Posts Tagged ‘U2’

In continuation of this live series, here’s a look at some performers that just fell short of utter perfection.

Chris Cornell

I first saw Chris Cornell in Hamilton in 2008, playing a show in support of his solo album, Carry On. I drove all the way from Whitby, and braved a heavy snow storm to get there. I went with a potential more-than-friend friend, to the Hamilton Convention Centre – a venue that has more of a high school gym feel, standing room only, but big enough that you didn’t have to rub sweaty elbows with anyone. I soon found out, the best thing about a Chris Cornell show is that you not only get his solo music, but also that of Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of the Dog. How can you beat that?

I also saw him play as part of Soundgarden’s reunion tour at Molson Amphitheatre, back in 2014. Although the company was great, and the music full of nostalgia, the far-away lawn seats made it difficult to fully get engaged in the show, and I left wanting more. Not to mention, the dramatic rainstorm put a damper on the experience.

My all-time fave show of his by far, was an acoustic solo show (ie just him and his guitar) at Massey Hall, which I attended solo. He interacted so much with the crowd, told stories, performed his heart out – including his epic version of “Billie Jean” and his version of “One” – a mash up of Metallica’s “One” lyrics and U2’s “One” music. His voice is was as much of an instrument as his guitar; so soulful, emotive and unique. It’s an effin’ shame we don’t get to experience him anymore. RIP.

Ben Harper

Ben Harper is a man of many talents. He plays multiple instruments, including a lap slide guitar; his music can be soft and poetic, but also angry and rock ‘n roll. He performs as a solo act, and also with different bands/musicians.

The first time I saw him was back in 2009 alongside The Relentless 7 at the Virgin Festival, at the Molson Amphitheatre. Although I appreciated the obvious talent and musicianship, I left underwhelmed. His sound with The Relentless 7 is a lot more funk-based and instrumental jamming, which is great; just not my preferred version of what I know Harper can do.

I got the opportunity to see him again in 2011, for a solo show at Sound Academy (now, Rebel; previously, the Docks,) on the Give ‘Til It’s Gone tour. I had balcony seats so it wasn’t as crowded as the general admission area, and he was phenomenal. He went on for 7 encores. Yes, 7. And probably could’ve kept on going. He’s such a force on stage, namely his powerful lyrics and sublime vocals. I left elated, and only wanting more and more.

By far, the best performance of his I saw was – similar to Chris Cornell – a solo acoustic show at Massey Hall, which I, once again, attended solo, back in 2012. It was just him and a line up of at least 10 different guitars, all of which he played with sheer perfection. He was very interactive with the audience, even serenading a couple seated in the front row with “Forever” when they told him they just got engaged. During the show. His music is easily in my top 5 favourites, and he’s such a dream to watch; it feels like he’s talking/singing directly to you, getting you through whatever you’re going through, and being a friend with whom you share all your thoughts. He’s also incredibly easy on the eyes. Swoon.

U2

I tallied it up, and I’ve seen U2 a total of 6 times live: 1997 Popmart tour, SkyDome; 2001 Elevation tour, Air Canada Centre; 2005 Vertigo tour, ACC; 2009 360 tour, SkyDome; 2015 Innocence + Experience tour, ACC; 2017 Joshua Tree tour, SkyDome. I’ve always attended with someone, either family or friends.

For the longest time, I was the most obsessive unapologetic U2 fan. Everything they did turned to gold, in my eyes. The first time I saw them, I was blown away. The sheer production of their show was like nothing I’d ever seen. Lights, lasers, lemon-shaped disco balls, you name it. And the caliber of the performance matched it perfectly, including Bono’s voice, which doesn’t age even in the slightest as he gets older. Not to mention, hearing/seeing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” live is a rite of passage for any music/U2 fan.

The 2015 show ended it for me though. None of their music after 2004 was any good, and got worse and worse with every album. This show was more about production, special effects and fancy stages. It was all so distracting from the performance itself, which seemed to hide behind all the grandiosity, and suffered as a result.

I got suckered into seeing their Joshua Tree tour – to witness the classics one last time – but that was the end of it for me. I can’t justify it anymore. Neither their live shows nor their music are anything like what they used to be, so I’ll give them a shout out for entertaining me for so many years.

