All Gretchen Wanted Was U2

July 29, 2015

All Gretchen wanted was to get on stage with U2. Gretchen already has a stage of her own with the Boston garage band the Knock Ups, but being onstage with U2 would be something else entirely.

I first met Gretchen in May of 2005 as we stood outside the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Boston. U2 was in town on their Vertigo tour, and we both waited to meet the band. As is always the case when diehard U2 fans meet, we started exchanging U2 stories; it soon became clear that Gretchen loved U2 as much as I did. This was the start of a brilliant friendship with the woman I now refer to as my U2 soul sister.

Our U2 history is long. She was raised by a mom who was a U2 fan and was completely immersed in their music from the time she was twelve years old. I was born and raised in Boston and grew up listening to WBCN radio—the station that first broke U2 in the US. I vividly remember the moment I heard “I Will Follow” and was literally stopped in my tracks as I heard a sound that “made some sense out of the world.” When U2 came to the Paradise Theater in Boston on their Boy tour in 1981, I stood captivated in the audience watching a powerful, spiritual, punk rock performance that changed my life.

From the beginning of our friendship, Gretchen wanted to get onstage with U2. Born for the stage, she started singing and performing in local theater groups at a young age. Years later, she fronted the Boston punk rock band, Black Barbie. Gretchen had both the confidence and the talent to play with U2; it was just a matter of figuring out how to get her up there.

The Vertigo tour returned to Boston in October and December of 2005, but in October we weren’t scanned into the ellipse, so were too far away for Gretchen to be considered. In December, although we had rail spots for both shows, Bono chose an Elvis impersonator and Santa Claus to go up with him. In 2011, in Montreal on the 360 Tour, we were front row/rail, and Gretchen came close to being chosen, but it wasn’t meant to be.

As the dates for Boston’s iNNOCENCE and eXPERIENCE tour approached, Gretchen and I talked endlessly about our U2 plans for 2015—our GA meet and greet strategies, the pros and cons of main stage versus E stage, and the biggest challenge: getting her onstage to play with the band.

After many months of waiting, U2 week in Boston finally arrived. On the night before Boston 1, we headed down to U2’s hotel and saw Murphy, Bono’s bodyguard, standing outside on the sidewalk. It was quiet, and he was alone, so we introduced ourselves.

He was kind and gracious, and as we chatted, he mentioned that he recognized me from previous tours. He readily agreed to have his photo taken with us, and then, handed us his business card and asked us to email him a copy of the photos.

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We said goodnight to Murphy and headed to the Garden for the GA check-in. We were overjoyed to have the contact info for Bono’s bodyguard: the man who is responsible for keeping Bono safe and who also plucks fans out of U2’s audience and gets them onstage. It felt serendipitous.

We emailed Brian the photos along with a note thanking him for his time and his kindness. We also spoke of our long history with U2. We further went on to mention Gretchen’s band The Knock Ups and her mad guitar skills.

We put in our request: would he please ask Bono to consider bringing Gretchen up to play one night in Boston?

That night at Boston 1, the most magical of the four Boston gigs, we were on the south side rail at the crease where the E stage meets the catwalk. Murphy was doing his bodyguard thing—walking up and down the catwalk, keeping his eye on Bono and on the fans in the arena. He saw me and came over, clasped my hand, addressed me by name and told me to enjoy the show. Ultimately, U2 didn’t play ‘Desire’ that night, but we went home full of optimism knowing that there were three hometown shows left.

For Boston 2, after much discussion we decided to do the south side catwalk rail. On the E stage that night, U2 played “Desire,” but they didn’t bring anyone up. However, as they segued into “Angel of Harlem,” Bono looked around and wondered “is there a girl guitar player in the audience who wants to come up and play?” There was no answer. He looked around and asked again. Still, no reply.

Gretchen was devastated that she had blown an opportunity by not being at the E stage.  When Bono couldn’t find the girl he was looking for, he instead chose a thirteen year old boy to play with them and, in a magnanimous gesture, gave the boy the guitar.

