Review: U2 at the Bell Centre, Montreal, Nov. 28, 2005*

November 30, 2005

By Mike Cranston

Montreal has made an impact on U2. Whether it was energy of Saturday, November 26th’s show or intensity of Monday, November 28th’s thrilling conclusion of the band’s two-night stint, there was something undoubtedly different about this band. It probably most manifested itself during "City of Blinding Lights" on Monday—the band was in full force, yet Bono could barely even get out the first "Oh you look so beautiful tonight" due to his massive smirk. The band wanted to be in Montreal this weekend and it showed. Both shows saw incessant "thank yous" and Bono frequently spoke of his amazement. After "Where the Streets Have no Name" on Saturday, the entire band paused just to witness the appreciation of the Montreal crowd.

During "Vertigo" on Monday, Bono claimed it was impossible for a crowd to be so loud on a Monday. During "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own" on Saturday, Bono changed the second verse to demonstrate his love for the Montreal crowd. Both nights in Montreal were loud, much louder than the band was used to. The entire arena was in jubilation and the band fed off the energy.

Now giving all the credit to U2 and Montreal would completely under appreciate local-band-done-good the Arcade Fire who opened both shows. This band was simply extravagant. It was beyond eccentric and musically explosive. On Saturday, the band took the stage to "Streets," a nod to U2′s use of "Wake Up" at the beginning of each Vertigo tour show. On Monday, at the end of Arcade Fire’s set while finishing "Rebellion (Lies)," the band curiously walked to the tip of the ellipse, and after a quick pause, jumped off the ellipse onto the floor. The Arcade Fire won the spirit of every individual in the Bell Centre and earned what so few opening bands ever can—the attention of its crowd. Not only did the band capture our attention, it managed to raise the excitement in the Bell Centre tenfold.

It was therefore no surprise that as "Wake Up" played on the P.A. right before U2 entered the stage, the crowd sang along to each word of the song in excitement. As per usual, "City of Blinding Lights" opened with Bono emerging at the tip of the ellipse. The entire floor was jumping waving their hands in coordination with Bono’s vocals. The crowd sang, "Oh you look so beautiful tonight" louder than U2 could have ever fathomed. Both the band and the crowd were in complete amazement.

Monday’s show saw a fairly typical main set. During "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For," Bono paid homage to Montreal by speaking French and saying he wanted an apartment. The return of "Miracle Drug" was introduced by a brief speech by Bono saying Edge was from the future. According to the story, when Adam Clayton asked The Edge in 1978 what the future was like, The Edge responded by saying, "It’s better." "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was unbelievably intense with the crowd screaming each lyric. It concluded with Bono bringing a young girl on stage singing "no more" after which the crowd quickly took over. "Streets," as with Saturday, rendered the loudest ovation known to man. Bono stood at the side of ellipse immediately after, mesmerized at the crowd. His speech during "One" urged Canadian citizens to press the federal government to increase foreign aid, and urged Canada to lead the way in the Make Poverty History campaign rather than be remembered as the country that ignored extreme poverty.

The encore began with two "Achtung Baby" tracks, "Until the End of the World" which ended with Bono chasing The Edge at full pace around the ellipse, and "Mysterious Ways," where Bono brought a girl on stage to dance. After "With or Without You" Bono thanked the Montreal crowd saying he would never forget the city. He also professed his gratitude towards the Arcade Fire for opening and said, "Now, we would like to invite them up on stage." Out of nowhere, every roadie brought out an extra eight microphones and new guitars. The Arcade Fire strutted out, took its instruments, and busted into "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division.

The second encore began with technical difficulties. After a false start, Edge’s guitar during "All Because of You" was far too loud and he spent a good portion of the song trying to adjust it. "Yahweh" was not sung at the tip of the ellipse as per usual, presumably due to sound problems. After a quick reminder from Bono of how amazing Montreal was, Larry’s unmistakable drum began "40." The entire arena was standing and joined Bono in singing, "How long to sing this song?"

Montreal didn’t disappoint this weekend. With scalpers asking $400 a ticket, the show was in high demand and every person at that show wanted to be there. Even in the upper bowl the fans were standing, the lower bowl was decorated with flashing lights that were given out by a radio station, and the floor was in a permanent phase of jumping. While the honor of U2′s second home has always been given to Boston or New York City, after what could be two of the most exciting shows this tour, Montreal will certainly be in the running.