The National

I was first introduced to The National back in the early 2000s. It was love at first listen. Since then, I’ve seen them perform a whopping 8 times: 2008 Boxer tour, Brooklyn Academy of Music; 2008 New Yorker Anniversary, Hammerstein Ballroom; 2009 High Violet tour, Kool Haus; 2010 High Violet tour, Massey Hall; 2011 High Violet tour, ACC; 2013 Trouble Will Find Me tour, NXNE Yonge-Dundas Square; 2014 Trouble Will Find Me tour, Massey Hall; 2017 Sleep Well Beast tour, Sony Centre. Either solo, with friends, or family. I’ll be honest though, mostly solo.

They put on an incredible show. Goosebumps for days. They outperform even themselves almost every time, and every track is that much better than the album version. I’ve even met lead singer Matt Berninger at the screening of their documentary, Mistaken for Strangers. Suffice it to say, I’m a fan. And to be honest, the quality of their music hasn’t wavered since that first album of theirs I heard. But the truth is, after seeing them so many times, their live show has become somewhat predictable.

The quasi a capella version of “Vanderlye Crybaby Geeks,” the amped-up punk-rock ‘n roll version of “Mr. November,” the adventurous nature of Berninger walking and singing through the crowd. I can understand as a first-time viewer, how incredible it is to see, so I totally get why they keep doing it.

A better and frankly more likely explanation is, I’ve become a concert snob. I need variety, perfection, emotion, and satisfaction. Don’t get me wrong, at the most recent show I saw of theirs, I was thoroughly entertained. But it just wasn’t enough. I want it to feel like I’m watching them for the first time again, and I don’t know if it will ever be that way again.

 

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I’ve always said that U2 was my first favourite band of all time, and that held true for a very very long time. Everything they created was gold, and it’s because of them, rock ‘n roll became a part of me. I had a carefully curated 22-track mixtape of my favourite U2 songs, which I listened to on repeat for all of high school. I once ran into Bono on the street, and nearly fainted. I quoted them in my high school yearbook. The first song I ever learned on guitar was “One.” That’s how huge they were in my life.

 

However, as of late, I’ve also said, with the exception of a couple of tracks, everything they did after 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind was forgettable; painful even. They’d lost their musical focus, and tried to impress with showmanship instead of musicianship (360 stage, anyone?) I wanted to keep loving them, but they’d evolved into something I couldn’t admire anymore – they’d lost their way and I longed for who they were, not who they’d become. I felt cheated, and foolish.

 

When I saw them live back in 2015 for the Innocence + Experience Tour, I announced with certainty (as I had a few times before,) that I refused to witness another subpar performance. I was done with them for good. How much can a person take? When they announced their Joshua Tree Anniversary Tour, I stood strong. I didn’t sign up for the presale. I didn’t even want to check availability on Ticketmaster or StubHub. I had given them enough chances over the years, and they continued to fall short. I stood by my decision for months and months, never wavering.

 

But as fate would have it, the day of the show, a ticket came my way. So there we sat in our over-priced seats at the SkyDome, on a ridiculously humid summer evening, with full knowledge that the acoustics weren’t going to be great in such a large venue. Our seats, like most, were far from the action. After way too much waiting/sweating, Larry Mullen Jr. strut across the stage, straight towards his drums. In one simple flick of the wrist, I recognized “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Suffice it to say, they had me at “hello.”

 

They continued to sweep me off my feet with the nostalgia, before segueing into performing the entire Joshua Tree album, start to finish, in the same order as they appeared on the album. I know this, because that’s how I used to listen to the album (clearly before becoming aware of the “Shuffle” feature.) I’d always play tracks 1-3, skip 4, then play 5-7, skip 8-11, then start back at 1.

 

As much as I resisted, I fell for them all over again. They weren’t being theatricalor overdramatic – more their old selves. The screen behind them mostly featured nature scenes as backdrops to their tracks. Was it their best show? No. Some of the performances lacked some umph, and there were definitely too many prolonged lulls. But they reminded me why I – and everyone else – loved them so much all those years ago; they reminded us what U2 was all about, something I thought they’d forgotten.

 

No matter how much your first love changes over time, no matter what directions you go in life, what keeps drawing you back isn’t the person themselves, but the memories that went with them. This show brought back a lot of memories, and I’m glad I got see them live. But I swear: this time was really the last time.

 

Maybe it’s a sign of aging, but I find myself longing for music of the past more and more these days. I’ve never hidden the fact that the current state of music is deplorable compared to when I grew up. But this isn’t a post about that. It’s a post about trying to (rhetorically) figure out what truly connects a person to music, and if that changes over time, across generations and through individuals.

