Achtung Carrie #8 – A Look Back At My First U2 Concerts*

February 28, 2005


By Carrie Alison, Chief Editor
2005.02

I’ve been lucky enough to see U2 in concert six times in my life—two shows during PopMart in 1997 and four shows during 2001’s phenomenal Elevation Tour. Each show is distinctive and memorable in myriad ways for me that I will share with you now.

PopMart, Jacksonville – Nov. 12, 1997

My first U2 concert. My goodness, how does one summarize the experience of seeing your favorite band in the whole world up close and personal for the first time? I was lucky enough to have fifth row on the floor on The Edge’s side, so I knew my first glance of the members of U2 in the flesh would be a great one.

Lights go down and the opening strains of M’s “Pop Muzik” fill the arena. I see spotlights searching the floor, presumably to create a dramatic effect. But, no, the spotlights were indeed signifying U2’s approach to the stage on foot. On foot! As in, they’d walk right by me. My heart started throbbing in my chest. My head filled with fluttering butterflies and I’m sure I could see spots. My legs felt like Jell-O and I was dizzy with excitement and anticipation.

Then I saw Edge’s cowboy hat. And Adam Clayton in a gas mask. And the eternally youthful Larry Mullen Jr. And then, the vision I never thought I’d have the chance to see in my life—my hero, Bono.

Indeed, it was Bono, clad in his shiny blue boxing robe. I could see the hood over his face, but nothing could conceal that famous jawline. There he was, Bono. And if you can believe it, that’s almost all I remember from the show.

And then I felt it, ever so gently, the buildup of tears in my eyes. All the years of listening to U2, loving U2, feeling U2, living through U2, and here the band was, right before me, real people. I looked up to see Bono doing his best Muhammad Ali imitation—fighting jabs and all at the end of the catwalk—while the rest of U2 prepared to take flight on the stage. My facial muscles began to tighten and my head became light. I clenched my teeth to keep from having an uncontrolled outburst and to save some face. But my friends knew, they understood what I was feeling, which is why they had predicted what would happen next before I did.

The next thing I know, the gargantuan sounds of “Mofo” were surrounding every inch of me—Edge’s powerful guitar, Adam’s sexy bass, Bono jumping around getting the crowd riled up for the show. I tell you this out of uncertainty however, because I didn’t actually see this happen. I was too busy bent over screaming at the ground and crying out an emotional purge I didn’t know I was capable of. When I finally raised my head minutes later, mascara down my face, my hair falling every which way, the loving glances of my friends upon me as I steadied myself to take in the show, I felt happier than I had in years. This is how U2 made me feel, and has continued to make me feel at each and every show I have attended through the years.

After the show, my four friends and I were spent. We might just have been the last concertgoers to amble out of the stadium. I’m sure they had beckoned me to get out of my chair sooner, but I was just too taken, too stunned, and too moved, too anew and awash in happiness to want to move, ever again.

As we were walking through the concessions area to wait in the merchandise line, we happened upon a group of foreign-speaking fans who had formed a garrulous circle, excitedly showing off their homemade U2 shirts, signs and space cowboy hats in honor of The Edge. Curiosity got the best of me, which lead me to approach a girl who had an accent I couldn’t place. As it turns out, she was from Sarajevo and had attended the now infamous concert at Kosovo Stadium on September 23rd, and had made a decision at that point to follow U2 around for the remainder of the PopMart Tour.

In the parking lot, my friend Robert spread himself across the hood of his car, hand over his chest, looking up at the stars, all of us silent with contentment, hearts still pounding as if “Mofo” was still playing overhead. “Better than sex,” he said. “Better than sex.”

“We should do it again,” I suggested. “Soon.”

PopMart, New Orleans – Nov. 21, 1997

So elated were Robert, Carrie P. and I (as well as inspired by the girl from Sarajevo), that we bought tickets to the New Orleans show immediately upon returning to Tallahassee the very next day. Spontaneous road trips were new to us in those days, but we didn’t care. We had to see U2 again and we didn’t care where we sat, how far we had to drive or how much money it would cost. PopMart had, very simply, become mandatory for us. It became all we talked about and all we thought about. College, personal responsibilities and work would just have to wait—this was far too important.