The Story of U2′s ‘War’*

November 28, 2005

By Teresa Rivas

"People say we take ourselves too seriously and I might have to plead guilty to that. But I don’t take myself seriously, we don’t take ourselves seriously—but we do take the music seriously."
-Bono, August 1983

"I joined a band to hit things."
-Larry Mullen Jr.’s reason for being in U2

"Ew, she’s all bloody."
-My father’s first words at my birth on January 16, 1983

With both "Boy" and "October" behind the band, 1983 would prove to be the year U2 would earn the critical and commercial acclaim that would be a hallmark of its success throughout subsequent reincarnations in the decades to come. Arguably the first five-star album from the group, "War" is a predecessor of the strength and versatility to come in "The Joshua Tree" and "Achtung Baby," among others.

But like any undertaking by the fledgling group—growing more and more comfortable in its own skin—the album would be another testing ground for its ability to endure.

"War" came early in 1983, a year close to my heart because I, too, arrived early that year. But, of course, there were other things shaking the world stage at the time. According to Information Please, 1983 marked the year Pope John Paul II signed into being changes made in the Second Vatican Council, the Supreme Court rejected a number of states’ individual abortion restrictions, and Sally Ride, first woman astronaut, flew into space on the space shuttle Challenger’s maiden voyage, which would be the first U.S. space walk in nine years.

Terrorist explosions killed 237 U.S. Marines in Beirut and America would invade Grenada. More than 125 million people watched the last episode of the television series "M*A*S*H" and the FCC allowed the first cellular phone testing in Chicago. El Niño disrupted global weather patterns and the world lost singer Karen Carpenter, along with playwright Tennessee Williams and the Spanish surrealist artist Joan Miró.

According to, "War" entered the U.K. charts at No.1 and the U.S. charts at No. 20, though it would eventually rise another eight spots and be U2′s first gold album in the United States, later climbing to multi-platinum with over four million copies sold. In the Hot Press Reader’s Poll, it was voted best album and best LP sleeve and in the New Zealand Rip It Up Poll, "War" was voted the No. 1 album. In the UK, a special picture disc of "War" was released featuring the black and white Peter Rowan cover (apparently unencumbered by previous fears of pornography in the United States over the "Boy" cover). In August 1991, the album was re-issued with red lettering on the cover instead of the pink color that was on the original issue as part of the Island Master series. Elsewhere in the world, a Japanese release of the album contained a comic book-style insert. In addition to the regular LP release in Sweden, 15 copies of a 12-inch red vinyl version were issued. "War" was also re-mastered as part of the MFSL gold Ultradisc in the United States, featuring a different version of both "Seconds," which was longer and has an extended "Soldier Girls" portion in the middle, and "Like a Song," which is also longer, according to fansite U2 Wanderer.

All this came after the grueling work of actually creating "War" was over. After being "outed" from the Christian closet on "October," there was increasing conflict between the devout trio in the band (Bono, The Edge and Larry Mullen Jr.) and the dictates that the Shalom group was imposing on them, and how they felt they could reconcile rock and roll with their beliefs. As Niall Stokes says in "Into the Heart," after the hurried composition of its sophomore album, it still felt unfinished, and with the members of the band developing musically, the time was right to move on. With the world seemingly moving from one crisis to another, and with the nihilistic ends of punk, U2 wanted to declare war on all it saw as phony, shallow, restrictive and pessimistic in the world, forces that held back real growth and change.

One of the most striking features of "War," noticeable even in the opening seconds of the album, is the drumming, recorded outside the studio, under a front staircase for the striking effect. Larry Mullen Jr.’s spectacularly original drum work is evident as a main facet on many of the album’s songs, featuring prominently in the two break away singles, "New Year’s Day" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday," although it’s easy to hear how Adam Clayton and Edge had also considerably tightened their playing in the time between the recording of "October" and "War."

"Sunday Bloody Sunday," is a song protesting the violence that ripped apart Ireland and killed innocent civilians as the Irish Republican Army and the British troops battled for dominance in the twentieth century. On the early morning of November 21, 1921, members of the IRA broke into the houses of 14 assumed undercover British agents and killed them in their beds as retribution for the systematic slaying of members of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing. The British forces retaliated by opening fire on a crowd attending a football game, killing 12 people and injuring 60. The shock was repeated on another "Bloody Sunday" in 1972 when the Paratroop Regiment of the British Army fired on a civil rights demonstration and killed 14 innocent unarmed participants.

