Not quite a sequel (part III)

When SOI was released we knew that there was a follow up album SOE. And, we all knew that e+i 2018 would follow i+e 2015. These bookend albums and tours were very exciting for fans. But, have the shows lived up to the anticipation?

Yes, but maybe not a strong, resounding yes.

When it comes to spectacle, our boys set the bar and set it very high. From technological wizardry to innovative set design to old-fashioned, kick-ass performance, they have blended the classic with state-of-art that has been imitated by so many.

U2 fans have come to expect that ever since ZOO TV (‘92 – ’93). With each tour, they’ve gotten bigger, brighter, louder and it has been impressive. So, when the e+i Tour was announced, I wondered where they would take us. If 360° (’09, ’11) took us to outer space, then i+e (’15) brought us home. With the band looking back to their beginnings, we followed them to our own. Perhaps it was when we first became fans—or even further—when we first heard their music. But, it was time and place most of us would associate with home.

So where are they taking us this time around?

Bono said that the band took some to time reshape SOE to reflect the times that we are currently living in. He also hinted at a near-death experience that changed the writing of the songs. For me, there is a sense of melancholy throughout the album and that translated to the tour.

The opening song Love Is All We Have Left definitely set the mood. It was muted; and in a way, a little sad. The band has always found interesting ways to start the show and this was no different. The massive LED screen shows a digitized version of Bono’s face and opens to reveal him standing on a beam of light. But there is no big launch like previous show. Instead, it’s a bit slow and the song feels like a plea, but I’m not sure to whom—maybe everyone.

It was strange, but not unpleasant. Two months later I still don’t know what to make of it.

One of the less-than-great things about being that the beginning of the tour (San Jose 5/7 & 5/8) is that the band is still working things out. I read that they spent a month rehearsing and I don’t know whether that is enough time or not, but I wish the West Coast was at the end of the North American leg instead of the beginning.

Granted, I did not notice any wrinkles that needed to be ironed out, but I do know that shows on the East Coast are more polished. It would be great to see them perform after they’ve learned what works better.

With i+e 2015 the band returned to arenas. I think they mentioned wanting to go back to to the intimacy of Elevation (’01) and Vertigo (’05). As awesome as 360° was, there was a bit of distance between the band the audience. I sensed it even though I was on the rail.

This current tour—like the one in 2015—is in arenas and using the same layout. There is not a bad seat in the house, except in the balcony at the north end of the main stage—maybe. I did notice that that area was curtained off and wondered why at the time. I thought the area was closed due to some type of hazard. But, later realized it was the area that had not sold (more on that later).

Given that much is the same, the only thing that is different is the set-list. Fans knew this is as well, so the band needed figure out where they could pull rabbits out of hats.

Acrobat

I must admit that I was not one of the armies of fans that wanted to see this performed live. It’s a great song and I’ve always liked it, but there are only so many that they can play. I wondered why they never took it on the road and figured it wasn’t ever strong enough to make the cut.

That being mentioned, the B-man killed it. It is a song that should be performed live. When he hit it high note, it felt like it could shatter glass. It was an elevating moment during the show.

There were other points in the show that were nice surprises—like Desire. It had been a while since I’ve heard it live and it was a welcome change. It plays so well electrically or acoustically. For me, I prefer the full electric version with a heavy emphasis on the rhythm section.

Somber beginnings and endings

The choice of Love Is All We Have Left and 13 (There Is A Light) to open and close the show, respectively, is a shift from some of their more uplifting tours. Usually, the band ends on a high note. Everyone leaves the show in stratosphere. The selections time seems to have grounding effect. It might be due to the band wanting to recognize the volatile times we are currently in or simply a stylistic change from i+e. Whatever it is, I did leave feeling somewhat restrained. The normal euphoria I have was tempered by the tone. Or, maybe I was just tired.

This is a different tour.

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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.

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.

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.

SOE: a sort of review

I’ve been listening to the new album for a few months now and wanted to write a review. This is my first review of any album and I’ll admit that I don’t know what I’m doing.