The road trip across Georgia, Alabama and the early parishes of Louisiana were amazing for us. We made sure to stop in the little, quirky towns we passed, rolled down our windows in big tunnels to yell “We love U2!” danced in the rain, drove through Mobile and on past Lake Pontchartrain in the St. Tammany parish.

We pulled into New Orleans just in time to miss the opening act. The Superdome was unlike any venue any of us had every seen. Round, silver and visually imposing from the exterior, and brash and large on the interior, PopMart’s big yellow arch seemed smaller and less mighty than it had in Jacksonville.

As we took our seats in the last row in the back of the Superdome to the opening strains of “Mofo,” we took in the sheer enormity of the fact that we were even there, and how dazzling the stage design was. The huge vidi-wall was much more effective far away than up close. Unlike my “breakdown” in Jacksonville, I would actually see this show from beginning to end.

One song that sticks out the most for me is “One.” Long my favorite U2 song, (and coincidentally, the song that made me a fan to begin with) my friends and I clasped hands and sang aloud as if we were at a church service. Tears in our eyes, absolute joy in our hearts, and our favorite band once again, right in our sights.

Coming soon: Achtung Carrie #9 – A Personal Look Back At Elevation

Carrie Alison can be reached at carrie@interference.com.

Covering U2*

February 28, 2005

By Chris Prince
2005.02

"We were the worst cover band in the world," The Edge is quoted as saying in Laura Jackson’s "Bono: His Life, Music, and Passions." The Edge, his own biggest critic, can perhaps add the use of hyperbole to his large list of talents.

Nevertheless, he has a point. From the moment the members of U2 realized they had to write unique material in order to move on and improve, they had taken the first steps into eventually becoming not only "Rock’s Hottest Ticket," but a band whose songs others would pay homage to, just as the four young Dubliners had done with songs by Thin Lizzy and The Eagles in its beginnings, according to The Edge during a U2.com web chat in 2001.

Over the course of their lifetime, U2 songs have been transformed into every conceivable style of music—from gospel to orchestral, and dance and techno remixes. Efforts from artists attempting to cover U2 songs, though, should come with a warning—results may vary. Fans wishing to indulge in other bands’ renditions of their favorite U2 tunes should be prepared to take the good with the bad, not forgetting the heart-achingly cheesy.

Starring in the role as a favorite to be covered by all angles of the musical community is "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For." Cher who opened both her 1999 "Believe" and recent "Farewell" tours with a more up-tempo version of the U2 classic, performed with the inclusion of an electric guitar solo while Cher sat atop a chandelier. The group Negativland made its mark on the song in 1991 with its kazoo version but an injunction by Island Records prevented further distribution as the record company felt the song’s cover artwork would mislead fans into thinking they were buying a new record by U2 itself.

Another "Joshua Tree" classic, "With or Without You" finds itself as another well-regarded cover song. In the film "Looking for Alibrandi," the song is performed by Hamish Cowan, lead singer of Australian band Cordazine. The most recent cover of this song was released in 2004—"LMC vs U2—sampling the song to produce the track "Take Me to the Clouds Above." Fundamentally a dance track with the infamous "With or Without You" bass lines combined with vocals from Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know,” the song was propelled to No. 1 in the United Kingdom.

"Where The Streets Have No Name" is another popular choice for cover artists. The Pet Shop Boys recorded its version, which also included snippets of Frankie Valli’s "I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You" during the chorus, for best of album "Discography" in 1991. Also released as a single, the high-energy, dance style of the song was a result of the Pet Shop Boys, according to liner notes for the ‘best of’ album, wanting to turn a "mythic rock song into a stomping disco record." As a response to the Pet Shop Boy’s rendition, U2 released their own statement— "What have we done to deserve this?"