During the days off, we hoped for another U2 meet and greet. Back at the Ritz bar, luck was on our side as we ran into Adam outside on the sidewalk. He was charming as we spoke of our history with U2 and impressed that I was one of the fans at their Paradise show way back when; he thanked me for sticking with the band for so long. He graciously accepted Gretchen’s gift of a Knock Ups CD and t-shirt and laughed when we suggested that he wear the t-shirt onstage one night, since he’d been wearing punk rock band t-shirts all throughout the tour.

For Boston 3, Gretchen and I headed to the designated meet and greet spot outside the Garden. Before long, the black Cadillac Escalades started pulling up. Out of one car stepped Murphy and Bono, who started working the line.  Bono reached us. Gretchen gave him a CD and t-shirt while telling Bono that she was the lead singer and guitarist in a local band called the Knock Ups. She went on to say that it was a dream of hers to play onstage with U2. Would he bring her up tonight? He asked her what her name was, and when she told him, he said, “Well, Gretchen you never know how these things are gonna go” before he moved onto the next fan.

Later that night, we found the perfect position on the E stage rail. The show began, and soon, Murphy approached Gretchen to let her know that she’s going up; he gave her instructions on how to climb over the rail and fall back into his arms when it was time. We couldn’t believe it! For three tours, we had waited for his moment, diligently trying to make it happen! We were ecstatic and had difficulty focusing on the show as we waited for Gretchen’s moment. Gretchen was excited, ready, and not a bit nervous.

U2 finished playing “Crystal Ballroom” and we heard Bono say, “Gretchen, Gretchen, where’s Gretchen?” He scanned the rail, saw her, and within seconds, she was onstage with guitar in hand. I stood there, dumbfounded, as my U2 soul sister is coached by Bono on the chords to “All I Want is You.”

Watch the video to see what happens next. I can’t do it justice except to say that she, with her nerves of steel, killed it, becoming a celebrity in her own right.

Finally, in a week full of many surreal moments, at the fourth Boston show, imagine our surprise and delight to see Adam wearing his Knock Ups t-shirt when U2 came back onstage for their encore!!! I think Gretchen was more excited about this than she was about playing guitar with the boys. After all, instead of her giving a gift to the band, they were giving something fantastic back to her.

How sad we were to see our U2 week come to an end, but what a magical mystery ride we lived. Boston had seen four of the best gigs of the iNNOCENCE & eXPERIENCE tour—high energy, emotionally-charged shows that left us joyous and wanting more; and, if that weren’t enough, a lifelong dream had come true for my U2 soul sister. U2 sings of dreaming out loud, and now, the dreams of another diehard have certainly come true. Viva U2. –Donna Lane

Boston born-and-raised, Donna Lane is a mad U2 fan since her first show at the Paradise in early 1981. Follow @donna_marie40 on Twitter.

“Gay Pride In The Name Of Love”: U2 & Their Fans Celebrate Marriage Equality

July 1, 2015

David Wichman grew up in the 1980s listening to U2. He also grew up gay during the early days of the AIDS pandemic and experienced the double humiliations of bigoted demonizations and heartbreaking tragedies.

In the last 30 years, the fights against AIDS and for gay rights have come a long, long way, and some of the key allies for progress have been artists, actors, and musicians, including Bono and his bandmates in U2.

On Sunday, June 28, the day of gay pride parades in Chicago and around the world, millions celebrated the recent United States’ Supreme Court decision effectively legalizing gay marriage at the national level. But David Wichman took his personal Pride rally to the General Admission (GA) line at the United Center.

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With his hand-decorated rainbow flag in tow, he wanted to get a place close to the stage. His flag simply said: “IN THE NAME OF LOVE – THANK YOU!” Wichman wanted Bono and the band to know their work as allies has not gone unnoticed.

