Thursday, October 29, 2009

Potted Review: U2 + YouTube = U2ube!

Like a few million people worldwide I clicked onto YouTube recently to catch the Rose Bowl concert as it was broadcast live. If you missed it you can catch the entire concert here. So, how was it?

I have mixed feelings about U2. I've always said that one of the most impressive concerts I've ever seen was the 1993 ZooTV show at Football Park. The entire experience was overpowering in scope, it was both sonically and visually staggering and nothing I've seen since has come close, certainly nothing from U2. I've always felt that they shouldn't keep trying to top it, but rather they'd be better served going back to their basics and just getting out and playing.

Money always wins out though. They throw millions into a stage and a tour that's expected to see them on the road well into 2011 (if the rumours are to be believed) and will make millions more by charging high ticket prices, charging large sums for t-shirts and merchandise which they later sell via their fan club for next to nothing (case in point - Australian 2006 tour shirts were around $50 upwards here, the official fan club now has them for around $8.00 each, next tour I think I'll wait) and berate their audience into giving more money to various charities whilst they make millions each per week. Therein lies my basic issue with U2.

The latest album is a masterpiece, certainly the best thing they've done since 1997's Pop. Forget the crap that they released since then and stick with this one, but the concerts? The pre-tour was interesting - U2 in small venues just playing music. It sounded great. Then they hit the road with the enormous 360 Tour - there's plenty of videos over at YouTube if you care to check it out, other than the official one. It doesn't move me. I'm not excited by this current tour in the same way that I was seeing video of the 1992-1993 ZooTV tour and I can't put my finger on why. Certainly it sounds, well, alright. Songs such as The Unforgettable Fire are laid back when they should be driving, the new remix of I'll Go Crazy sounded like an old Frankie Goes To Hollywood remix to me, even before Bono starting singing the words to Two Tribes during the song live. Great sounding remix though.

The concert itself sounds terrific, certainly better than the recent Sheffield radio broadcast, which had the audience mixed to such a high level you could barely make out the musicians at times and had so much screaming even Kiss would have thought twice about allowing it to air. There's not really much in the way of old songs - nothing pre-War is featured here, there's one song from War (Sunday Bloody Sunday), two from 1984's Unforgettable Fire (MLK and the title track), three from The Joshua Tree, and nothing from Rattle & Hum. That's six songs from the 1980s out of twenty four in a fairly stable set list - unlike others such as David Bowie (who changes his set every night by around 6 or more songs to remain fresh), U2 settle on a set-list and vary from it by slight margins and only ever throw in odd material from time to time, such as the recent airings of Your Blue Room and Stay (Faraway So Close). The glaring omission is the removal of songs such as Pride, Angel Of Harlem, New Years Day and Desire, the first of these is unusual for U2 to remove, especially in America. There's some obscure material - Bono sings the opening lines to In God's Country during Beautiful Day, but, frankly, much like ZooTV, the emphasis is on the recent material and not the early days. And rightly so - the concerts are where the money is at and U2 are going all out to ensure their own future, and the future of their families and families families.

Will I go and see the show when it hits Australia sometime in early 2011? Probably - after all, I've seen every other tour they've done here from 1984 through to 2006. In the meantime I've seen the 360 Show and that'll hold me for the time being.

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