March 4, 2013
We recently purchased our registration for the second-ever U2 Conference, to be held in Cleveland, Ohio this coming April 26-28.
While there have been U2 fan gatherings of all shapes and sizes, this confab, which debuted in 2009 and coincided with a U2 show, is one-of-a-kind event in North America. Organized by the visionary Scott Calhoun, the website @U2, and a cast of many others, this U2 Conference further establishes “U2 Studies” as a legitimate interdisciplinary field of academic study, uniting those who work in the academy in areas such as theology and musicology, literature and popular culture.
The complete schedule includes numerous panels on either the “fan” or “academic” track, a keynote by noted rock writer Ann Powers, collaboration with the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame that occupies a beautiful piece of real estate on Ohio’s north coast, a U2-themed worship experience on Sunday after the conference closes, and two performances by two different U2 tribute bands ONE and UF (or Unforgettable Fire).
Follow the drop-down links from the main conference website (http://u2conference.com) for more details. Early-bird prices remain in effect through March 11.
[pictured on homepage: UF band]
November 14, 2012
Reposted with permission from http://sojo.net/blogs/2012/11/13/bono-preaches-gospel-social-justice-georgetown
“Do you think he’ll sing?” the girl in the row behind me wondered aloud.
“I hope so,” the young fellow beside her said before continuing, “My dad would freak. He was a big fan of U2 when I was growing up. He used to play this one album,The Joshua Tree, over and over again.”
His father was a fan.
I am a thousand years old, I thought to myself, as more Georgetown students filled the seats around me at the university’s 111-year-old Gaston Hall, the main lecture hall on campus named after Georgetown’s first student, William Gaston, who later served as a member of the U.S. Congress.
The hall, decorated with stunning art-deco-era frescos and the crest of every Jesuit institute of higher learning, has hosted many dignitaries over the years, including Presidents Obama and Clinton, Vice-President Al Gore, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to name but a few.
“So if he’s not going to sing, is he just going to talk,” another student asked, with a distinct whiff of disappointment in his voice.
“I hear he’s an awesome speaker, though,” still another student said.
The students who packed the auditorium, many of them from Georgetown’s Global Social Enterprise Initiative at the McDonough School of Business and more than a few donning black t-shirts with the insignia of the ONE Campaign (of which Bono is a co-founder), weren’t sure what to expect from the famous Irish rock star and humanitarian.
A concert? A lecture? Another boring speech?
I’m fairly certain none of the students present for Monday night’s event, sponsored by the Bank of America and The Atlantic magazine, anticipated hearing Bono, the 52-year-old lead singer of U2, preach.
But preach he did.
After an introduction by Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America (whose presence was greeted by some grumbling from the students seated around me, one who suggested in a stage whisper that they start a chant from the Occupy Wall Street movement), Bono bounded up to the lectern, grinning with his blue eyes flashing excitement from behind his trademark rose-colored shades.
“Thank you, Brian — a gentleman in a world where, uh, that quality is not always on tap,” Bono began, as the crowd roared. “The band wanted me to say thank you to you too, Brian, because, as you heard, the band are committed to the idea that ever school kid in Ireland should have access to free music lessons if they need ‘em. So Brian has been helping us out with that.”
(That seemed to quell any unrest about having one of the world’s leading bankers in the room.)
“I don’t know if this is a lectern or a pulpit,” Bono told the crowd, folding his arms on the wooden podium in front of him, “but I feel oddly comfortable. It’s a bit of a worry, isn’t it? So … welcome to Pop Culture Studies 101. Please take out your notebooks. Today we are going to discuss why rock stars should never, ever be given access to microphones at institutes of higher learning.
“You will receive no credit for taking this class,” Bono joked, “not even street cred — it’s too late for that. I will, of course, be dropping the occasional pop culture reference to give the impression that I know where your generation is at. I do not. I am not sure where I am at.”
Good. I’m not the only one who feels ancient amidst this audience of youngsters, I thought.
“And the first existential question of this class might be, ‘What am I doing in [Gaston] Hall?’” Bono quipped. “I could be down having my third pint at The Tombs….Pop culture references. Rock star does research.”
Score one for said rock star. The room erupted in laughter at the mention of one of the campus’ legendary watering holes.