Over the past thirty years I must read hundreds of reviews of the band’s albums. Most were well written and convincing. Some were bad. And a few were just plain annoying.

Let me first admit that I am not a very sophisticated listener. I do not have a background in it. The most that I can say is that I like music and have for a long time. When I read a reviewer’s appraisal or listen to someone critique a song, I usually am impressed by his or her ability to explicate each and every verse. It usually sounds so smart.

With that being mentioned, here I go.

Another thing I will state is that I always felt the band’s latest album was a reaction or response to their previous album. Beginning with Achtung Baby, the band responded to many that they were too serious, too self-righteous or too arrogant. By the end of The Joshua Tree Tour, Bono admitted that they had become a “show band”. I believe he meant that the tour had evolved into some kind of Las Vegas act, and not the good kind.

When Bono said to the crowd the last night of the tour that they were going to go away for a while and dream it all up again. It was a very honest and somewhat sad moment. These guys were going out on top and none of them felt good about it. And they did go away.

The time was not wasted because Achtung Baby is regarded as their finest album. Yes, there are those who will disagree, this is just my opinion.

AB saw the band and most important, its front-man, turn 180 degrees and sound absolutely nothing like The Joshua Tree. And with each succeeding album, the band seemed to both react and respond to what critics, fans and the world at large thought about them.

So here is where I’d like to start. Songs of Experience sounds like a U2 album and it doesn’t sound like one. I read the Rolling Stone interview Bono gave and I found it helpful in understanding the album. It usually takes me a while to figure out what the band is doing. Interviews with the band are helpful and they usually do a few at launch. But sometimes I still find myself wondering what the hell is coming out of my speakers. It’s not a bad thing; it’s me not getting it.

In SOE, Bono shared a little about his health scare. It was something that he probably had to reveal in order to explain how approached the album. It was also something that made him change the album to fit his altered view.

I’ve listened to it about fifty to sixty times now, and I like it. Two songs stand out for me American Soul and The Blackout. I love the muscularity and confidence of these songs. From what I read, if Songs of Innocence was looking back to their beginnings and time of naiveté and wonder, then SOI was looking ahead with all of the wisdom gained from living a life unexpected. I was hoping to hear a little more from the rhythm section from these songs than what was there. From everything that I read before the album’s release, there was going to be a more self-assured and undiluted tone. The essence (for me) of album was what was gained and what was given after a lifetime of music.

I would say that is true for about half on the songs, but some feel more plaintive and resigned. I know that Bono reworked many of the songs after the 2016 Presidential Election. And, he has made it clear about how he feels about it. He also gives us a glimpse of how the world—and our country in particular—is viewed through his eyes.

In listening and reading interviews of the band, I try to see what they were going for when creating a new album and then try and apply that knowledge in listening to the new album. Sometime is it helpful and others, I still find myself in the weeds.

There are U2 albums that I liked immediately (Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree, Rattle & Hum, Achtung Baby, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb). And there are albums that I learned to like after a while (Zooropa, Pop, No Line on the Horizon, Songs of Innocence). I am still figuring out SOE, but it is growing on me. As of now, I will put SOE in the same camp as SOI.

As they have always said, the band writes and records their songs with the purpose of playing them in front of an audience. And because of that, I’ve liked Pop and NLOTH more.

I realize that I will draw objections here, but I always felt that Zooropa, Pop and NLOTH were not very strong albums. All of them sold well at launch and did receive airplay on the radio, but they didn’t have that “it” sound like “Beautiful Day” or “Vertigo”, to use songs from 2000 on.

I believe that the band really began to re-think their approach after Zooropa and Pop and the result was ATYCLB. HTDAAB was built upon that response. NLOTH was them feeling confident enough to move further away from the “U2 sound” and reacting to reviewers’ and fans’ criticism that they were playing it too safe.

I respect the band always willing to try new ideas and experiment with different sounds even if it sounds like nothing I am used to. It’s what true artists’ do.

In my next post, I plan to dive a bit deeper into SOE and try to guess what is in store for this year’s tour.

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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