall around myself, but it has gotten harder over the years simply because of the sheer volume of content that comes out after a show. So the earlier I get to go, the less the content. That’s a good advantage; but it ends there.

The disadvantage is that it takes a while for our boys to iron out the wrinkles. In some tours they do it very quickly while others took much longer. I remember seeing them at PopMart ’97 in Oakland and even though they had been touring for a couple of months, they seemed a but unsure of themselves. That’s the best that I can describe it. After Zoo TV and Zoo TV Outside Broadcast, my expectations were high. They didn’t seem to have the confidence and swagger of the last tour and it was noticeable. There were six people in my group and we were all talking about it. One of my friends said, “Something’s missing.” I agreed with her even though I still loved the show. I read an article years later that detailed how the band was behind on the release of Pop and didn’t have enough time to rehearse before the tour launched. The good news is they found their legs by the time they hit Europe and were back to full form.

With that in mind, I figure the band needs to time to find their rhythm. As well-planned as this tour is, the show at Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Ca.) lacked the dynamism of i+e 2015. Some of that was marred by our experience at Levi’s (more on that later), particularly the staff.

From the moment the show kicked off during i+e, I felt that it was going to be incredible; and it was. Seeing the gigantic screen for Joshua Tree 2017, I felt the same excitement. Yet as amazing as that screen is, it functions to strengthen the performance of the band. This is where I was hoping that they would bring the thunder and lightning, as they have so many times in the past.

One of the greatest things our Dublin lads do is perform at high level when the lights are the brightest. There is a fine balance between well-scripted and extemporaneity and this is where they shine, most of the time. It does feel a bit sacrilegious to give anything other than high praise, so it feels weird. But now that I am older and have seen a decent amount of shows (28) I am trying to be more objective.

Ever since Elevation ’01, I felt that the band has been getting better and better at live performances. Going into Joshua Tree Tour 2017, I tried not to have expections while knowing that this was a celebration of their landmark album. This was the album that turned me into a fan, so to say I was really looking forward to it, would be a huge understatement. Again, I wanted to “go in fresh” so I avoided anything that even mentioned the tour online.

The Good

Cutting right to the chase, the band opened on the satellite stage and launched into Sunday Bloody Sunday. It was a great way to kick off the show. They followed with New Year’s Day, A Sort of Homecoming, Bad and Pride (In the Name of Love). What I slowly realized was that they were playing all their songs that predated TJT, which was so cool. By then, the crowd was thoroughly warmed up and the band migrated back to the main stage to play the entire album—in order—without interruption. Nice.

By now it must be safe to say that nearly all of us have seen WTSHNN performed live and while a fan-favorite, how can it be re-experienced after thirty years? It can, and happened to me during the Elevation Tour ’01. There was something about that performance—and it helped being the in the heart—that took me back 14 years to 1987. I always thought it was the way Bono sung that song that reminded me of the first time I heard it live. For all of the ostentatiousness of PopMart and Zoo TV, the restrained production of Elevation actually made that song sound better.

For me the magnificence of the song is its wide-open nature. It was meant to be performed in front of a crowd. One of the best moments of the show was the beginning of song and it reminded me of a very similar performance during the film Rattle and Hum. As many of us know, most of the film is in black & white, except for a particular section. At the moment WTSHNN opens the screen is filled with the color red from the backdrop and the band members walk onto to the stage and take their positions. I always loved that because of the dramatic way color was introduced.

I believe the band had this idea in mind when they kicked off the song. That gigantic screen turned red and it was awesome. I also knew something would be displayed during the song, but didn’t know what. From what I learned later, Anton Corbijn filmed much of the content and he was the right man for the job. The moving image of a two-lane desert highway with jagged mountains in the background and beneath a cloudy, angry sky is so strikingly beautiful, I wanted to stop recording with my Canon G-16 and just enjoy the song. But, I really wanted to capture the entire song and focused on the task at hand (I will post the recording soon). The combination of the video and the performance gave the song a new dynamic.

For me, this was the high point of the show. The band was in full stride, Bono was in his element and that immense screen was the choir. I will mention it was at this point that much of the cold dissatisfaction of being at Levi’s began to melt away as I began to remember how much I loved hearing this song live.  I actually liked this version more than the version during i+e 2015.

Well, that’s it for now.  I will post the video in my next article.