“I heard Election Night was quite messy on the pint front. Isn’t it amazing how three pints can make everything seem like victory, but four or five and you just know you’re about to taste defeat,” he continued. “Anyway, congratulations are in order. Not just for turning out in record numbers, but — forgetting politics for a minute — for electing an extraordinary man as president. I think you have to say that whatever your political tradition.”
Bono also congratulated the audience for being freed from the “tyranny” of political “attack ads.” Imagine, he said, if they never went away, if attack ads were the norm for everything, even, say, college admissions.
“Hello. We’re Georgetown and we approved this message,” he said in the stoic voice of a political ad announcer. “Let me say a few words about some other fine institutions you might be considering. UVA: Thomas Jefferson, what have they done to you? Syracuse: A school whose mascot is a fruit. Duke: A school that worships the devil.
“Georgetown – you’re in with the other guy! Georgetown has God on its side. Everyone knows God is a Catholic, right?” said Bono, whose late mother was a Protestant and late father, Bob, a Catholic. “Two words: Frank Sinatra. That proves it!”
All jokes aside — and he was terrifically witty throughout his nearly hour long address — Bono turned his attention to his true passion: helping the world’s poorest of the poor.
“I’d like to hear attack ads on things worth attacking. If there was an attack ad on malaria, I’d get that, because 3,000 people die every day — mostly kids — of malaria. Let’s have an attack ad on malaria. Let’s have an attack ad on mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS. I’d get that. Choose your enemies carefully because they define you. Make sure they’re interesting enough because trust me, you’re going to spend a lot of time in their company. So let’s pick a worthwhile enemy, shall we?
“How ’bout all the obstacles to fulfilling human potential — not just yours or mine but the world’s potential?” he continued. “I would suggest to you that the biggest obstacle in the way right now is extreme poverty. Poverty so extreme that it brutalizes, it vandalizes human dignity. Poverty so extreme it laughs at the concept of human dignity. Poverty so extreme it doubts how far we’ve traveled in our journey of equality; the journey that began with Wilberforce taking on slavery and a journey that will not end until misery and deprivation are in stocks.”
Were Bono an actual preacher, that was where he would have pounded his fists on the pulpit.
Painted on the wall behind the podium where this unlikely preacher of the Gospel of Social Justice spoke are the Latin words: Ad majorem Dei gloriam inque hominum salutem. Earlier, Georgetown’s president, John De Gioia, reminded the students of their meaning: “For the greater glory of God and the betterment of humankind.”
The Abolitionists. The Suffragettes. The Civil Rights Movement.
Social movements have always been powerful, Bono told the audience, but there is something special about this moment in history — it’s “transformative.”
“This moment, this generation [has] the chance that you have to rid the world of the obscenity of extreme poverty. Wouldn’t that be a hell of a way to start the 21st century?”
You could have heard a pin drop. The kids seated on either side of me were leaning forward in their chairs. They were listening with the attentiveness professors only dream about. Bono had their attention and kept it as he told them about the power they have to make changes — significant, global changes — by the conscious choices they make about how they spend their money, through social media and emerging technologies, by making sure their politicians keep the promises they’ve made about foreign aid funding in Africa and the rest of the developing world.
Something big was happening in the room. You could feel it. A palpable presence. I’d call it the Holy Spirit.
And it reminded me of a night 10 years ago at another college campus, when Bono spoke at my alma mater, Wheaton College in Illinois. At the time, I was traveling with Bono and his organization DATA (a predecessor of ONE) across the Midwest where he was trying to get American evangelicals (in particular) to turn their attention to the AIDS emergency in sub-Saharan Africa and to do something about it as a matter of justice — as a matter of the heart of their own faith.
Bono’s address at Wheaton fell about half-way through the Heart of America tour and it was a turning point not only for the tour, but for the movement it sparked. American evangelicals — the great “sleeping giant,” as Bono called them at the time — woke up, got involved, and worked for change. The monumental successes in alleviating crushing debt, supplying life-saving HIV/AIDS drugs, malaria netting, and the funds to put millions of African children in school for the first time are a testament to what transpired in Wheaton’s Edmund Chapel in early December 2002.
I know students who were there that night who’ve gone on to dedicate their careers and lives to helping the “least of these.” I, too, jaded journalist and wounded evangelical as I was at the time, was changed. Healed. Inspired and transformed.