Of course, dozens of fans bring their banners and signs to the GA floor on each night of the tour, but not every fan has their banner or sign lifted hjgh by the lead singer onstage. As Bono had done in May in Arizona after the news of Ireland’s successful marriage referendum, he turned this spirited Sunday night show into a celebration of marriage (his wife Ali in attendance) and a joyful tribute to the civil rights advocates who worked to make marriage equality a reality for the entire USA.

U2 had made their support for Ireland’s marriage reform known on the band’s official website U2.com, and these sentiments had been picked up by mainstream media. Now that support had come to the American audience on the North American leg of the Innocence + Experience tour in a city where one million people had particiapted in the Pride celebrations earlier that day.

Bono took Wichman’s rainbow flag and paraded it onstage during “Pride (in the name of love),” a track that has been soaring and shining this tour as a new civil rights anthem, not only for gay rights, but for the people of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston. To see Bono dance the catwalk and approach the mainstage unfurling the universal symbol of gay rights was  not just a bold statement for the new equality paradigm but also an affirmation for all the bands’ fans who are proundly part of the LGBTQI community.

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David Wichman shared his jubilant and eloquent response to the evening on his personal Facebook page, writing: “What does it matter that I tossed my pride flag onto the stage last night? Fans all over the world throw things on the stage and Bono happily acknowledges many of these gestures with love. What does it matter for Bono to take the time to acknowledge Gay Pride and the SCOTUS marriage decision?”

Wichman continues, “It matters because to have one of the most famous and loving generous humans on the planet support you and your community, this saves lives. People from every corner of the planet were watching Bono dancing with, spinning, and then gently carrying this flag across the stage, holding it up and then hanging it on the stage.”

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He shares from his history of struggling with shame, “Some of them are just like me. They grow up in a world that tells them that they don’t count. A world that says that their life is a shameful disease. A world that feels like the only alternative to the pain of being who they are is suicide or blotting out reality with alcohol & drugs. So when your heroes and idols tell you that you matter, there is real hope.”

The pain and then hope Wichman mentions are real: “I buried a generation of friends and watched helplessly as many of my brothers & sisters around the world continue to be publicly brutalized, hanged, killed, shamed, and imprisoned. This counts! This matters!

I am so proud of this moment right now. My U2 family is more than just a fan base we are a worldwide network of Awesome.”

Bono’s celebration of David Wichman and the many fans like him is not just a humanitarian gesture for universal rights. It’s an acknowledgement of the unique beauty and struggle of the LGBTQI community for its integrity and its sanctity.

Bono’s activist crusades to fight AIDS in Africa have involved overt gestures of honest conversation and sometimes conversion with evangelical Christians. Bono is a respected Christ-follower among the fans who share his theology, and his faith inspires his advocacy; perhaps his bold unapologetic support for gay rights intimates a shift in Chrisitianity more generally, where full inclusion for LGBTQI members is now policy in many major mainline denominations.

Certain songs in the band’s setlist have generally accompanied Bono’s remarks for full equaliy, songs like “Pride,” “Beautiful Day,” and “One,” with these songs attaching themselves to the ascending rainbow consciousness and the ubiqitous motto #LoveWins.

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During “Pride” with Wichman’s flag in his hands, Bono announces, “Gay pride in the name of love.” During “Beautiful Day,” Bono tweaks a line: “A rainbow of colors right in front of you.” Before “One,” Bono boasts that Ireland beat America to full equality by putting “the gay into Gaelic” and continued to speak eloquence on how difficult commitment is, but “Love rules! Love wins!” After dedicating the finale to the Pride marchers, the fans carried the closing song as a group singalong, 20,000 voices strong.

And if there were any lingering doubts, after the band leaves the stage each night, “Same Love,” Macklemore’s anthem in support of marriage equality, is the first tune to blare from the loudspeakers as the house lights go up. -Andrew William Smith @teacheronradio

Photos in this story by Justin Kent @justin_kent and David Wichman

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YouTube link to film of “Pride” by Tim Newell: https://youtu.be/LbwPJIjoTtI

U2’s Prophetic Rage ‘N’ Roll: Rethinking “Sunday Bloody Sunday” Next To “Raised By Wolves”

June 1, 2015

If pushed to list the top 10 U2 songs from their expansive catalog, I would be hard pressed not to put “Sunday Bloody Sunday” at or near the top spot. The song converted me to the passionate crusade for justice that is a U2 trademark. It’s military drum cadence embodies what, in the evocative coinage of Joe Marvelli’s analysis, is an “aggressive pacifism.”