(Note: Everyone’s experience with music is different; I’m not trying to make all-encompassing blanket statements. These are just my observations over the years.)

When I was a kid, all my musical influences lay in the hands of my older family members. As such, it was all 80s rock – U2, INXS, Duran Duran, etc. At that time, cassette tapes were the only vehicle for music, and I still remember this INXS tape we had – 1987’s Kick album, loaded with classics like “Need You Tonight” and “Never Tear Us Apart.” I used to play that tape over and over and over again on my small pink tape player (that came with earbuds!) I would just lay on the ground, headphones in, and listen.

I continued on like this, album after album (including The Little Mermaid Soundtrack) until U2 essentially took over my entire world. I had this one U2 mixtape that I spent hours upon hours crafting, timing every track to perfection. I must’ve listened to it countless times over years and years. At the time, I had a shiny silver Sony Walkman that automatically switched the tape’s sides. I knew every single word to every single song on that tape – they were my first favourite band of all time, and felt like a part of me.

Adolescence is a time when one is easily influenced, inspired. We hang on to things that (we think) mean something to us. If we’re angry, we like loud music. If we like to dance, we pick dance music. Our minds are so malleable and spongey, we can absorb anything. During such a precious time, it’s also easy to just follow what your friends are doing, so you won’t feel left out. For me, it was a combination – my entire school listened to grunge in the 90s, therefore I did too. However, I also enjoyed the music, and felt some connection to it, because it became about learning about an entire genre, and all the bands involved.

But here’s what I’m trying to figure out: when I hear 90s music now, do I love it because of that previous connection to it, because of nostalgia? Is it attached to specific memories, or a more care-free time? Or do I truly think it’s better than a lot of the music of today? If I heard that same music now, what would I think? Would I enjoy it the same way, would it speak to me in the same way? Or was it just a right time, right place scenario? Let’s be real, grunge doesn’t exist anymore (in spite of some pitiful attempts at a comeback); it died a long time ago – is that why it has such a pull over me?

Same would go for those who are fans of 60s-70s music – maybe that attachment comes from the notion that there currently isn’t any music out there that resembles anything from back then. Maybe they feel like they experienced the birth and demise of a genre. Its evolution and inability to survive in the current world. Maybe they just miss it. In previous decades, music had so much more to say. Musicians used their voices to make statements.

Nowadays, the industry has gotten soft. No one (rather, not many) talk about anything real, which is why everything is so interchangeable and unrecognizable. It all kind of blurs together. For example, millennials all think Drake is the almighty – but will they still think that in 10 years? Or is it because they hear his songs at clubs and bars right now? In 10 year’s time though, will they still be going to clubs? Moreover, even if they did, would Drake still be playing over the speakers? Has the music scene just changed now?

These days, music can be heard anywhere and everywhere – which is great. But that also makes a lot of room for noise. I wonder if in this day and age, it’s possible to really connect to an artist, and still feel connected years later. If it is possible, I feel like it’ll still be different than how music was felt in the past; when you earned the ability to listen to a track over and over. You had to save up. You had to really want it, and if the album wasn’t all that good, you wouldn’t delete it or toss it, you’d make yourself listen because you invested in it. You would give it a real, solid chance.

Year after year, there’s so much turnover in tracks too, so many singles released, that it’s tough to really feel the impact of any of them, due to so much output volume. It seems as though Selena Gomez releases a track every week, so how does one even keep track? With programs like Spotify, essentially every single song you could ever want in life, can be found there. You don’t have to buy the album and only play it on your CD player, or if you’re lucky, in your car. You don’t have to commit to an artist.

You can download a track just as easily as you can delete it. No one has Walkmen/Discmen (RIP) anymore, so all music on-the-go comes from their phones. The flow of which can easily be interrupted by phone calls, txt msgs and taking photos. How are young people supposed to understand how to truly value music? People these days don’t get obsessed with albums; they get obsessed with songs. One track.

Don’t get me wrong, I use Spotify too – guilty as charged. It’s the easiest, fastest way to get a track I want when I want it. I don’t have invest so much time/energy in its acquisition. But here’s the thing: I kind of miss that process. I kind of miss getting to know the music, the artist. I kind of miss opening the plastic wrap around the CD. I kind of miss analyzing the album art, and flipping through the lyric books and footnotes. I kind of really miss that connection.