U2 beats the heat & rain & wins over the “two Floridas”!

June 16, 2017

During the current Joshua Tree tour, perhaps no pair of stops would be as intriguing as Miami and Tampa, embodying the “two Americas” theme of the album and theme of these times.

The state of Florida is as different and diverse as any state in America. Taking the famous I-4 Corridor that connects Orlando and Tampa as a separator, North and South Florida are geographically, culturally, and politically different. Here in the same state, we have different political bases as “red” as Texas (Central and North Florida) and as “blue” as California (South Florida). Every election year, the Sunshine State is an all-important ‘tossup’ state.

Catering to both demographics in the span of 4 days (Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium on June 11th and Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on June 14th), the Irish lads brought their sold-out Joshua Tree tour here after a month on the road. Now, the setlist has been polished, the transitions are perfected, and the show sears and soars like a well-oiled machine.

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In Miami, the summer humidity didn’t stop 60,000 faithful from packing every seat of (the aptly named) Hard Rock Stadium where Larry Mullen Jr got the party started at 8:45 pm. With an energy coming from fans who came from what seemed like every South American country, the band channeled that fuel into a cracking first set that was only derailed by some severe guitar issues from The Edge during “Pride.” Guitar issues and some visible frustration from The Edge could not stop the show as soon the 200-ft. screen finally lit up with an 8K ultra high-definition red that would set the stadium on fire a few seconds later.

This tour is without a doubt the more political of the past few tours and the crowd reaction to the blunt criticism of the current administration went mostly well in Miami, even with an awkward shout-out to Senator Marco Rubio. But would the reception be the same in Tampa a few days later?

When the tour got to Tampa, we saw the central Florida city soaking in a day of thunderstorms and torrential summer downpours. At one point in the general admission line, rumors were floating the show may had to be canceled if thunder and lightning were within 8 miles of Raymond James Stadium.

Fortunately for the Joshua Tree, God was with Tampa, and the show went on as planned, returning to the city where Tampa Stadium had the original tour in 1987. Even a big, brilliant double-rainbow adorned and decorated the stadium as OneRepublic took the stage to warm up the crowd.

Once the thousands settled into their seats, it was clear that this would be a different show than Miami. From the very beginning as Adam Clayton swayed the rhythm of “New Year’s Day,” Bono was already reaching out the more conservative crowd (as he previously did in Texas). “Left, right and in between. Everyone is welcomed here”!

Maybe it was the fresh rainy weather a few hours prior, or the breeze that hit the stadium shortly after the show began, but Bono was chatty, joyous, and a bit nimbler than in the humidity and sweat of a few nights prior. For “One Tree Hill,” Bono told the story of Greg Carroll before dedicating it on this night to the city of Orlando “for the Pulse nightclub and the 49 souls that were taken away.”

As expected, a few criticisms from fans came during political sections of the show, including a St. Petersburg resident who said: “Don’t they know we just want to hear some good music and no politics? Or a local Tampa couple who bluntly said that Bono “didn’t care for the audience” by assuming they agree with him on everything.

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Both setlists were identical, including what might be the new closer for this tour: “Vertigo.”

As much as some fans complain that “Vertigo” is overplayed and the song should be dropped, it was clear from the reception both nights, that it set the crowd on fire. Perhaps alternating with “I Will Follow” and a new song, “Vertigo” is likely not going anywhere.

All in all, U2 provided the Sunshine State with two magnificent shows, yet very different ones. The politics may differ in these cities, but our love for U2 and Joshua Tree songs is something we all have in common.
-Jaime Rodriguez, @jrodconcerts https://www.jrodconcerts.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

U2′s Joshua Tree Revival Hits Texas Big Tents

June 1, 2017

As cheesy as Bono’s slogans are, I love them all. As annoying as his pleas for peaceful dialogue and post-partisan unity are, I need them every time. As he has said before, compromise is not a dirty word. Neither us nor them: only we the people who follow this band, across this land.

On this Joshua Tree anniversary tour, reaching the masses in the massive venues of North America through July 1 and Europe through August 1, Bono has said these are concrete temples, these football stadiums. In the Texas heat, the concrete cathedrals are big tents, with the retractable roof in place and the AC turned up. By Friday in Dallas, temperatures rose to the mid 90s, so we were glad to be indoors. On my first Joshua Tree adventure with my teenage self in 1987, I skipped the Texas shows. This time, Houston and Dallas were my second and third shows of five.