This song too cannot be divorced from the theater that is live rock n roll and Bono’s skills as a rock ‘n’ roll frontman. Their mastery of the performative in rock’s transcendent scope is why U2 is the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band to date. Their soaring belief in the power, as they sang, of “a red guitar, three chords, and the truth” allows them to harness this transcendent reach of rock ‘n’ roll in way that no other band does with the same consistency.

They are masters of the theatric and the performative and have spun their experiences into a body of work with an audacious reach beyond the limits of the present. No doubt, it sometimes misses in overreach. But when it connects one can be transported out of oneself to consider something bigger, grander, and “to come” in the biblical sense of an eschatological horizon akin to a “New Year’s Day.” But seeing this horizon is difficult in the midst of the raw matter of human life together. It is in this real context that U2 has been able to plumb rock’s depths of expressing anger, hope, and redemption. With its plaintive cries for a future beyond our destructive selves, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is such a song.

In a 1987 World in Action documentary for Irish television, the Edge observed that “a lot of people think rock ‘n’ roll should be escapist, but why shouldn’t it face what is actually happening?” For a group of four young men coming of age in the midst of “The Troubles,” this question was both urgent and daunting. 1983′s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was a bold answer. It teems with raw fury capturing the zeitgeist in which the post punk Irish quartet emerged. In the same documentary, Bono admits that, “We wrote ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ in a rage.”  The rage is palpable in the pounding drum beat and the exasperated exhaustion of the opening line. And yet, it balances its analysis of the human condition (“trench is built within our heart”) with a horizon of hope (“tonight we can be as one”).

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The song aural evocations are certainly strong but it is in the live performance that the song’s sound and fury are fully incarnated. For their often endless tinkering in the studio and the occasional brilliance that results, it is their adept handling of rock as performative theater in concert which signifies their greatness. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is an illustrative case study. The iconic performance remains the one from the Under a Blood Red Sky concert film. Around the three minute mark near the end of the Edge’s guitar solo, a jackboot shod Bono emerges from the background with the white flag atop a huge pole, high-stepping to Larry Mullen, Jr.’s militaristic drumbeat.   He forcefully plants the flag and entreats us to “let it fly,” leading the call to nonviolence by declaring “no more!”

The flag is a universal symbol of the cessation of hostilities and maybe a particular reference to the Irish Catholic priest, Edward Daly, who waved his white handkerchief aloft as others carried the unarmed wounded to safety in 1972′s horrific killing of 14 protestors in Derry, Ireland by an elite British paratroop regiment. U2′s use of the sonic and the visual connect concertgoers to a broken world. This version has a youthful exuberance that buoys the edginess of the song. There is a generational pushback that proclaims a prophetic NO to the cycle of violence. It embodies the headiness of youth spurred by dreams of changing the world.

But, as the lyrics lament, “how long must we sing this song?”  As young people navigating our enlightenment with our restless energy, we can be tempted to think that our attention alone is enough to wrest history from the violent. Yet this song is a staple of the band’s canon and a fixture within their live shows.  heir continuing relevance as four (now aging) lads bearing the self-professed mantle of “three chords and the truth” emerges as they successfully prevent the song from being a nostalgic greatest hits performance.  Instead, the performance evolved with the band’s own expanded gaze.  Birthed from “The Troubles,” it has come to speak to Beirut and Nicaragua, Soweto and Sarajevo, Baghdad and Tehran, and beyond.

