Technology, business and the band

IMG_0030There are times when technology can be a real pain the in neck. And, there are times when it is truly a marvel. In the case i+e, technology is definitely in the latter. I can remember a very long time ago that cameras weren’t allowed into U2’s concerts. It actually read that on the ticket: no alcohol, bottles or cameras. The alcohol and bottles always made sense to me, but I didn’t quite understand the No Camera Policy. Back then, my friend told me that freelance photographers would take pictures of the show and then sell them. Over time, two things happened. One, the band grew in prominence. And two, the number of photographers grew in abundance. In addition, the band received none of the money made from these sales and consequently, prohibited them. IMG_0102Mind you, this was years before the World Wide Web and I had no idea how these people made money selling their photos. I remember seeing ads in the back of certain music magazines and in the classified section of the newspaper, but how much did they make doing that? To this day I don’t know, but it was definitely something the band and its managers were concerned about. I remember a compelling argument that they made about unauthorized photographs. It took me a while to understand the necessity of that business decision, but I did. The biggest downer of that was if you ever wanted a picture of a show, you had to buy it. I had no problems with that, but I never bought pictures, either. The biggest reason was I couldn’t afford it. IMG_0117 As the years passed, I noticed the policies were loosened further. Disposable cameras were now allowed into the show, but that’s it. I used them in the past and the pictures were decent but nowhere near the quality of a real camera. However, I was happy that I could now take pictures. Once mobile phone-makers started building digital cameras into their devices, instead of barring them form shows, the band welcomed them.  This is another reason why I admire them.  They have the remarkable ability to see the future and recognize the opportunity.  Because mobile phones were allowed, there was no way to stop people form taking pictures.  Granted, they could still take them and sell them–and I’m only guessing–but the band no longer cared.  The overwhelming majority would not sell them.  But, the would share them with friends and family and most important, online.  The band literally had millions of free marketing and all they had to do was let it happen.  Brilliant. I’m sure this is not unique to U2, but it is still very smart.  By welcoming something they once refused, they’ve only grown in popularity.  And who benefits the most, us. IMG_0213 For i+e, I’ve read that SLRs are disallowed again, but I saw a guy in the GA floor with one and the lens looked like a tank barrel.  I’m not sure what the rule is but I intend to find out.  If the band comes back to the Bay Area, I’d love to shoot the show with one.  It would be great to have high-quality images for this blog. I welcome your thoughts.

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i+e versus previous tours (part 2)

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Now that I have talked about what my first impressions of i+e and how is it that they remain in top form for over thirty years, I’d like to talk about the show itself.

I deliberately did not visit their website days before the beginning of the tour because I did not want to catch any sneak peaks. I like to go in unspoiled by preliminary images or photos of the first shows. There is something very special about walking into the arena and seeing the stage, sound equipment and video screen for the first time.

It is always impressive because there is the sense that we are seeing professionals coming to work. With the house lights on, seeing their set and maybe a few of the stage crew, I have always said to friends, “these people really know what they’re doing.” They move about with a sense of purpose. I can see that they take the duties seriously and they are devoted to helping make the band look and sound great.

The first time I saw the stage it reminded me of their ZOO TV tour in 1992 – 1993 where there was a runway to a B stage. This time around, the runway nearly bisects the entire general admission floor and terminates in a B stage. This is brilliant because it allows so many on the floor to be as close as possible to the band as they perform. And, in keeping with the band’s idea of making the best tickets in the house also the cheapest tickets in the house, fans on a budget can still afford to go. GA ticketholders may have stand all night but they are closest to band. That is so awesome.

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Above the runway is a colossal video screen that it almost as long as the runway. Since ZOO TV, the band has taken video enhancement to the next level with each and every tour. It may seem counterintuitive, but the video screen actually enriches the experience. The band does not have to compete for our attention with the screen; instead the screen allows us to focus on the band even more. It’s strange how that works.

The best example of this is when Bono invites the audience to come with him to the street he was supposed to grow up on, before launching into “Cedarwood Road”. As he speaks we walks up a ladder into the video screen. On the screen is a video rendering of a street and he enters into the screen the city block becomes animated and begins to move. Slow at first but then faster with what looks like wind and rain. It is an amazing scene and cannot be described with words. I’m going to post a recording of it that I took with my iPhone.

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The screen, the lights, even the mirror balls all seem like gimmicks when recounted in a narrative like this, but when experienced you realize that they are not. The performance has activated your senses and you truly connect to the band. Bono has often said that they write and perform their music to get closer to the audience. After seeing a U2 show, you realize that it’s not just idle talk. You do feel closer to them. The good friends that were not fans that I have invited to come with me have always left extremely impressed. They admit that they had no idea how great the band was until seeing them live. None have left unimpressed or bored.

Going to a U2 show is a life event for me. I’ve had others, but the best thing about this particular one is that it is recurs. I only wish it was more often.

How does Innocence + Experience compare to previous tours? (part 1)

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So now that is has been three weeks since the two shows in San Jose, I want to take a moment and write about it. My first instinct was to simply register my thoughts but I really wasn’t crazy about that idea. I started to think about i+e in contrast to some of their past tours and does the band still set the standard for live shows?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. U2 still sets the bar—and sets it high—for how a band should perform and engage the audience.

For those of us who went to 360°, we were treated with a spectacle that remains their biggest, most-successful tour to date. Although, it would be difficult to predict the success of the current tour, i+e is definitely a smaller and more stripped-down endeavor. That doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome, because it is.

