Posts Tagged ‘Bono’

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.

Last I left off, my relationship with U2 was struggling. A few years ago, I was forced to remove my rose-coloured glasses, and come to terms with who they are, and though I will always be a fan, I can also freely admit to their flaws. Over the years, they have become more of a conundrum than anything, causing all kinds of divide when it comes to their music and their actions. They’re rock ‘n roll, but also people-pleasers. They do their own thing, but try and keep up with the masses. They do things that make no sense, but they’re not controversial. It’s a tough time to be a U2 fan.

U2 is notorious for experimenting with their sound. They spent the 80s and early 90s putting out some of the best music they had in them. Instant classics.

Their first foray into something a little different – as far as I can remember at least – was their 1993 album, Zooropa. Some of their tracks were good old U2, others were an entirely uncharted sound. The Zoo TV Tour made an even bigger statement. It revolved around, giant disco ball lemons, Bono dressing up as a devil. It was about glitz and glamour, more than anything else. Some fans appreciated the change of scenery. Others were hankering for U2 of the past. They continued trying new things with 1997’s Pop, which again, received mixed reviews; this ring any bells?

2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind reverted back to a more familiar sound, with commercially successful formulaic hits; in fact, it was pretty much interchangeable with 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb; like they had once again found their own comfort zone. These albums were less synth, more rock ‘n roll, but still leaned closer to the pop genre, compared to their 80s hits.

Then 2009’s No Line on the Horizon, took a page out of no man’s land. It was just bad, but was accompanied by the glorious 360 Tour, which was a huge production. Huge. Spider- like stage, floating mics and cameras, TV screens in abundance, a lot of static, a lot of noise; it was all too distracting, and so the music suffered. Some argue they were just trying to contend with other big pop shows touring concurrently, including Madonna’s epic Sticky & Sweet Tour. Others that it was too over the top. Regardless, it was clear U2 was not going back to their music of the early days.

U2 – specifically Bono – has also created a dichotomy amongst music lovers with their activist roles (not to mention Bono’s wardrobe – cowboy hats and sunglasses, anyone?) There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to help heal the world, but a lot of people feel that has nothing to do with music and musicians should stay out of politics. In a 2002 interview with Bono on Oprah, he basically said (and I’m paraphrasing here), that he cannot live in this day and age, in the world in the state it is in, and do nothing about it. Let’s be real, because of his fame, he has a loud voice. He has friends in high places, people supporting him, and his message can get across much quicker, so why not use it as a platform? Why not take his good fortune, and use it as best as possible?

Now on to their most recent album, last week’s Songs of Innocence. There has been plenty internet chatter all year claiming U2 has new material in the works. There has also been a lot of discussion of Apple’s new iPhone 6 and its release, which was to involve U2 in some way. Most thought the band would perform a new track or two, since they have an ongoing friendship it seems with Apple (do we remember the red and black U2 iPod?) At the launch of the iPhone 6, these pals surprised every iTunes store customer in 119 countries, with a copy of U2’s brand new album in their music library. For free (as in Apple bought it from U2 for all its customers). It didn’t even need to be downloaded, it just magically appeared.

Was that a douchebag move? Kind of. To assume that those hundreds of millions of people would all want to tune in is being a tad overconfident. Was it as bad as rapper Tyler the Creator (who?) claims, comparing seeing the album in his music library to Herpes? No. Was Beyonce’s surprise iTunes release better executed? Definitely. Bono has defended the idea by saying maybe some people who’ve never heard them before, now will take a listen (not that they’re in dire need of fans); for those who don’t like it, he claims, no harm done, just erase it. The reaction has been mixed. U2 fans love the idea, of course. They don’t think it’s arrogant or presumptuous at all. Others have wreaked so much havoc over this alleged assault, that Apple had to create a button that automatically deletes the album. Ouch. Who knew free music was such a big crime?

Not Surprisingly, the reviews on Songs of Innocence are also split. Some critics can’t get over how it was released, pointing a finger at a band nearing irrelevancy trying to force their way back into our hearts. Other critics say it was genius. Ignoring their chosen method of release, and focusing solely on their music, here are my two cents: Songs of Innocence is a good U2 album. It’s light years ahead of No Line on the Horizon; also nowhere near the unforgettable, The Joshua Tree. Along the same lines as All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb. It’s a good U2 album. Nothing exceptional, nothing disdainful. The tracks are solid, but none of them make you stop dead in your tracks; at the same time, none of them make you want to hurriedly skip ahead to the next track.

In an article originally published in Maclean’s in 2011, 50 Canadian music industrialists were asked about different aspects of U2’s relevancy. Some said they are still 100% relevant. Some said not at all. Others said yes, but only because of what their name has come to mean, almost like it’s a brand; that their music is not what’s making them matter. You can’t knock a band for trying to keep up with the times by continually reinventing themselves. Sure it may not always be successful, but at the same time, they themselves are finding their way, and pursuing different creative directions. There’s also something pretty bad ass and rock ‘n roll about sticking to your own thing. About not conforming.