The same thing was happening in Gaston Hall last night.
“Those people I’ve been talking about today — the poor — they’re not ‘those people,’ they’re not ‘them.’ They’re us. They’re you,” Bono said toward the end of his address. “They dream as you dream. They value what you value. There is no them, only us. The American anthem is not exceptionalism, it’s universalism. There is no them. Only us. Ubuntu. ‘I am because we are.’ There is no them. Only us.”
Maybe it’s a sheer coincidence (I’m doubtful) that the motto of Georgetown, a Jesuit university, is Utraque Unum, which means “both into one.”
Ultraque Unum in Latin.
Ubuntu in a dialect from South Africa where Archbishop Desmond Tutu — the man Bono only half-kidding says he works for — has taken the word as his own life’s motto.
Bono turned his attention to the Jesuits and their founder St. Ignatius of Loyola, to whom that Latin quote on the wall of the Gaston hall often is attributed.
“St. Ignatius, he was a soldier,” Bono began. “He was lying on a bed recovering from his wounds when he had what they call a conversion of the heart. He saw God’s work and the call to do God’s work. Not just in the church, in everything, everywhere. The arts, universities, the Orient, the New World. And once he knew about that, he couldn’t unknow it.
“It changed him,” Bono said. “It forced him out of bed and into the world. And that’s what I’m hoping happens here in Georgetown with you. Because when you truly accept that those children in some far off place in the global village have the same value as you — in God’s eyes or even just in your eyes — then your life is forever changed. You see something that you can’t unsee.”
Sitting there, tears dripping down my cheeks, I could feel it. Minds were opened. Hearts and eyes were, too.
Who knows when we look back 10 years from now, what the result of some of those Georgetown students seeing what they couldn’t unsee will be.
May we all have the eyes to see it.–Cathleen Falsani
September 21, 2012
In early autumn 2009, my life was changing significantly for the better in many beautiful ways. One October afternoon, I boarded a Greyhound bus to head east to meet a friend near Asheville, North Carolina, before heading on the next day to the Raleigh-Durham area for the inaugural U2 Conference and my third show (of six total) of the 360 tour.
What an honor to take my 25 year love affair with U2 and turn it into an intimate presentation about some of the more delicate aspects of my life, U2’s lives, and the message of their music for people struggling with addiction and recovery. But my talk titled “The Meme of Surrender” was only one of many windows into the intellectual, spiritual, and activist lenses with which we better understand the musical and societal contributions of our favorite band.
The 2009 conference changed lives and the forthcoming conference in spring 2013 will surely do the same. Never before had such wide and international collaboration of writers, professors, preachers, activists, and fans come together in such a unique fashion under an academic but inclusive big tent to offer sustained, in-depth meditations on the meanings of U2.
So many highlights soar in my memories three-years out, but some deserve more mention, in hopes that someone reading this might make the trek to Cleveland next April.
I will never forget hanging out after Saturday’s lunch, midway through the three-day conference, with a fellow presenter who had never seen U2 and didn’t have a ticket for Saturday’s show. A couple of us fans found this tragic. How could you have come this far, this close, and not be ready for liftoff with several thousand of your dearest friends? We convinced our colleague, who found a single seat online, and decided to come along for the party.
During a session called “Every Poet Is A Thief” and during a paper discussing “Lemon” in particular, when the presenter cued up the song for us to hear, a couple of us could not help but to get out of our classroom chairs, you know the kind that are desk and seat all in one, to start dancing to U2 at one of their most disco-soul moments.
In a weekend when the epiphanies wouldn’t stop coming, meeting African activist Agnes Nyamayarwo was more than amazing. We’ve thought in the abstract about how U2 and their fans have been involved in movements to save lives, but hearing this testimony from Agnes put face and place to such bold redemptive claims. Lots of ink has been spilled in recent years to criticize Bono’s approaches to African issues, but meeting Agnes offered a saving counterargument that supersedes the critics.
Agnes and her friends had brought some hand-made jewelry made by folks in Africa. My beaded, red, ONE bracelet is so beautiful and special and unique, that I will always treasure it as one of many mementos from that fall weekend. The weekend also prompted the publication of an anthology and a new online journal of U2 studies will soon lanch.