Another U2 great that has been covered by artists far and wide is "One." Of Johnny Cash’s version, from the album "American III: Solitary Man," The Edge told Q magazine, "’One’ took me by surprise. It was such a Johnny interpretation, so different. But that’s what’s so great about it—he really made it his…Those words, with that melody, with that voice: it was a lot to take in."

An interesting concept is U2 actually covering U2. At MTV’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Inaugural Ball for newly-elected U.S President Bill Clinton on Jan. 20, 1993, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. joined forces with R.E.M band members Michael Stipe and Mike Mills to create supergroup Automatic Baby for an acoustic performance of "One." Stipe and Mills covered the song again while on tour with R.E.M.

The popularity of U2′s songs does not stop with rock and dance covers, however. Many songs have also made the passing across into classical music and similar fields. A standout moment from the 1988 film "Rattle and Hum" features U2 sitting in with the New Voices of Freedom gospel choir for a cover of "I Still Haven’t Found." The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra released an entire album in 1999 of its reinterpretations of U2 classics, including "Two Hearts Beat As One" and "Even Better Than The Real Thing," entitled "The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Plays U2."

Country fans should look no further than the duo of 2001′s "Pickin’ on U2: A Bluegrass Tribute" and its sequel, "Pickin’ on U2 2.’ Like the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, this was produced as part of a series of tributes to some of the bigger bands that have come along over the years.

Heavy metal act Sepultura’s 2003 cover of "Bullet the Blue Sky" worked well, with one of U2’s more politically motivated songs perfectly suited with the genre’s innate angry and suppressed undertones, and another example of how U2′s music has managed to cross into the most unlikely of genres.

Over the years there has been a wide range in the quality of U2 covers, from the genius of Johnny Cash’s "One" to the surreal affect of the Pet Shop Boys’ take on "Streets," yet no cover seems able to outdo the original, no cover band seems to beat U2 at its own game, at least to the band itself. "There’s been a steady stream of bands covering U2 songs down the years, but I don’t think any of the cover versions have been as successful as the originals,” remarked the Edge during a U2.com web chat. "I don’t know what that says…We always encourage people interested in covering our songs, as long as they’re not completely crap!"

Fan Experience: Waiting for the Chicken*

February 18, 2005


By Devlin Smith, Contributing Editor
2005.02

On February 13th, my friend and I made our regular trek to Los Angeles to try to meet U2. Since the 2002 Grammy ceremony, we’ve driven up to the city hoping to meet some member, any member, of U2, and have actually had pretty good luck, getting a chance to meet Bono before that Grammy ceremony and also the 2003 Golden Globes.

What I haven’t had any luck at, though, is meeting The Edge. I will proudly admit that he’s my favorite, that I am a major fan of his looks, attitude, fashion sense, talent, intelligence, creativity and sense of humor. So since being bitten by the Edge bug several years ago, I have wanted desperately to meet the man and have been brutally rebuffed three times.

Before the 2003 Golden Globes, just as Bono was walking down the line of us gathered fans, shaking hands, signing books, taking pictures, Edge and Morleigh walked out. They were gorgeous together, both head-to-toe in black. I was stunned, surprised that I even had a chance to see him since, in my mind, Bono is always a given, the rest of U2 not so much. I waited for Edge to come over like his band mate had but he didn’t. Instead he and Morleigh got into their chauffeured car, ready for the Globes. As they drove away, though, Morleigh rolled down the window and both waved at us.

The following month, I was at Hanover Quay studios with two friends, again talking with Bono. This time, Edge was pulling into the band’s garage. I knew for certain it was him, having become quite familiar with his profile in the window of a car after the Golden Globes. We waited about two hours for him to come out, but with the sun setting and weather chilling at the Dublin docks, decided to pack it in.

In March 2003, U2 attended the Academy Awards. My friend and I were back at the spot where we had met Bono twice before. This time, though, all four band members were there, along with about 50 well-wishers. No one came over but, again, Edge waved from his car, affording me yet another opportunity to watch him drive by.