"It was only when I realized that the troubles hadn’t affected me that they began to affect me," Niall Stokes quotes Bono as saying about the violence in Northern Ireland. But Bono has always prefaced the song during live performances, saying "This is not a rebel song," meaning that just because there have been injustices on both sides, the song is in no way meant to take the side of the IRA or and advocate of further violence. It is meant as a wish for peace and understanding in a region wracked by the alternatives. Yet for all the sadness and anger over Ireland’s plight that inspired the song, it is a rare time indeed when Bono will give into wearing the flag of his native land. It has long been his habit to drape himself rather in the white flag of peace, because he feels uncomfortable resorting to the nationalistic notions, the borders and the irrationality that comes with a country’s flag.

Bono said of the song in a 1987 radio interview on "Timothy White’s Rock Stars:"

"It means so much to me, that song, because … I’m not sure I got it right. I mighta got it wrong, I’m not sure. I originally wanted to contrast the day, Sunday Bloody Sunday, when 13 [sic] innocent people were shot dead in Derry by the British army, with Easter Sunday. I wanted to make this contrast because I thought that it pointed out the awful irony of the fact that these two warring faiths share the same belief in the one God. And I thought how… it’s so absurd, really, this Catholic and Protestant rivalry. So that’s what I wanted to do. In the end, I’m not sure I did that successfully with the words. But we certainly did it with the music. The spirit of the song speaks louder than the flesh of it."

It’s also one of the songs that we may thank Ali Hewson for, Bono recalls that he was suffering from writer’s block, especially with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” lyrics. The couple had just returned from their honeymoon and he remembers her, "literally kicking me out of bed in the morning" and putting "the pen in my hand."

"Very few people mention ‘Seconds,’" Bono is quoted as saying in "Into the Heart." "It wouldn’t normally be considered one of the big U2 songs, but I met the singer from Oasis, Liam Gallagher, recently. He came up to me and he was humming the bass line from ‘Seconds.’ He said, ‘That’s a bad groove, that’s a bad groove.’ And it is." The interlude in the middle is taken from a 1982 documentary "Soldier Girls," which, along with the upbeat, popish beat, lends a sense of eerie candor to the lyrics about coming nuclear war—perhaps a reflection of the glib attitude the world and its leaders seemingly had taken to such a threat. In an era dominated by the powerful hawks of Ronald Reagan and, closer to home, Margaret Thatcher, it may have seemed that the proliferation of weapons would indeed cut short everyone’s future—by years or seconds. notes that Bono would introduce "Seconds" as a message to various powers that be, including "the President," "the Prime Minister," "the King and the Queen," Mrs. Thatcher, Gorbachev, and Ronald "Ray-gun."

In a 1983 Dallas radio show, Bono said:

"A song like ‘Seconds’ people thought was very serious—on the LP ‘War’ ‘Seconds’ – it’s anti-nuclear, it’s a statement. They didn’t see the sense of humor to it, it’s sort of black humor, where we were using a lot of clichés; y’know ‘It takes a second to say goodbye’, blah blah, and some people took it very seriously. And it is black humor, and it is to be taken sort-of seriously, but this song had the lines in it, ‘I believe in a third world war, I believe in the atomic bomb, I believe in the powers that be, but they won’t overpower me’. And of course a lot of people they heard I believe in a third world war, I believe in the atomic bomb, and they thought it was some sort of, y’know, Hitler Part II. And Europeans especially were (puts on outraged French accent) ‘Ah non! Vive le France!’ and it was all like, all sorts of chaos broke out, and they said, ‘What do you mean, you believe in the atomic bomb?’ And I was trying to say in the song, I believe in the third world war, because people talk about the third world war but it’s already happened, I mean it’s happened in the third world, that’s obvious. But I was saying these are facts of life, I believe in them, ‘I believe in the powers that be BUT, they won’t overpower me’. And that’s the point, but a lot of people didn’t reach the fourth line."

Also, much to people’s surprise, "Seconds" is Edge’s first lead vocal—not "Van Diemen’s Land" from “Rattle and Hum” or "Numb" from “Zooropa.” Bill Flanagan reported in "U2 at the End of the World" that this "sent a shock through the house when U2 did it live," because most people naturally assumed Bono sang the song.