While I doubt U2 will show up to play a concert, and while I am not sure that Cleveland in April could ever be as beautiful as North Carolina in October, the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is a more than perfect venue and partner for a conference like this. I predict scholars and fans from all over the world will converge on America’s north coast for the second U2 studies conference. Everything you could want to learn about the 2009 conference along with all the breaking news about the 2013 conference as it becomes available are at http://u2conference.com. There’s plenty of time to draft a proposal or determine another way that you might get involved. See you next year in Cleveland!!!
–Andrew William Smith, Editor
(Image: Webzine editor Andrew William Smith meets up with hardcore U2 fan and author Cathal McCarron.)
July 4, 2011
Tennessee summers get steamy hot, and when U2’s sort of homecoming finally came to Music City on the first Saturday in July, we knew we were in for a scorcher, with temperatures reaching and staying in the mid-90s. For the Irish quartet’s second gig ever in the fabled capitol city of the Volunteer state, fans were willing to sweat it out in close proximity to thousands of others as the unschooled rock and roll preacherman known as Bono once again turned Saturday night into Sunday morning.
As the show grew closer, I enjoyed and joined the feverish buzz around town as well as on Twitter and the fan forums, anticipating an “It Might Get Wow” kind of moment to get stuck in, to shake up the standard and beautifully scripted setlist. In my mind, a special-guest saturated superjam seemed in order, perhaps involving former tour-openers Kings of Leon or Edge’s fellow guitar god Jack White joining the band onstage for an It Might Get Loud-reunion rendition of “The Weight.” Of course, I knew Bono had a few other Nashville connections that might prompt extended shout-outs or other unusual alterations in the two-hour-and-fifteen-minute itinerary.
But rather than get treated to “The Weight,” we got to wait, as we found our cheap, sidestage endzone seats in full view of the setting sun. While Florence Welch is a brave and beautiful diva whose striking voice more than fills a stadium, the conditions made it challenging to fully appreciate her opening the show. Uncomfortable doesn’t quite describe the last couple of hours before U2’s set, awash in anxious perspiration and too amped for meditation on the deeper meaning of the night.
When U2 finally took the stage, we found an aisle place to stand closer to the action and were entirely ready for God’s mysterious ways to remind us why we were there and relieve any obsession with our creaturely discomfort. The opening Achtung attack of early-90s tracks surely stole our attention and prompted Bono’s first speechifying of the night, a righteous rant about peace, freedom, and democracy during “Until The End Of The World.”
Dipping back to the very back of the catalog, a ferocious “I Will Follow” was filled with lots of new lyrical twists I’d never noticed before and a punk-rock passion that made it only fitting for Bono to pull the inked and shirtless fan “Tattoo Dan” onstage to wail with him during the final “your eyes” refrain.
Having heard “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” at several stops on the 360 tour, I was ready for the stunning stretch early in the song where Bono goes silent and lets the entire stadium sing. While I’ve always both listened to and joined this choir with the open heart of my off-pitch participation, I was actually a little disappointed that I wasn’t moved to goosebumps or tears as I often am at this part of the concert. Faithful as we fans who follow this band to multiple dates are, we tend to raise the emotional bar of our expectations. Truth be told, I am not sure our perspectives are particularly fair—for us to constantly notice or even be too critical of the concert’s choreographed aspects—especially when we’re surrounded by folks experiencing this brand of communal joy for the first and possibly only time.
Perhaps the quick “our friend Cowboy Jack in-the-house” nod at about two minutes in (referencing the band’s Rattle and Hum period colleague who introduced U2 to the legendary Johnny Cash) could have served as my clue, but no Nashville rumors or high hopes could have prepared me for the extended snippet of 1993’s “The Wanderer” that concluded “I Still Haven’t Found.” Originally an epic Zooropa collaboration with the late Johnny Cash, and appearing live in a proper U2 concert for the first-time ever, Bono gave us the gravity of his best, deep-throated Cash growl as his rendering of the song’s apocalyptic and biblical narrative made time stand still for a few stanzas of music history in Music City.
After the deep valley of Cash-mimic slipped into a smoother, high-pitched Bono mountaintop for the last few seconds of the song, the frontman got emotional and raspy to talk a little story from the mic: “Wow, we had some special times with Johnny and June here in Nashville over the years. I feel like I should take my shoes off when in his company—beautiful, beautiful, beautiful spirit. Next time, we’re going out to Hendersonville, Tennessee to say goodbye.”