In the grand scheme of things, none of this has been tragic, just awfully disappointing. During my life, I’ve had pretty good luck meeting the people I’ve wanted to meet, starting with a conversation I (and about a half-dozen others) got to have with Donnie Wahlberg of New Kids on the Block when I was 12. If I’d gotten to meet Donnie, if I’d gotten to meet Bono, if I’d gotten to meet all those others, why not Edge?

Since the Oscars nearly two years ago, my mind has firmly been placed on spreading enough positive vibes into the universe to get my chance to meet The Edge. As this year’s Grammys neared, I felt certain that maybe, just maybe, this could be my chance.

Back to the same old reliable spot and to catching up with the old friends we’d made over the years of trying to meet the band. Cars came and went, bringing with them a familiar cast of characters—Ali Hewson, Daniel Lanois, Paul McGuinness, Morleigh Steinberg, members of U2′s security team, Larry Mullen Jr., and Edge. Edge! He was there, he was around. I was giddy and anxious, hopeful that I would finally be able to meet him but really not looking forward to the disappointment if I didn’t.

As we were waiting, my friend told me a story to uphold my optimism. A family was sitting down to dinner where baked chicken was being served, the young son’s favorite. As the individual courses were being served, though, the boy started filling up on side dishes until his father pointed out that the main course was coming, telling him to "Wait for the chicken."

So what did this have to do with my situation? Without a doubt, Edge was the chicken and Bono, and all the other people I’ve met in my life, were the side dishes. All I had to do was be patient, not get too filled up on the earlier courses, and the main course would be out before I knew it.

It came time for the band to leave for the awards show. Larry was the first to leave but, in what is somewhat typical for him, didn’t come by or even wave. Edge and Morleigh were next. Would he come by? The dozen or so of us assembled there called out and waved to him. He got the message and headed toward us.

You’d think that I would be Jell-O at this prospect; a man I’ve determined myself to meet for three years was finally in sight, but I was focused, gathering together my camera and final Propaganda issue, ready to ask for autograph and picture.

On his was toward us, a tour bus stopped, cutting him off from us. The small crowd of us frantically yelled out, "Move!" to the confused bus driver. He pulled away and Edge was right there.

He informed everyone that there was no time for autographs. Okay, not a problem, because I had something else I needed taken care of. During a “Freestylin’ Friday” on the Interference.com message boards however long ago, someone found pictures of Edge on New Wave Photos performing with an eye patch at a 1981 show in Deinze, Belgium. Books were consulted, websites searched, but no answers were found for why Edge had the eye patch. A mystery was born.


(Image Courtesy of New Wave Photos)

I had with me a copy of one of those pictures, determined to find out why Edge had the eye patch. As he made his way down the line of fans, shaking hands and accepting congratulations, I followed him, waiting for my chance to ask the guitarist why he briefly wore an eye patch at a show more than 20 years ago.

Finally he made it to the end of the line and I had my chance. "Edge," I called out in an unbelievably calm manner. "Can you tell me why you had an eye patch?" I asked, indicating the picture. He looked down at it, then at me. "I think I had an eye infection," he said, pointing to the eye and wagging his finger up and down.

And that was it—my big moment with The Edge. There were pictures taken, some of him by himself, at least one of the two of us talking. Finally, my chicken had arrived.

So meeting The Edge wasn’t everything I’d hoped it would be, but very little in life is. He was fantastic, though, dressed in jeans, a purple T-shirt, leather jacket, beanie and tennis shoes. Everything about him was just like I’d expected, his voice, mannerisms, everything. But there was no long conversation, no chance for me to say thank you, to shake hands. What I did get, though, was a few seconds of his undivided attention and the knowledge that I can be inches away from The Edge and not melt.

This taste has made me certain I will get another chance someday, and it will be even better.