In a 2000 Bass Player interview about "War," when Adam was asked about his "most famous riff" in "New Year’s Day" he recalled, "That actually grew out of me trying to work out the chords to the Visage tune ‘Fade to Grey.’ It was a kind of Euro-disco dance hit, and somehow it turned into ‘New Year’s Day.’" When martial law was declared in Poland in 1981 by the head of the Polish communist party, some of the opposition leaders were arrested, including Lech Walesa, whom Bono says he must have been subconsciously thinking of when writing the lyrics, especially about his wife’s inability to see him. Remarkably, after the song was recorded, it was announced that martial law would be lifted in the country on New Year’s Day, according to Niall Stokes.

In that same Bass Player interview, Adam reflected on the breakthrough that "War" gave the band:

"When listening to ‘Like a Song,’ one of their lovelier, if often overlooked tracks, it seems easy to see that critical coalescing in their musical performances, that kind of final confidence that brings the song its ability to be both raw and well crafted, an angry announcement that does not shrink at its own insecurities."

The Edge told DJ and author Carter Alan in 1985, "Whereas I know some of the songs on the ‘War’ album could be re-recorded and improved on. With ‘Drowning Man’ it’s perfection for that song. It’s one of the most successful pieces of recording we’ve ever done." It has been speculated that the song, with the usual mix of eros and divine love, may be address to Adam, the only non-practicing Christian in the group, in the tone of a loving God, though we are also give glimpses of rage and a silent deity.

"The Refugee" is one of the songs it’s hard to imagine would have been born without the influence America had on the band. While Bono was out gallivanting with Italian, black and Caribbean immigrants to the United States he was learning the singular sounds of their music along with the amount of they all had in common, a triumph over the sectarian stereotypes that are often assigned to minorities. At the same time there were new theories being proposed that the Irish had a broader cast of ancestors than previously thought, including emigrants from Egypt and North Africa, another boost for young Irish looking beyond their own borders for inspiration and connection to the world outside its borders. "The Refugee" can be seen as an experiment in this multicultural awakening, and while people may argue that it sounds affected and unlike the band, to me it strikes the perfect offbeat and unexpected cord.

With the dearth of obvious love songs in the U2 canon, "Two Hearts Beat As One," even if just from the title, stands out as an obvious example, as well it should, since it was one of two songs Bono wrote while on his honeymoon in Jamaica with Ali. Could he have also been reading John Keats: "Two souls with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one." He is quoted in "Into the Heart" as saying:

"I didn’t really write that many love songs in the straight sense because I think—does the world really need any more silly love songs?. But this is one. And in many ways I do think that it’s beautiful. We’re trying to make it groovy and we ain’t quite pulled it off. I think if we tried it in a different key, we might have discovered a sexier groove and it might have worked better. But we never did that. Whatever the jam was in I’d sing the song in that key. That’s why there was a tightness in the vocals, which I find it hard to listen to now. I was screeching a lot of the time. But I think if a song like that had been delivered differently it would have more appeal to me now ‘cos it’s a good song."

If you’re wondering where the female voices came from in "Red Light," they were in fact Kid Creole’s Coconuts. The trumpeter, Kenny Fradley, was also enlisted to add to the song, although it was the girls, much like the girls of the red light districts abroad, that made the most surprising contribution to the song. "They wanted the lights turned down to do the recording and I think we had the studio lit in red, for effect," Niall Stokes quotes Bono. "I can’t remember which, but one of them started to take her top off. She wasn’t undressing. She just took her top off, but we weren’t used to that kind of thing. I remember the temperature in the studio was at an all-time high. Everyone was running around looking for cold water. We were that naïve!" The more liberal sexual cultures that the band was suddenly exposed to on the road abroad brought them a sense of wonder and curiosity about things banned in Ireland. "A lot of the songs on side two of the album were inspired by New York and the friction of the city, the whole claustrophobic thing, how people were living on top of each other, how it affects them, their way of life, their characters. ‘Surrender’ and ‘Red Light,’ in particular, and even ‘Two Hearts Beat as One,’" Bono told Kevin Knapp in September 1983.

