Posts Tagged ‘U2’

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.

 

 

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.