Review: U2 at the Grammys*

February 15, 2005

By Carrie Alison and Kevin Zuk
2005.02

It has been a trying year for U2 already, only two months into 2005. Initial ticket sales for the upcoming Vertigo Tour were plagued with problems from the outset, leading to thousands of angry fans posting their every feeling on internet fansites and message boards. English tabloids jumped on and exploited a story about a sick family member, leading The Edge to seek legal action in response.

When U2 arrived at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the 47th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday night, the band was presumably hoping for a good night, and possibly a victorious one. Up for three awards for their hit single “Vertigo,” the band arrived with their families in tow, as the Recording Academy once again greeted them hello, hello.

With its latest North American single "All Because of You" ranking at No. 6 on Billboard‘s Modern Rock chart last week, viewers may have expected the band to blow the roof off the Staples Center with that track but the band instead decided to take the mellow and emotional route with "Sometimes," a track currently ranked No. 1 on the UK singles chart.

Bright white lights flooded the stage as a backlit U2 eased into the heartrending "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own" an hour into the program. The performance was made all the more powerful with a cowboy hat-wearing Bono’s spoken word dedication to his late father Bob Hewson who passed away in 2001.

"This is for my father, Bob, he was a postal clerk," Bono said to introduce the song, possibly taking a cue from the handwritten messages about his father shown at the beginning of the new video for "Sometimes." "He’d sing opera in the night… a beautiful tenor voice. I’d like to think when he passed away that he gave that to me. I wish I got to know him better."

A quick crowd scan by a roving camera after the song caught film director Quentin Tarantino applauding energetically with a smile and teary eyes as the camera passed, and many other audience members on their feet clapping in respectful appreciation of the vulnerable performance.

Three for Three on the Night

“Vertigo,” nominated for Best Rock Song, Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocal and Best Short Form Music Video, had stiff and worthy competition this year. Poised against Green Days’ popular “American Idiot” and the joyous “Float On” from Modest Mouse for Best Rock Song, U2 was a surprise victory in this early pre-telecast category.

Considering Bono and Larry Mullen Jr’s much-publicized fondness for Elvis Presley, perhaps it was fitting that his daughter, Lisa Marie, clad in a sexy black lace dress, presented the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group award to the band. In an uncharacteristically personal move for the band, The Edge approached the microphone to dedicate the award to his daughter Sian who has been ill. After a moment of awkward banter between the band members, Mullen was next to approach the microphone. What he said however was also a surprise—as he once again addressed the tour ticketing fiasco, like he had done a week previous in an open letter posted on U2.com.

"Due to circumstances beyond our control a lot of our long-suffering fans ended up queuing overnight and didn’t get tickets and I’d just like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the band, to apologize to them,” Mullen said to the audience and thankful fans around the world.

The win for Best Rock Performance was also surprising considering the popularity of the Green Day single and Franz Ferdinand’s contagious new wave romp, “Take Me Out.” The Killers, also nominated for “Somebody Told Me,” were a dark horse to win, but very appropriate to be nominated next to U2 in light of the recent announcement that they are to open several European dates on the Vertigo Tour this summer.

U2’s third win for the night, Best Short Form Music Video, awarded pre-telecast, was also against Green Day and Franz Ferdinand, and arguably the least surprising victory the band, given the intriguing use of the “flying particle” effect on the band in the CGI-heavy “Vertigo” clip directed by Alex & Martin—famous for their eye-catching work on The White Stripes’ video for “Seven Nation Army” in 2003.

A Touching All-Star Tribute

U2’s own emotional performance and acceptance speech were not the only duties on Bono’s ever-busy shoulders on the night as he took part in an all-star lineup of music’s biggest stars for a touching rendition of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe.” Joined by multiple award-winner R&B sensation Alicia Keys, soul legend Stevie Wonder, a David Bowie-channeling Scott Weiland, a maraca-shaking Steven Tyler and many others, with Velvet Revolver serving as the backing band, the historic performance was in dedication to victims of the Indonesian tsunami tragedy and meant to raise funds for those in need. After the Grammy broadcast, the performance was made available on iTunes with proceeds going to victims of the tragedy.