In 2015′s Innocence and Experience tour, a stripped down “Sunday Bloody Sunday” has been paired with “Raised by Wolves,” displaying its ongoing, evocative weight.  I am moved by the bare tone in this new haunting rendition. It is different than the militant exuberance of their 20-something selves. As a middle aged adult myself, it strikes me as the song of those who have lived long enough and seen too much to be naive about the human condition yet refuse to release their white knuckled grip on hope, vowing to “kick the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

Juxtaposing it with the raw, new track “Raised by Wolves” serves as forceful reminder of the harsh context in which this hope must be spoken and lived with a vulnerable courage.  It is a world in which the fervor of our beliefs can be twisted in on ourselves and spring outward in a bloody “purification” of those who oppose us.

It is a world in which the cry from the new song, “I don’t believe anymore…” is both an expression of exasperation at nihilism and a prophetic refusal of causes and crusades no matter how religiously infused.  Thirty two years on from its first performances, this song is still “not a rebel song,” but is a call to all of us to face the human condition without blinking and with sober, relentless hope.  It is not resignation to the inevitable but a call to action.  As Bono invited in U2 Go Home: Live from Slane Castle, “…if you’re the praying kind, turn this song into a prayer.”  It is lament. How long? It is petition. No More! It’s shrill and stilling focus on violence somehwere remains a prayer for an end to violence everywhere. Amen.

-Rick Quinn

Rainbows Over Dublin, U2′s Gay Pride in Arizona, & the Arc of Bono’s Activism

May 26, 2015

When Ireland became the first country to legalize same-gender marriage by popular mandate, double rainbows appeared over Dublin, and an Irish rock band transformed their Arizona concert into a gay-rights celebration. Almost 30 years ago, Bono endured threats from angry Arizonans for his support of the US national holiday for the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But on Saturday, Bono invoked King as peacemaker as U2 celebrated the victory of love, turning the song “Pride (In The Name of Love)” into an anthem for gay pride.

U2 had begun expressing their strong support for #VoteYes on their website and social media outlets in the days leading up to the vote, even though they were on tour in North America. This victory for Ireland was a particularly poignant moment for Bono to be his most audacious activist from the arena stage on an issue local to Ireland–and not on the talking-points handout from the ONE campaign–as important as those issues remain. Bono’s speech on Saturday in Arizona during “Pride” profoundly united his faith, poltics, and belief in love in profound and eloquent ways.

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Bono shared, “This is a moment to thank the people who bring us peace. It’s a moment for us to thank the people who brought peace to our country. We have peace in Ireland today! And in fact on this very day we have true equality in Ireland. Because millions turned up to vote yesterday to say, ‘love is the highest law in the land! Love! The biggest turnout in the history of the state, to say, ‘love is the highest law in the land!’ Because if God loves us, whoever we love, wherever we come from… then why can’t the state?’”

This victory for same-gender love being likened by Bono to God’s love provides us a powerful moment to reflect on the evolution of U2’s faith and activism. Back in the 1980s, after albums like War, The Unforgettable Fire, and The Joshua Tree, Bono and U2 epitomized the progressive activism of anti-war and anti-apartheid positions, particularly criticizing the Reagan administration’s interventionist intrusions in Central America with a track like “Bullet The Blue Sky.” Because the band’s activism expressed their faith in Jesus Christ, the lord, savior, and peaceful liberator, they took hits in the secular cynical rock press for being messianic crusaders. Come down from the cross, the critics chastised Bono, we could use the wood for kindling.

In the 1990s, Bono dealt with his Jesus-complex by dressing up in drag or like the devil. The trio of albums that chopped down the Joshua Tree mythos were Situationism on speed, the pop culture capitalist rock star Spectacle turned inside-out and turned up to eleven. This Bono was still liberal in a sense, but with a buzzed irony we couldn’t quite grasp. A lot of people didn’t get it. Of course the band maintained its activism during the Zoo years, speaking out against the resuregence of hate groups and about the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

By the 2000s, crusading Bono was back in full swing, and his bandmates went along, always faithfully yet sometimes begrudgingly, as he worked on issues related to ending global poverty with a new passion. Bono also injected his faith into the conversation more than ever before, turning his public speaking gigs into real opportunities to preach the gospel of good news for the poor, such as at the White House prayer breakfast or the NAACP awards. The singer’s ability to move a crowd with goose-bumps and the gravity that generates actions is not limited to his songs, as his speeches are just as stunning.

