First Tree Reflections 2017: Primary U2 is Music and Poetry for Peace and Justice

May 18, 2017

Back in January, the Edge showed up at the Los Angeles version of the global women’s march during #45’s first weekend as president to play a jagged version of “Pride” with cinema star Juliette Lewis on vocals. As it turns out, that was not a one-off nod to the current wave of feminist fury against the gendered injustices of the current predicament. Indeed, the Joshua Tree’s 2017 revival reminds everyone in attendance about the vulnerability of women’s rights and the vision for universal equality.

Bono and the band reframe several songs as statements about sex and gender in the context of poverty and power. The encore of post-Joshua Tree songs come packaged in a searing cinematic tableau of agit-prop feminist and Womanist organizing. The re-invention of “Ultra-Violet” is ultravisionary for the audience member who can suspend the dark doubt of denial.

Somehow, U2 once again risks but transcends the white-liberal guilt-trip with a global testimony and altar call to activism. The videography blasts the buzzed and tired masses with a prophetic message packaged in sensationalized documentary footage. These are crimes against humanity, the disasters we privileged and paying customers might not want to stomach after already surviving so much cacophonic bombast and Bono preaching, unless we give in with our tears and a commitment to real social change.  Making “Miss Sarajevo” about Syria, the band brings Omaima Hoshan, a teen activist in the tradition of Malala Yousafzai, to speak for the hopes of young people in a war-ravaged region.

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If you resent and recoil when Bono asks you to organize not agonize — as one fan tweeted, that the singer was talking “at” him and not “to” him — you may go ahead and beat the traffic at this point. When the cut-out mask gimmick with Aung San Suu Kyi didn’t really take on the first leg of 360 in 2009, this next stunt is a U2 crowd- engager in a history of such audacious and seemingly silly risks. A giant cloth photograph of Omaima is passed through the crowd; it’s kind of like “the wave” meets summer-camp ice-breaker, and that is when I started to stupid cry. We humans are better than our borders, biases, and bigotry, and we thank Bono and band for reminding us.

But last night was the Bay Area. And I cannot help but wonder how these bits will play when U2 reaches — where I will be for the rest of my shows this tour — the American South? Will the band keep this bit for the terror-mongers of Texas, the stoners at Bonnaroo, or the Bible thumpers in Kentucky? I remember the 2001 Lexington show when a fan cheered for Charlton Heston and against U2 during the gun-control version of “Bullet The Blue Sky.” Omaima might really inspire the crowds in Texas and Tennessee, in Kentucky and Florida, in ways the band might not anticipate, but that does not mean they should change the show. I don’t think they will. Just be ready for the masses to challenge this boldness.

Added to this are dynamic themes about diversity and the dogged ghosts of racism and genocide that haunt our content. From the U2 curated anthology of American poems that scroll on the screens on an empty stage while fans wait for the show to start to the sepia tones of Anton Corbijn films and photos, the shows runs on a rugged hope and passionate honesty; the band’s status gives them courage to challenge us, after all these years.

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Before performing the Tree-in-sequence for the massive and meaningful middle section, the fans get going with a suite of War and Unforgettable Fire songs that send us singing and jumping and arm-waving. A reimagined “Sort of Homecoming” is the hard-core fan’s favorite addition to this tour, and it brings many of us back to our teenage years, first discovering this band on MTV and on vinyl records in our basement family rooms and poster-decorated bedrooms.

After a song by the Pogues, the band walked out, one at at time. Larry sits alone for the drum cadence of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and catapults us into the song Bono once said he hoped to stop singing. The world requires us to keep singing it. Same for “New Years Day,” “Pride,” and “Bad.”

We need to hold onto these songs of hopeful defiance. But other things we need to surrender. We fans need to surrender any second-guessing about the motives for this tour, for this is pure U2 in its primary colors. We need to throw ourselves into the enduring meaning of this tour and let go the rest. We need to let it all go, not just addiction and loneliness but also cynicism and hopelessness, resentment and the need for revenge.

I am so grateful to have four more shows yet to see, and I hope to write much more, as these morning-after musings just scratch the surface of everything we experienced with thousands of our friends on the third night of this inspiring annivesary tour and this present-day testimony to the power of music and poetry as means for peace and justice. -Andrew William Smith   @teacheronradio

Photos from opening night in Vanouver courtesy of Remy at www.U2Start.com 

 

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 Eternal Tour: From Heinz Field to Possible 2014 Dates

July 26, 2013

Two years ago, the U2 360 tour concluded its US dates with a show at Heinz Field. That gig was captured for posterity by a fan-made concert documentary shot and curated by Tim Newell and is remembered here with some fan photographs by Mike Kurman.

The interwebs lit up this week with high-pitch rumors and speculation about a U2 tour in 2014 to accompany a new album expected later this year; while such conversation excites some fans and annoys others, there’s one thing about U2 touring on which the fan community can approach consensus.

That is, the amazing access we now have via the web to a wide collection of archival recordings, photographs, setlists, statistics, and more, this far-flung digital archive staggers for its diversity and quality.

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U2 have officially made more and more audio and film recordings available, not just through official DVD and CD releases, but also through fan-club exclusive content accessible only to U2.com. The various fan sites have compiled everything from setlist databases to statistical breakdowns of song choices. These historical resources about U2’s setlist history have fed current discussions fueled by an article on the Rolling Stone website that U2 may be planning multi-night stands in multiple cities with entirely different shows to be presented each night. Unlike their peers in workhorse touring, U2 has never pursued the vigorous setlist variety that has distinguished artists such as the Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and My Morning Jacket.

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How to follow-up an epic stadium adventure like 360 and a history that includes ZooTV and Popmart certainly pushes U2 to the limits of itself in terms of touring creativity and integrity. In another news article out this week, Bono praised Mick Jagger for his wrinkles and business savvy, suggesting to us that perhaps U2 has no inclination to “pull an R.E.M” and retire soon.

Rather, U2 seems uniquely poised to be a rare breed of middle-aged rockers ready to extend their career extensively, ultimately joining an elite class of old-rage rockers that today includes folks like Dylan, the Stones, and Paul McCartney and may in another 20 years include U2.

The arguments against eternal touring usually are waged against bands that have survived massive lineup changes, lost lead singers, and have become lounge club caricatures of their former selves. U2 by contrast have stayed at the top of their game for decades with the original lineup, and with a new album imminent, show no signs of slowing down. This summer, even U2’s 80 peers the Waterboys and Big Country are on their first US tours in many years. Big Country did have to replace deceased lead singer Stuart Adamson, but they did this with Alarm lead singer Mike Peters.

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Checking out Tim Newell’s YouTube channel and his collection of U2 concert videos, it’s amazing to note how far fan rockumentarians have progressed over the years. “A Night Not To Forget,” as Newell calls this online concert film, is shot in HD, uses audio and video from multiple angles and fans, and simply stuns for its ability to convey that particular moment in this band’s history for eternity. The Heinz setlist showed some late tour freedom and the inclusion of fan favorites like “Bad” and “40” that had been absent most of 360. This excellent YouTube channel freely shares the work of U2 and other bands, with no commercial incentive, only a fan’s fierce communal ethos. U2 has gracefully permitted these fan sites to share not sell our collective memories captured on film.

Take Newell’s videos, coupled with Kurman’s photographs, we fans can take a journey back two years to the last night of 360 in the US and dream about seeing U2 again as soon as next year. –Andrew William Smith, Editor

The Interference webzine staff thanks Tim Newell and Mike Kurman for sharing their work.

A Night Not To Forget: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EPmgPnSqaE&list=PLA951D9757012C016

Registration Open for April U2 Conference

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]

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