And Three More Makes 17

U2′s wins for the night brought the band’s lifetime Grammy-grabbing total up to 17, beginning with two wins for 1987′s "The Joshua Tree” including the ever-desirable win for Album of the Year. Most recently, the band won back-to-back Record of the Year awards for 2000′s "Beautiful Day" and 2002′s "Walk On."

With "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" and its subsequent singles, including "All Because of You" and "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own," eligible for next year’s competition, it seems inevitable that the members of U2 will have to clear even more space on their mantles for all those shiny golden parlophones.

For Your Consideration: Spike Jonze*

February 14, 2005

By Devlin Smith, Contributing Editor
2005.02

During the half-time show of the Orange Bowl on January 4, viewers across the United States got their first glimpse of U2′s latest music video, "All Because of You." Shot on a frantic day in New York City as the band performed for fans and passers-by on the back of a flat-bed truck, the video reunited U2 with "Rattle and Hum" director Phil Joanou.

From this video, like many U2 videos, we learn a little something about the band members, mainly that they are capable of playing their instruments while being driven at high speeds. Hey, I was impressed. In other U2 videos, like Barry Devlin’s "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For," Joanou’s "One," Meiert Avis’ "All I Want is You," and Joseph Khan’s "Elevation," we’ve learned that the band members can walk in unison quite well.

In U2 videos, for the most part, not a whole lot happens. There are hardly ever exploding cars, talking animals, manic dance sequences or rumbles. Mainly what we get are performances (like the new "All Because of You" video, Anton Corbijn’s "One," Avis’ "Where the Streets Have No Name," Avis’ "Two Hearts Beat as One" and so on) or mini-art house flicks that don’t always make tons of sense (Corbijn’s "Electrical Storm" and "All I Want is You").

Even though U2 received MTV’s Video Vanguard award in 2001 (the channel’s version of a lifetime achievement award) and has made some beautiful and touching videos (like all three versions of "One"), U2′s missing those wild, can’t-believe-your-eyes videos from its catalog. The only solution I can see to this is for U2 to work with Spike Jonze.

Spike Jonze is a video genius, a man as deserving of the Video Vanguard award as any artist who’s ever received it (maybe even more so in some cases). He’s had Weezer playing a gig at Arnold’s (of “Happy Days” fame) in the "Buddy Holly" video, Bjork dancing with a mailbox in "It’s Oh So Quiet" and Christopher Walken tap dancing and flying through the air in Fatboy Slim’s "Weapon of Choice." He even created a fictionalized dance troupe (the Torrance Community Dance Group) for Fatboy Slim’s acclaimed "Praise You" clip and went so far as to have them perform live on the VMAs. Just imagine what he could do for U2.

Arguably Jonze’s greatest video triumph is "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys, a video that cast the rap trio as the quintessential tough ’70s TV cops, complete with shag hairstyles and bad moustaches. The video had it all—car chases, drama, bad wardrobe. Best of all, it gave the Beastie Boys a chance to act up, to really perform, relish the ridiculousness of dressing up as fake cops, and the video became a classic for it.

U2 spent the early ’90s trying to prove to the world that its members did have a sense of humor—that Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry didn’t spend all their time dressed in black and contemplating the plight of disenfranchised people the world over. Thus far, with just a handful of exceptions (Stephane Sednoui’s "Discotheque," Kevin Godley’s "Numb" and "Elevation"), the band’s videos have not reflected the lighter side of U2. With a new rocking album on the shelves, maybe now is the time to change all that.

Of late, Spike Jonze has spent time away from the small screen, becoming a well-respected movie director with "Being John Malkovich," produced by Bono’s good friend Michael Stipe. Jonze, though, does find time now and again to work the video magic, most recently for Bjork where he has her romancing a cat in the clip for “Triumph of a Heart.” Perhaps he could also make room on his schedule to come up with something completely mind-blowing for U2. Then, hopefully, we will never again have to see those four men walking away in black-and-white, soft-focus unison.

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