This new on-fire Bono brought unprecedented attention to the causes he championed and unfettered backlash from the political left. His own personal wealth that puts him at the tippy-top of the 1% and his band’s corporate and tax practices have resulted in a drumbeat of negativity towards the superstar and his bandmates. His strategies for ending poverty, no matter how effective or ineffective, have been judged for their association with neoliberalism. But that didn’t stop Bono from working nonstop on what he believed would benefit the most people.

In his many visits to the United States, Bono became committed to tapping the missional spirit among evangelical Christians with hopes they would be active in the movement to end poverty. These friendships have been well-documented and the partnerships with religious conservatives in the fight against poverty wildly successful. This has led to many powerful alliances with contemporary Christian musicians and ministers and many conservative US politicians. His friendships and collaborations with the likes of Billy Graham, Bill Frist, George Bush, and Rick Santorum were fodder for his critics on the left. Even as recently as 2013, he gave an interview with the arch-conservative organization Focus on the Family.

During the Vertigo tour, the War on Terror was on everyone’s minds. Bono repurposed the Nietzsche quote about not becoming a monster in order to defeat a monster and turned it into a prayer. He talked about Islam, Judaism, and Christianity being Abrahamic kin and wore his “COEXIST” blindfold as he dramatized torture during “Bullet The Blue Sky.” The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was recorded and made a regular part of the show. But Bono stopped shy of any Code Pink-type tactics or even overt statements against the war in Iraq. He dedicated “Running To Stand Still” to the troops.

Is Bono progressive, conservative, moderate, or what? Does his faith make him some kind of evangelical free agent? So this much is clear: a person doesn’t necessarily become a religious conservative by hanging out with religious conservatives? Some things consistent about Bono are his passion and work-ethic, which are always in full-effect, at full-volume, for what he believes are the greatest goods, whether his fans or critics agree with all his political maneuvers or not.

Surely, education and cultural change on same-gender love have been so effective worldwide that more and more people, liberal and conservative, now support marriage equality. What Bono made clear in Arizona last Saturday, though, is that God is love and when love is the law, love can change laws.

On Songs of Innocence, the message of U2 comes full circle. With “Raised Like Wolves,” problems of violence and religious intolerance trouble the lyricist channeling his younger self. Back on albums like War with its white flag of hope and surrender, Bono was one of the first Christians I heard call himself “spiritual but not religious” because of the damage that religious dogma can do. In the new shows, “Bullet The Blue Sky” has been completely revised yet again, as the younger Bono lectures the older Bono and vice-versa. A barricade exists within the self between the agitator and the negotiator. Then, before the song ends, Bono adopts the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” pose and is rapping about the racial strife in Ferguson. All these are good reminders to Bono and to us, as we look at the long arc of his career in activism and art.

In 2000, the late Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain civil rights leader to whom U2 dedicates two songs, said, “I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.” What is true in Ireland today is true in 37 states of the United States. The pending Supreme Court decision on cases brought by gay couples in states without marriage equality may come as soon as next month, when Gay Pride parades are celebrated throughout the US and while U2 are still on tour here.

–Andrew William Smith 

Check out the video of Pride from Saturday, May 23: https://youtu.be/TuYr7dfyCn0

Photos: (in story) from U2′s Instagram leading up to the Ireland vote on gay marriage.

