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.

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.