Nothing about the crazed consumeristic postmodernism of the band’s 1990s experiments or their current carnivalesque equivalent in the gaudy “Get On Your Boots” could let us in the rustic sound of the rugged song Bono once described as the “antidote” to all that. Based in part on the Old Testatment’s book of Ecclesiastes and narrated by a character called the Preacher whose trajectory of sin to salvation resembles the real-life Man in Black, Bono revealed to us all in Nashville that some songs are too sacred to sing every night and reminded us of the abiding spiritual truth that some places and people are so holy that they require us to take off our boots.
To say that to be a part of that special moment (a mere seven songs into the show!) made my night would be an understatement. But the honest underside to this confession is that after this, the rest of show seemed to blaze by in a steamy and sober but foggy blur.
You couldn’t drink enough water to stay hydrated, and after one of too many trips to the bathroom, we ended up just standing in the concourse by a misting fan outside the First Aid station. We know some people had to leave the show on stretchers, passed out under duress from the cramped coziness of the stadium and punishing Bonnaroo-quality heat. As we watched dozens of exhausted fans head to the exits of their own accord during “One,” we pondered ditching and reluctantly made ourselves stay, still hoping for one more surprise.
Not even the always stratospheric strains of “Where The Streets Have No Name” could elevate my weary mood or soothe my suddenly gloomy mind, sad that my sixth and final show of the 2009-2011 run of the 360 tour was coming to a close. But things started to change when Bono started his concluding rap before “Moment of Surrender.” I’d been waiting for more Nashville-specific testimony since “The Wanderer,” and we really got it.
Bono began by namechecking folks from the contemporary Christian music scene—people like Michael W. Smith, Charlie Peacock, Amy Grant, and Jars of Clay—referencing the positive changes that came after what was dubbed the “Nashville Summit” during Bono’s visit here on his World AIDS Week Tour in 2002. Before that time, according to Bono, “There was no one on AIDS drugs on the continent of Africa. Now, because of the United States of America, four million lives have been saved and have been put on those anti-retroviral drugs.”
Then, what had been a tribute to the late Clarence Clemons for the last few shows, became a deeply cosmic and simultaneously Christological benediction hymn. “You’ve heard of the miracle of the loaves and fishes,” Bono preached. “Well, we’re going to make this space station disappear. We’re going to turn this place into the Milky Way. Would you take out your phones? Turn these lights off Willie. There’s our little planet in the corner—our little bluish planet spinning around the sun. Some people find it harder than others to hold on. This song belongs to them. It’s the theme of our whole show. This song is called ‘Moment of Surrender.’ Thank you, Lord.”
As we tied ourselves with wire to the final thread of the set, I hung on Bono’s every word. For too long in my 20s and 30s, I’d been falling into black holes and worshipping at altars of some very dark stars. In my early 40s, the band of my teens helped pull me back via the stations of the cross. Couple Bono’s poetry about addiction and redemption with Edge’s perfect keyboard and guitar, and we have the sonic salve to the scarier and seedier sides of life inside skin on this spinning globe. As Edge moaned the final “Whoa, oh, ohhhhs,” Bono started chanting rap-style, “Where were you when they crucified my Lord,” over and over and over again.
As the crowd roared and the band prepared for its final bow, Bono kept talking: “Thanks for your patience, unbelievable people. I don’t know what’s happening to this band. Thank you.” Then, with the other three heading to the ramps, Bono kneeled into the crowd. Apparently, a man had been holding a sign that said “Blind Guitar Player,” front row center, for the entire night, and now, Bono was talking to him.
Bono asked the man, “What do you want to play?” Then, “Get a guitar for this dude. Gents, we have a surprise guest. Give him my guitar, little acoustic guitar.” After Bono and crew helped the blind brother onstage, they fit him with Bono’s green “Irish Falcon” guitar, the one played during “The Fly” and that has the words “The Goal Is Soul” etched upon its body.
Putting “dude” in front of the mic, Bono asked, “What’s your wife’s name?” Then, speaking his only words, he replied, “My wife’s name is Andrea,” followed by a long pause, followed by “I’m real nervous man,” followed by the familiar opening of “All I Want Is You.” For a split-second, it was just Bono and blind “dude” tentatively treading water on top of the song, but then suddenly, they were joined by the rest of the band and the entire stadium screaming and singing along. And in my case, I was finally crying the tears that didn’t come on cue earlier, turning away from the stage to stare into the oh-so soft and also wet eyes of my sweetheart.