On the front page of Interference: Bono photo by Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Rainbow picture: @karltims on Twitter

 

 

 

When The Psalms Came Down

May 16, 2015

Until Thursday, May 14, 2015 in western Canada, it’s been a decade since U2 did a predominately indoor tour, alternating as they have been between football stadiums and basketball arenas since the Joshua Tree days. While some folks speculated whether the vast shimmering audacity of the stadium-seasoned Claw could ever be rivaled, U2’s designer Willie Williams had been working behind the scenes. The Elevation tour’s “heart” has been cut in half by a cross-like stage that crosses the entire mainfloor of the venues that seem tiny compared to the grandeur of the 360-tour jaunt in 2009-2011.

Fans in the General Admission standing-only section have been split into the “North” and “South” sections that represent parts of Dublin. The setlist has been severed at the middle by an intermission that brackets innocence and experience, but there is nothing inanely “innocent” about the teenage fury of a set prefaced by vintage tracks by the Clash and the Ramones and snippeted with the likes of Johnny Rotten’s “God Save The Queen” sneaking into “Vertigo.”

Brought from the invasive iTunes download of 2014 to an even more in-your-face tour theatric, this is a radically reflective midlife crisis that goes beyond the hopeful chimes of Boy onto the barricades of a religious battleground. From youthful disillusion and despair, Bono and the boys answer like the romantic William Blake from whom they stole the album and tour titles. U2 respond to the unspeakable by speaking the only language they can conjure: a punk rock prophetic and apocalyptic ecstasy, the spiritual vision quest that must pass through nihilism and terrorism to seek redemption and release.

On Friday, the death of blues icon B.B. King brought “When Love Comes To Town” into the set. Leaving very little trace of No Line On The Horizon in the show leaves room for Rattle and Hum and the vibes that recently went busking with Jimmy Fallon into the New York subways. Creatively squeezing more than three decades of creative output into less than three hours means some flexible switching and slippage in the setlist from night-to-night; this will be especially welcome to the hardcore fans as the tour later lands for extended residencies in cities like Chicago and New York.

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U2 have always claimed to be more punk than hippy, more blues than gospel, and it’s from a devotional fascination with the Psalms that Bono derives so much lyrical power. Surely spirit moved in mysterious ways as the band plotted the dramatic arc of the first half setlist, finishing strong with an emotionally potent trio of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” > “Raised By Wolves” > “Until The End Of The World.”

A heartbreaking and slow acoustic “Sunday Bloody Sunday” stops for the audio-video assault that recalls the 1974 Dublin bombings that prompted the words for “Raised By Wolves.” This is one spoiler fans might be grateful to be able to emotionally prepare for—but the reality that requires the realism of this song is an aspect of violent human folly that we’re all still wrestling with.

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The biblical language of last suppers and epic betrayals sitting atop crunchy guitars and effects that makes “Until The End Of The World” a live U2 staple after all these years takes on an even deeper effect after what precedes it here. The times we live in today are no less apocalyptic than those that inspired the fiery poems of Blake or the flammable bombast of punk. The world is always ending for someone somewhere. It’s only the first half of this show closing, but suddenly it’s raining paper, like the chaotic debris after the Dublin bombs, yet it gets called confetti on Twitter. Pages ripped from Alice in Wonderland, Dante, and Eugene Peterson’s Psalms. Fans can take these shards of fantastic wisdom with them. From the fallout of terror and ultimate human error, God’s blessings are still falling from the sky.

U2 are much more comfortable than they were in the late 1970s, but that doesn’t stop them from making us all uncomfortable with our mere mortality and political complicity and complacent spirituality. Bono had to take us back to his adolescent bedroom on Cedarwood Road to show us the cauldron where his poetic pyromania first sparked. And then, he had the mad idea to transform that bedroom into a traveling punk-rock tent revival that he could take on the road to rouse middle-aged rock fans from their workaday slumber. From what the world witnessed in Vancouver (and thanks to the instant gratification of Twitter, fan forums, and YouTube, we really witnessed this, albeit remotely), this is a mad idea worth nurturing and a revival worth partaking in when it comes to your town. With psalms raining down, with love it is coming to town.

—words by Andrew William Smith @teacheronradio

Photos of pages, collected from the first Vancouver show, by Beth Nabi (@bethandbono on Twitter)

 

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