U2, where are you?

Posted: July 10, 2015 in 80s Music, 90s Music, Live Music, Rock
Tags: , , , ,

As many of my regular readers know, my relationship with U2 is a complicated and tumultuous one. They were my first “favourite band of all time”; I quoted them in my high school yearbook; I even made a cassette mixtape of their music, that resided in my walkman for years. They were the bee’s knees, the be all and end all of rock bands. Then one day, they just weren’t. They recently flew through Toronto in support of their Songs of Innocence album, here’s what went down.

Seeing U2 live used to be a treat and a half. That musicianship, that love, that passion, resonated in abundance across any stadium in which they played. You could feel Bono’s voice, Edge’s guitar, Adam’s bass and Larry’s drums, as much as they did, and the energy was incredible. All they needed was a stage, a crowd, and their instruments. It was a full body experience, leaving your spine chilling, everything tingling, and a pressing urge to belt out “One” along with them.

U2 have developed a very identifiable “U2” sound – one which they’ve tinkered with over the years. I applaud experimentation, exploration and evolution in music: no one wants to be a one-note band. That’s why we got albums like 1993’s Zooropa, and 1997’s Pop. A little more electronic, a little more out there, a deviation from their usual. Sometimes their wandering worked, sometimes it didn’t. But they kept trying, and I have to respect that.

Over time, the sets on their live shows have become more and more elaborate, extravagant; there’s no doubt that this Innocence and Experience Tour, in that respect, they absolutely did not disappoint. The audio was fantastic – I could hear everything crystal clear even from the nosebleeds. There was a hanging screen built in such a way that the band could actually walk inside, and play from there. All the while the screen was either transparent or full of images superimposing on the band. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and it was pretty mesmerizing. But at the same time, it was also distracting – too many things were going on at once, flashing on the screen, happening across the stage, that the music got lost in all of it and became a secondary part of the show.

U2 often bring fans up on to the stage during their shows. This time, they asked a woman dressed in a belly dancer outfit on stage to dance to “Mysterious Ways.” It seemed almost rehearsed because she was way too composed, like she was expecting it. She didn’t sing along, she didn’t freak out in any way, she just sort of shimmied around without adding any value. Then they brought up a tribute band, Acrobat, who took over the stage and performed “Desire.” To their credit, they were pretty good, but they too didn’t seem even a tiny bit nervous about playing in front of a sold-out crowd, and the lead singer just happened to have a harmonica on him. The whole thing happened so seamlessly, so perfectly, so unrealistically. It seemed much more formulaic than spontaneous.

For the most part, the music was well performed, though overall it lacked in pizzaz in comparison to previous shows. They played a somewhat lullaby version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – ie a rebel song, an angry song, a rock ‘n roll song. They performed “Bullet the Blue Sky,” easily one my least favourite tracks. I always used to skip it when listening to Joshua Tree (oh come on, you know you did too) because it came after “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Where the Streets Have no Name,” and “With or Without You,” and ruined the streak.

I don’t know if they’re lazy, tired or just bored. I understand nothing stays the same forever; I get that people change, music changes, everything changes really. I understand going with the times, adapting, and trying to stay relevant year after year. So maybe I’ve changed, and my taste too. However, I still have the right to expect the same artistry, the same attention to detail, the same ability to rock out and leave a crowd awestruck. As a fan, it’s basically my right. I hate to say it, but U2 just hasn’t been meeting the bar they themselves set. I’ve been blown away by them; I’ve witnessed true, passionate musicians; heck I’ve felt it. But on this tour they dropped the ball; they lost me, and I just wish I could find them.

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