No, Bono didn’t go as far as laying-on-hands and restoring eyesight to our special guest. But at this point, I doubt any of us would have been surprised had that happened. But Bono did give his new friend a particular green guitar to take home to hopefully play many more love songs on.
There was a time when U2 really didn’t write romantic love songs and even resisted the idea. But in a town that’s got heart-soaked ballads dripping from the public fountains and infused into the drinking water, ending with such lyrical intimacy seemed more than fitting. Originally a love song to Bono’s wife Ali, “All I Want Is You” became a love song for lovers everywhere, performed that night by a group whose even larger love for the world could no longer be contained by a college football stadium. After such a show, we had to take that love with us back into the Nashville streets, where we could take off our boots and walk on holy ground. –Andrew William Smith, Editor
All photos shot for Interference, copyright David Bundy (David Bundy Photoworks, http://www.davebundy.com/)
June 27, 2011
As Bono crooned a question in the pre-Motown girl-group sensation “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (made famous by the Shirelles) before ramping into the stratosphere with the stadium-rattling “Where The Streets Have No Name,” the band’s fans from Michigan, the Midwest, and the world let their reply of “Yes” be known during the encore’s familiar lyrics, in their collectively screaming, singing, shaking bodies.
Seeing my first show on the last leg of the postponed and rescheduled North American 360 tour (having taken in four in September-October 2009), I traveled to Michigan with fellow fans, family members, and best friends – with all three with me Sunday seeing their first 360 show, with one seeing the band for the first time ever (after following the band since the 1980s). Walking to the car and waiting in traffic after the show, Laurie Britt-Smith described the set as a “love letter to fans.” At her first U2 concert, my best friend who’s accompanied me to countless rock shows and festivals for the last two years, many in much more intimate venues, remarked at the effectiveness of the techno-cathedral stage and its respected ring of a ramp, where the band immerses themselves into the crowd with a sense of courage, surrender, and abandon she feels other bands lack.
And then, whenever he stopped to talk, Bono carried on and on (and on!) in a ragged and raspy post-Glastonbury voice about how great it was to be in the “verdant green” of East Lansing (a nod to school colors), extolling American ideals and campus activism at places like Michigan State to support the goals of the One campaign or Amnesty International. Before “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Bono took humility and humor to tell the university-town crowd that U2’d never been to college, that they were still students, still searching, still learning.
Overall, the combined and glowing consensus of my show companions put into perspective some of the complaints and concerns I’ve recently heard on the discussion boards from the more hardcore fan community about the alleged safety of current setlist stasis. Clear to me after last night, there’s nothing safe about the 24 songs chosen or their order of performance. With the exception of “Stay,” “Miss Sarajevo,” and the Amnesty-themed segue of “Scarlet” into “Walk On,” folks around us were on their feet for the entire show. And to some of the casual fans that were our neighbors among the metal benches of Spartan Stadium, some of the tracks clearly trekked into the realm of the risky, unexpected, and experimental, so ferociously featuring the rugged electrified thumps and bumps of each member’s contribution.
Nothing “safe” from our vantage point with opening the show with a string of four songs from an album that’s twenty years old or with the searing sonic rocking emphasis on tracks that “edge” so experimentally into the proggy, trippy, electronic realm with the zonkers “Zooropa” really stealing the show. With strange scratchy samples of rhetorical questions slicing the sky and the Claw dropping a veil of blinding blinking lights to hide the band, the jarring spectacle looks more like something you’d expect from the likes of Tool, Flaming Lips, or Pink Floyd.
As Bono’s shoutout before “Stay” namechecked Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, he thanked the magazine for supporting the band through its 1990s experiments, honoring and furthering a sense of moral and musical adventure that possesses U2’s inner light despite the pejorative logic and reason that might have the band merely limp towards retirement. If anything, this final phase of the 360 tour seems to be about a career-spanning set that pays due tribute to the boundary-lands of their creativity.