I plan to go into previous tours in more detail, but that will be on a different post.

So what makes i+e so awesome? First and foremost: imagination. The band never ceases to amaze me when they tour because they constantly innovate. As artists, their first priority is to hold our attention for as long as they have asked for it. You might say that is pretty easy to do at a rock concert. I wouldn’t disagree. But, I’ve also been bored at concerts, which I didn’t think was possible.

The band knows that we’ve spent our hard-earned money (and their tickets aren’t cheap) to see a U2 show. That means something to us and that means something to them. I’ve read so many books and articles on the fact that they place the highest importance on their audience. The band knows that it must not only live up to our expectations, but also exceed them. So, how do they do that so consistently?

I would say talent, but not just talent. They have the most brilliant people to imagine, to problem-solve, to strategize, to create an experience that lasts long after we leave the show. It takes skill, hard work and an army of dedicated people willing to help achieve that vision. And, it also takes a sincere earnestness by the band and the company to make a show special for us.

I’m biased, because I’ve loved all of their shows. But, I’m not ignorant. I can see the sheer amount of effort it takes to put on a tour like theirs and know it’s not easy. It’s not easy to sing at the top of your lungs night after night. It’s not easy grind your guitar or to batter your drums for over two hours night after night. It’s not easy to make each song sound great, night after night. But they do. I see them try. I see them throw themselves out there not just demanding our attention, but commanding our attention.

I guess that’s why I love them so much, because they’re doing it for us. They’re leaving everything on the stage and know that we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Bono honors longtime tour manager at 2nd L.A. show

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U2 front-man took a moment during their show to memorialize their tour manager of over three decades, Dennis Sheehan. As previously reported Mr. Sheehan was found unresponsive and not breathing in his hotel room early Wednesday morning.

Although it cannot be known how deeply this has affected the band, it can be summed with Bono’s comments to the audience, “It takes a lot to put a show on like tonight and last night we lost a member of our family. Dennis Sheehan is his name. He was U2’s tour manager for thirty-three years.”

Ever the professional, Bono spent a few minutes recalling a time when the band dressed up like member of Led Zeppelin to surprise their tour manager at his birthday party. He told a story that was both touching and funny and quite appropriate for the show. Then, the band broke into “Iris (Hold Me Close)” a song about Bono’s mother who died when he was 14.

I never doubt that Bono would commemorate the moment with sweetness and class.

U2 longtime tour manager dies

Dennis Sheehan was found dead in his room at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood early Wednesday morning.

“We’ve lost a family member, we’re still taking it in,” said Bono in a statement on the band’s website. “He wasn’t just a legend in the music business, he was a legend in our band. He is irreplaceable.”

Sheehan had been involved with the band for over 30 years. He was 68 years old.

The band has just begun a five-show stretch in Los Angeles. This is only the latest tragedy in a series of setbacks the band has encountered, including Bono’s bicycle accident in New York’s Central Park last November and Edge’s fall of the stage in Vancouver at the beginning of the tour.

Here’s to hoping that this will last adversity they will have to experience during their six-month tour.

Rest in peace, Mr. Sheehan, you truly are a legend.

U2 invades San Jose

Ireland’s most powerful rock force will occupy Silicon Valley on May 18th and 19th.  Attendees will have their senses assaulted on both nights at SAP Center in San Jose, California, home of the San Jose Sharks. A spectacle is sure to be witnessed as the band has honed their tactics over three decades to truly become one of rock music’s last superpowers.

The shows have been sold out for months and a quick check of fan forums confirms some desperate seekers still scouring the web for tickets. This is the dilemma every time the gang from Dublin comes to town: demand far exceeds supply. With every tour, the price for a single ticket nearly doubles. While this may be a by-product of the high cost of touring in the 21st century, it is also a glowing testimony of their staying power. But I will admit that it gets a little harder for me to see them every time they come.

Long time official fan club subscribers—like yours truly—know that there are benefits to membership. One of them is the ability to buy tickets before they go on sale to the general public. This in itself is definitely worth the annual fee. It is the only way I can sleep soundly knowing that I have secured seats to both performances. And yes, I would lose sleep if I didn’t have tickets. It’s all about having a plan… and enough room on my credit card. Fortunately, I have both.

As the band has already set up camp in downtown San Jose, we all patiently—and agonizingly—bide our time until tomorrow.

The countdown to the invasion has begun.

Hello U2 fans!

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This is yet another blog about the best band in the world: U2. I’ve wanted to write a blog about Dublin’s most famous quartet for many years now, but didn’t have a good enough reason or technical knowledge to justify spending the time, money and energy. For a long time, I have been looking for a creative outlet and with the help of a few good friends, I’ve taken that first important step. I realized with a blog, I can combine two of my great passions: writing and U2. Once I made the decision, it was time to walk the talk and launch this thing. So what do I think I have to offer? I want to share my experiences, ideas and opinions with the great fraternity of fans whose only requirement for membership, is that you love the music of U2. I want to share why I love their music so much and what made me become a fan. I want to hear about others’ stories about when and how they became fans. And most of all, I want to write. I admit that I don’t know what I’m doing and I am bound to make mistakes along the way. I hope that my mistakes are small, but if they are not, that you let me know and I will make sure that I correct them as quickly as possible. There was a part of me that wanted to make my first post momentous and even though I am merely one out of millions, one can dream. But, in the end I decided that my first post doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be out. Great—hopefully—will come later. More to come soon.