The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

The U2 Dilemma, Solved

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Photo courtesy of the lovely Heather Barnfield.

I was wrangling with a bit of a crisis three months ago when I blogged about U2 touring for the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree.  It seemed all I needed to do was announce the crisis in order to address it, and address it I did Sunday night.  I had decided shortly after my last post about the band formerly known as Feedback that I was going to take a chance and attend the concert.

The risk all along was that U2 (or more specifically, Bono) would turn in a crap effort.  I feared it would be a smoldering mess, and I didn’t much care to think that I would be reminded of said mess each time I listened to The Joshua Tree.  I tried not to think about that throughout the day Sunday as the girlfriend and I trekked down to Soldier Field and set up a tailgate.  I thought for a brief time that we might not see the concert since I had frustrations finding some decent scalped tickets, but things have a way of working out when you have the right attitude and you’ve got some ticket-scalping savvy.  We ended up in the press box without paying much more than we would have for general admission, and on our way to the suite I told myself that if someone questioned our journalistic gravitas that I would say, “Hey, I’ve got this blog I’ve written for the last nine years!”  Fortunately, it never came to that.

I had envisioned U2 diving right into the mystic soundscape that starts the album, and was ready for just that as we settled into our comfy office chairs and listened to the sounds of the opening act drift through the open windows.  However, U2 had different ideas.  They came out onto a thrust stage and played a few pre-Joshua Tree hits before retreating to the main stage and opening things up in front of a huge screen (I read it was 200′ x 45′).  Them not starting right into The Joshua Tree was my only disappointment.  Once they did get into it, magic happened.  They worked in front of a constant stream still photographs, short videos, and stylized black-and-white shots of them playing, all of which tuned into the original artwork of the album.  Perhaps most importantly, they kept their standard four-man setup and played largely without interrupting themselves.

It occurred to me shortly into the experience that the notion of touring for album anniversaries has a tremendous upside.  The reason being, the band hones themselves to a singular sound or era of their sound that they had previously mastered and had great success with.  It makes for a more cohesive experience than a vaguely connected series of new songs and old hits that are the staple of a lot of concerts.  I realized that was why I loved seeing The Who play Quadrophenia in 2012.  It was the best I had seen them, before or since.  It was the same way with U2 last night.

I found myself fully engrossed by the time the band got through the three top hits at the start of The Joshua Tree.  I knew we were witnessing something special, and I was glad for that “warm-up” before U2 got into the blistering guitar rage of “Bullet the Blue Sky,” the most politically charged song on the album, and a perfectly intact remnant of the band’s youthful anger and rebellion.  I liked what Greg Kot of The Chicago Tribune said about “Bullet” and the song it preceded:  “There was no way to improve the one-two punch of ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ as the Edge’s guitar violence melted into the hushed junkie prayer ‘Running to Stand Still.'”

Kot also thought that “Exit,” later in the playlist, “…strained to make an impression as something more than a psychodrama… and served as a poor introduction for the mourning song ‘Mothers of the Disappeared.’”  It’s not right that he faults the song or the band’s treatment of it for not doing something that it was never intended to do, or that he marks it down for being psychodrama.  It’s the fact that the band takes the psychodrama and finds a way to make it fit with the rest of the album’s soundscape that makes “Exit” one of my favorites.  And lyrically, it’s not some cliche treatment of disturbing psychosis.  It’s edgy and uncomfortable; you don’t leave the song feeling a sense of redemption or hopefulness, and it’s fine the song does that on an album that otherwise doesn’t feature many other similar experiences.  Kot also lobbied for some reshuffling of the album tracks for better cohesion, which misses the point that it was The Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary tour, not The Joshua Tree Remixed tour.  Kot can say what he wants, but those perceived deficiencies never stopped The Joshua Tree from earning tremendous accolades when it was released, nor have they done much, if anything, to dislodge The Joshua Tree from it’s place in rock history.  Still, regarding “Exit,” U2 nailed the gritty desperation in the song, abandoning the still shots and short videos to focus on Bono and flashes of white light and deep darkness as he worked through the song.  The band appeared to have given a lot of thought to the song, and it got a strong treatment, moreso than what they gave it thirty year ago in Rattle and Hum.

Ultimately, the concert was excellent beyond my greatest imaginings, but it’s not going to bring me back to being a U2 fan.  It will take a lot more than that, though more efforts in the future like The Joshua Tree and Unforgettable Fire could tilt me in that direction.  But my intention in going was never to reassert my fandom—it was to put a cap on a resounding aspect of my personal pop culture / media experiences.  Mission accomplished.  So where to from here?  Dunno.  And I don’t care to know.  I just saw my favorite album played with superb quality by all the original writers and musicians in the band.  I’ll be happy with that for a long time, and remember it at least as often as I listen to The Joshua Tree in the future.

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Written by seeker70

June 5, 2017 at 11:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. well, another year is in the books. have a great summer. breathe deep and relax! when i and then di and i played the same venues and bars, it was the same tunes we had always sang and evolved and on occasion a few more additions. it was a treat yet a real push to keep to appear fresh and lively. but the applause always was in the air. like being on stage at the end of a play and one’s slight bow. always from the waist. and with great humility. U2 has never ben in my circuit. am i aware of them and bono? of course. beyond that, nada. couldn’t even name a tune or hum a ditty. take good care and thanks for keeping me in your circle. da h man.

    HRam47@aol.com

    June 6, 2017 at 1:24 pm


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