Tracks from War and Unforgettable Fire serve up such a great prelude on the tree stage, but the humming, rising, intoxicating intro to Streets is when church begins. During “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” he wants to wipe our “Manchester tears away,” a reference to the terrorist attack on May 22 after an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. Since Bono has added the original “No War” chant to the recurring “No More” chant, it’s like I am back in the basement on Timberline, mind blown and body shaken and spirit moved by the Blood Red Sky VHS tape I dubbed off MTV. As “Pride” winds down and “Streets” revs up, Bono is preaching. For the frontman, the true radical is straight down the middle of the road. Everyone is welcome in this tent, for the “furious and faithful” are an America based on “joy and justice, compassion and community, rescue and refuge.”

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For tonight, common ground is higher ground, Hewson teaches and preaches. For fans, the Joshua Tree portion of the show, the main act, that is higher ground. The reality that for some of us fans, the Holy Spirit always knows how to show up for “Where The Streets Have No Name.” But I cannot dance like this at the mainline churches I’ve attended, so for two Texas nights, I let the spirit take over. The concrete mainfloor of this concrete temple became a charismatic church aisle. Even though you can get a really good spot up front arriving as late as 6pm, I like to wander and hang out at the back, so I can work it out, rocking solo, prayers and emotions, dancing like nobody’s watching, throughout each part of the set. Back where a fan has plenty of room, I saw I was not alone in my own private dance party, as a young child and her mother practiced the latest moves learned at dance class. I started seeing this band with my parents. It’s just amazing how the shows bring us all together.

For most of the last three decades, “With Or Without You” or “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” are highlights of any U2 set they appear in. Same for the psychedelic growl of “Bullet the Blue Sky,” which for once is in its more traditional form, after countless recontextualizing over the intervening years. I’m not saying I don’t love the first side of Joshua Tree, all the way through “Running To Stand Still,” but these are all huge U2 songs that nobody would be surprised to hear in any concert on a recent tour. For example, during the Vertigo tour which I caught four times in 2005, you could expect to hear three or four of them on a given night, and all five of the first side were in rotation.

But side two, well that is a different story. These are all hardcore rarities. Had they not announced this special tour, I would have expected to never hear any of these songs again. Sure, I might have been surprised by the occasional appearance of “In God’s Country” or “One Tree Hill,” but even for the dedicated fans coming to these shows, this second side feels like something from another planet or at least time zone, a secret show that you won in a radio or TV lottery or that only popped up in your dreams.

“Red Hill Mining Town” is all chills and thrills, and the shivers continue until the encore break. “In God’s Country” refers not just to the panoramic landscapes, seen on the big screen as visuals so grand in the hand of Anton Corbijn, but also, according to Bono, to the interior landscapes of our psychological and spiritual reality. That’s what so surreal and even psychedelic about this show, there’s the invocation of something utopian, not either side of the “two Americas” but the cosmic American dreamscape of a better place that does not deny the bitter place.

The thorny and corny romp called “Trip Through Your Wires” has always been one of my all-time favorite U2 deep tracks. It’s equal parts sanctified and raunchy, rebellious yet holy, and I am not talking about the bikini-clad model seen by all of us and seeming out-of-place on a U2 big screen. The kind of thirst Bono invokes is inherently sacred, and he knows as well as any, that the required drink of water might come from an angel or a devil, from a lover or from God’s thunder and rain.

The always talkative Bono didn’t talk as much during the Joshua Tree tracks, but that may be changing as the tour moves on. In Houston, before “One Tree Hill,” he quoted the recent track “California,” saying, “There is no end to grief because there is no end to love.” On Friday night, before the same song, he talked about its origins in New Zealand, and he referenced Greg Carroll, the U2 crew member for whom the song is dedicated. “For anyone who has been robbed of a beautiful soul, we are going to sing this for you.” The hole in U2’s collective heart always finds the hole in our hearts, until we stumble to wholeness together. The healing might be temporary, but it’s real.

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In honesty, on many private listens to the longtime favorite album, I would consider “One Tree Hill” to be the closing song. I know there are two more tracks, but they don’t get me on the album. But at this live revival, I didn’t sprint for the men’s room. Perhaps a dark conclusion is needed. After an archival film clip that parodies America’s 45th president, “Exit” begins. Bono reappears in a big black hat, begging us into a harrowing narrative of harm. This is a bad trip, like the brown acid at Woodstock. Our burdened brains receive a sucker-punch of adrenalin and dementia, so suddenly you are stuck in a mega-church gone wrong with psychotic pit-bull evangelism. The rest of the set will provide a suitable exorcism, be reassured.

