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.

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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.

 

U2 invades Levi’s Stadium (SPOILERS)

Our favorite Irish quartet began their assault on the home of the San Francisco Forty-Niners last night in front of a sellout crowd of 50,000 fans.

I will give a fuller account of the show soon, but I wanted to post something while still bathed on the glow of the last night’s performance.

Sadly, my Canon G16 struggled to keep up with the boys but I managed to snap a few decent images from the hundreds I took. I realize that from where we were sitting, I really needed an SLR camera. We had club seats so there were some of the best in the house, but the field was where the action was.

The first thing you notice is the screen. It his huge and somewhat reminiscent of the screen from their show in Paris, way back in 1987 (that show is on the DVD from the 20th Anniversary boxed set). As you can see the Joshua Tree design on the screen as well and there is a matching design on the satellite stage, which is hard to see. This area was probably the second-best place to be on the field. The best was the front of the main stage. I’ll get into that in a later post.

In a twist on how they perform, the band began on the satellite stage with songs from Boy and TUF. Bono’s voice was in top form and they played a version of Bad that reminded me of the first time I heard it live nearly thirty years ago. Over the years, Bono has changed the way he sang some of the songs from older albums and it was totally awesome that Bad was performed much more closely to the original.

Bravo, Mr. B.

By the time they launched into Where The Streets Have No Name, they returned to the main stage and galaxy-sized screen I understood why they did that.

In my next post, I will talk about it, however in the meantime, here’s another shot of the band in Joshua Tree mode.

More to come…