As a fan, you always hope a band’s true musical colours will resurface, or get resurrected once they’ve faded; although I’m not holding my breath. U2 may never be who they used to be, but one thing is for sure: no matter which way you slice it, they will make you think. They will always cause a reaction, they will always stir up conversation, they will always be heard.

I was especially distracted this particular Saturday because U2’s Vertigo Tour was in town and I was lucky enough to snag a pair of tickets to one of their four sold out shows that coming Friday. My friend Shwang and I were in my apartment trying to get some work done and to relieve the boredom, we had the radio on. Mix 99.9 was holding a contest to win a pair of tickets to U2’s show on Monday and were giving them to the 99th caller. My concentration needed another focus (thank you ADD) and to keep myself occupied, I started dialing the number. Despite many busy signals, I persisted because it all of a sudden became a mission. Finally, the DJ picked up, asked my name and told me I won. I was #99. All I could yell was “Shut up!”, followed by screaming and several Omgs. Little did I know this was just the beginning.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Now that our concentration was completely shot, and on a high from our win, Shwang and I decide to celebrate with dinner. Just like everyday, we pass by the infamous Fabulous Cafe. And I say infamous, because no one’s ever heard of it. The sign was one of those tacky fluorescent blue ones, usually illuminating only half the letters at a time. It’s near the Greyhound Bus terminal and with nothing remarkable surrounding it. Shwang looks over to the patio and points out some guy in a large white cowboy hat and shades. Not really paying any attention I disregard him, until Shwang exclaims “Is that Bono?!?” Instinctively I knew there was no way he’d be there, but I had to look. And holy moly was it ever Bono. I immediately froze.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          For those who don’t understand the magnitude of this sighting, Bono to me is like a hero, the one person in the world (along with his band) that I would die to meet or talk to or even be around. Their music has been so inspirational to me for so long in so many ways that I’ve even imagined what what I would say (oh come on, we’ve all done it). Whenever I used to watch interviews with them, I would think I could do a better job, ask better questions, because I know their music so well. I always wanted them to understand the effect they’ve had on me over all these years, and to thank them. He was even the background on my cell phone at that time.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The hostess was only letting people in that were staying to eat so we got a table for two. As we’re pretending to read the menu, I ask the waitress if that’s indeed Bono. She confirms it but says he just signed the bill and is about to leave. I somehow manage to muster enough coherence to call my roommate and ask her to bring down a camera to take a picture (I had no faith in my Nokia camera phone at the time). The rest is a bit of a blur. Bono gets out of his chair looks to his right waves, then looks right at us to his left waves, nods and says “bye”. I came as close to fainting as I think I ever will. After practically hyperventilating and accosting Shwang for something to write with/on, I play it cool and follow him to the sidewalk where a small crowd had now gathered. He’s now about three people away from me, signing autographs and I try to get his attention but I literally could not speak. He’s inching closer and closer  to me and all I need to say is “Bono, can you sign this?” but I’m so panicked that this is real, that my throat dries up and the words get stuck but are dying to come out. He’s maybe one person away and about to turn toward me and then out of nowhere some elderly-ish woman who just happened to be walking by pushing a baby in a stroller screams and jumps and hugs Bono completely diverting his attention in the other direction. And now I’m looking at his back. His bodyguard then intervenes and ushers him into his car and just like that, he’s gone.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          There I stood, pen and paper in hand, mouth open still trying to say something, still in shock. Then my roommate comes running out half dressed with a camera, but it was too late. I had it and I missed my one and only chance in life to meet or even say something to my idol. Someone I admire. I look up to. And in a matter of seconds everything I had imagined about this meeting vanished. I was defeated, discouraged and in utter disbelief. I remember thinking what just happened??? Then, did that just happen?? Followed by, I can’t believe that just happened! Total anticlimax. I had the opportunity, the time, the means, the everything, and I choked. Literally. On words. Which is something I’m otherwise incapable of doing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           But it doesn’t stop there. We had great seats to the Monday show which was fantastic but I also had GA tickets to the Friday show. I took my brother and for those who didn’t attend, the stage was set as a regular rectangular stage with a circular extension coming off of it, like a doughnut. Outside of the doughnut was the GA standing area, and the center of the doughnut was hollow, but reserved for VIP only. Or lucky bastards. As we entered the ACC, they scanned our tickets and the computer screen turned red and lights started flashing: apparently we were randomly selected to be VIP, and got access to the hollow part of the doughnut: the only thing separating us from the band was a small fence and a security guard (and occasionally, the swaying body of a severely inebriated, unnecessarily tall man). Being so up close was an experience and a half and somewhat made up for my shortcomings as a fan a few days prior. Now many of you may criticize me for my inaction, my cold feet, my freak out. And I have no defense. No explanation. No reason. To this day I still can’t believe that’s how it all went down. I will leave you with this video that I stumbled on a few days ago. Pay close attention, or you may miss all that was Saturday, September 10th, 2005.