Late in the show when some fans were already itching towards the exits, the spaced-out final encore begins with a ridiculous SciFi cartoon that probably had something to do with the Claw’s own inner mythology. This surreal cinematic interruption collapses into a pre-recorded sample asking “what time is it in the world” before the band reappears with Bono decked in his laser jacket as the licks drop into the 1995 single “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” from the Batman Forever soundtrack. With Bono swinging from the spaceship’s steering wheel like a teenage boy might hang from the trees, nowhere to be seen is a middle-aged man who couldn’t play this gig a year ago due to back trouble. What time is it? Showtime, indeed!
Likewise, numbers such as the opening quartet from Achtung Baby, “Elevation,” “City of Blinding Lights,” or “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” really rocked and vibrated the building with ecstatic vision, involving every element of the senses and imagination, of sound and sight and stadium. Obviously, a viable current flows through a show like this that equals an immeasurable quantity greater than the sum of the many parts.
Only due to a spiritual and communal component do U2 operate so infectiously and effectively, even admittedly tired from spending their “day off” flying to England and back. Obviously, the band nourishes itself emotionally on fan response, as we feed ourselves cosmically on their redeeming message. To see half of this show in pre-dusk summer light only added to its grand sense of open welcome, of secular yet sanctified embrace.
To stake out what I see from this show in my heart’s mind, I’d have to name it as an extension of spirit, played out on a postmodern, pop-culture democratic and carnivalesque canvas as inclusive interfaith incarnational apocalyptic mysticism. From the work of activist volunteers at the event to the staggering statistics that scroll across the Claw’s screen right before the show to a stunning sermon inserted into “Until The End Of The World” about “peace, love, freedom” and the end of it all, U2’s performance as participatory liturgy invites fans to ponder faith’s unlikely optimism and practical relevance at the crossroads with global economic and ecological demise.
Seeing subtle lyrical threads woven into a larger scripture-like fabric forms a medium-as-message that mediates and meditates on issues of a political and spiritual swath much vaster than the largely upper-middle-class gathering comprised. As an important example, note this slight altering away from the original words in “Miss Sarajevo”: “Is there a time for first communion/a time for synagogue. Is there a time to turn to mecca/be a beauty queen before God.” Add this multifaith twist to the Lennonesque invocation of “no religion” in “Zooropa” to the “blessings not just for the ones who kneel” in “City of Blinding Lights” to the overt use of Muslim symbolism in the video montage now accompanying “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and we can cobble together a complex interpretative framework for Bono’s layered and challenging ethos for inclusion, incarnation, and illumination.
On his post-religious spiritual trip, Bono’s not just “turning tricks with [his] crucifix” to make boatloads of cash; instead, he’s employing a Christological vocabulary to push listeners into a collective space where we can “dream out loud” revolutionary notions of just what that cross might mean in our interconnected yet still impoverished and war-torn world.
I don’t really think the Claw had to tell us how many thousands of beings are dying these days due to hunger, suicide, smoking, abortion, and disease. No, the band didn’t need to broadcast all that bad news just to bum us out at a Sunday night party – not unless there’s a connection between the tragic bones and guts of those figures and their personal message of peace and surrender and sacrifice for one’s fellow human.
Now in the common counter-analysis of U2, all this spirit-theory’s nothing but cheesy pandering and sensationalist hypocritical liberal panic being pushed by megarich rock stars. But strip away the over-the-top 21st century shlock and awe of the whole endeavor, and we’re left with an antique first century poetics pointing to the ultimate in cosmic pandering – a physicality of loving sacrifice that still shakes the skies.
As we arrived at the stadium yesterday, we couldn’t help but notice a hell-fixated street-preacher hollering loudly at the fans in the GA line, matched only by a young dreadlocked woman dressed in a green t-shirt and kilt drowning out his voice with a bright version of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. Quite peripheral to the U2 concert itself, this scene embodied everything the night would unfold for me in its message.
If we’re going to “go there” to the muddy discourse of religion and politics in an entertainment spectacle like this, it desperately matters what version of the truth gets peddled and preached. In U2’s case today as it was thirty years ago, it’s often about pondering deep questions and not just offering cheap answers. If we’re going to get our heads out of the mud and plant flowers there instead, as the lyric in “Zooropa” suggests, it definitely matters that we spin a song of love and hope and peace and freedom and redemption, as U2 has done for me for more than half of my life on this earth. –words and images by Andrew William Smith, Editor