After that bad-boy sadistic satisfaction of “Exit” as intentional trainwreck travesty, “Mothers of the Disappeared” still shows up as a solemn tribute. We could sing it for any mother and every mother. But mothers of sons cut down too soon by brutality, they need this song. When Bono took off his hat, bowed his head, and raised his fist, it’s like I could see that 1987 ponytail again. It’s the young man inside the old man from Dublin, said the young man inside this fan-man who chased this band back then and chases this band now.

At Houston, when they moved “Miss Sarajevo” and “Bad” to the first encore spot, this meant I could have my stupid-cry all in one place. These songs prompted me to bawl for different reasons, the first for collective grief, the latter for spiritual relief. The early “Bad” in Dallas was also dynamic, if a little disconcerting, as that track always felt like it fit in the middle or end of a set.

After first seeing the show in northern California, I frankly didn’t anticipate how well the Syria footage and Omaima plea would play in a place like Texas. So in Houston, I turned my back to the stage and walked towards the fans, scanning faces both on the floor and in the stands. I saw more tears, some quizzical but mostly sincere and solemn gazes of people drinking in the predicament of how wrong this world can be when we abandon our better selves for selfish systems. The singing about surrender promises at least one solution. Get out of self, get out there and help others.

Thanks to more setlist rearranging in Dallas, this meant that on Friday night, my two Texas shows in three days would end with a crescendo. “Beautiful Day” is always a beautiful thing, even in this rainbow-colored, space-age rendition. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the new track, “The Little Things That Give You Away,” but it feels like an odd way to end this show. I just wish they would release the next album already! So after “Beautiful Day,” the call of the exit ramps echoed in my gut, the tug of the idea of beating some traffic back to my AirBNB. By the time they finished an energizing “Elevation,” which is always better live, which always feels like I am at the gym, getting my workout on and hard, I had left the GA mainfloor and was bouncing around the concourse, close to the doors. So when Bono said “We can do this” and pulled an improvisational audible call for “I Will Follow,” it sent me into happy, zappy boyhood orbit once again. An usher and I danced on the outskirts, each of us in our own personal head and heart zone of rocking, sonic, cosmic, boundless, bounding bliss.

Leaving a U2 always comes with mixed feelings. This concert left me exhilarated, but I regret that my current run with them has already passed its halfway point. Three shows down, two remaining! This hobby costs more than it did in 1987, so I am grateful to my two jobs for the flexibility and income and my dear family for the support they offer me in zipping around to these gigs. -Andrew William Smith, @teacheronradio 

Photos are from Pasadena shows, by Justin Kent. http://www.justin-kent.com/

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“World Peace Tomorrow”: U2′s 1987 Manifesto Resurfaces

May 8, 2017

The U2 manifesto to change the world has resurfaced, buried in a 1987 interview available on YouTube.

During the conversation with NBC television in the United States that took place during the third leg of the first Joshua Tree tour, the band were pressed on their reputation as the new religious and social conscience of rock music. As in other interviews where this topic was pursued, the band pushed back against any messianic implications that they were or are spokespeople, while also owning their commitment to justice.

Edge emphasized, “We refuse to accept that there are certain things that you can’t deal with in a rock n roll song.”

Toward the end of the interview (around the 6:25 mark of part 5 of the clips), the band kicked into playful mode and dropped a point-by-point declaration, which we can now show the world again, their 1987 manifesto. It all seems sincere, except for a silly point about hats and Texans, which is hilarious considering the band’s late 1980s obsession with American head-wear. The points follow:

  1. Solve World Hunger
  2. World Peace Tomorrow
  3. All Political Prisoners Released Tomorrow
  4. Removal of All Borders
  5. Removal of All Hats from Texans
  6. Free Fuel
  7. Another 100,000 Rock n Roll Bands Formed

Thirty years later, the world is still dealing with these problems. There has been lots of cynicism from left and right toward the band’s activism over the decades, but they still address the issues of the day. It will be interesting to see how the current controversies and commentary factors in to the upcoming U2 world tour.

The interview clip with the “manfesto” is here: https://youtu.be/H8B6ESxYkRw

The whole interview begins with this clip: https://youtu.be/nNmROSiqb7U

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January 12, 2017

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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.

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