"Surrender" may be a harbinger of things to come for U2 in its "Achtung" era—an announcement of ambivalence. In a 1987 Hot Press interview, Bono said, "Surrender is not what it used to be." When asked if there was a value in giving yourself and your ego away he said, "That goes back to the song ‘Surrender.’ I always believed in the Biblical idea that unless the seed dies, is almost crushed into the ground, it won’t bear fruit. Again Lou Reed was telling me how he grew up in the ’50s when machismo was a way of life and you did not give yourself away, in fact the opposite, and he said he found the ’50s idea of cool a real strait-jacket in his life." Maybe it’s this sort of attitude, of the value of taking chances that would later lead the band to its height of opulence and experimentation in years to come.

Bono’s introduction to "Selections from the Book of Psalms: Authorized King James Version," reads in part:

"Years ago, lost for words and forty minutes of recording time left before the end of our studio time, we were still looking for a song to close our third album, ‘War.’ We wanted to put something explicitly spiritual on the record to balance the politics and the romance of it; like Bob Marley or Marvin Gaye would. We thought about the psalms … ‘Psalm 40′ … There was some squirming. We were a very "white" rock group, and such plundering of the scriptures was taboo for a white rock group unless it was in the ‘service of Satan’. Or worse, Goth.

"’Psalm 40′ is interesting in that it suggests a time in which grace will replace karma, and love replace the very strict laws of Moses (i.e., fulfill them). I love that thought. David, who committed some of the most selfish as well as selfless acts, was depending on it. That the scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers and mercenaries used to shock me; now it is a source of great comfort.

"’40′ became the closing song at U2 shows and on hundreds of occasions, literally hundreds of thousands of people of every size and shape t-shirt have shouted back the refrain, pinched from ‘Psalm 6′: ‘How long’ (to sing this song)’. I had thought of it as a nagging question—pulling at the hem of an invisible deity whose presence we glimpse only when we act in love. How long … hunger? How long … hatred? How long until creation grows up at the chaos of its precocious, hell-bent adolescence has been discarded? I thought it odd that the vocalizing of such questions could bring such comfort; to me too."

Recently revived as the closing bit for the Vertigo tour, "40" is again playing that role, of ending a night of energy and joy and hope with a quiet refrain, ambiguous and overarching, but for U2 fans, the answer we’re rooting for is a long way off.

Review: U2 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Nov. 22, 2005*

November 27, 2005

By Devlin Smith, Contributing Editor

From the stage of Madison Square Garden on November 22nd, Bono explained that the members of U2 “heard New York” before they ever saw it. Through the songs of artists like Patti Smith (there with the band to complete her two-night opening stint) and Television (whose guitarist Tom Verlaine influenced "The Edge Sound" more than most people realize), the young U2 got its first taste of the Big Apple.

I had a similar introduction to the city. Edith Wharton, The Ramones, Andy Warhol, Ed Burns, Audrey Hepburn, John Lennon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Betsey Johnson and dozens of other artists and performers informed my view of New York. And, like U2, it was music that finally brought me face-to-face with the metropolis that I’d seen and heard for so long.

"Boy" was U2′s excuse for finally coming to New York City; the Vertigo Tour was mine. A friend had two GA tickets for sale and another friend had an air mattress free so I booked my flight and was finally on my way to the big city, to Madison Square Garden and to my final U2 show of 2005.

Winter was making its first moves on New York when I arrived, perfect for a California girl who’d just left clear skies and upper 80s. My friend and I decided against waiting on line for the GA, the rain and wind a little too much for us to take. We were hoping to get beeped into the ellipse and since this friend was responsible for my getting to meet Alanis Morissette via a radio station contest, I’d all but made my King’s X on a spot in front of the stage on Edge’s side, of course.

We got to the arena at about quarter to 7 and walked right in. Then it was time to be scanned. I had no luck but the screens were on the blink so I was sure it was a mistake. My ticket was scanned twice and was told "Proceed to floor," same with my friend. We walked to the line with our pink bracelets and soon heard the screams of fans luckier than we. Oh well, at least we were seeing U2.

The floor was nearly empty when we got inside so we ended up just one row back from the rail on Edge’s side. We had a great view through most of the show, interrupted only when the giant women in front of us would shift at key moments or when everyone on the floor would pull out their camera phones each time a band member would come by.

Patti Smith opened the show and played all the hits she’s become a legend for, songs like "Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger," "Gloria" and "Because the Night," a ballad she sang to a Gumby doll that was part of her band’s setup. Her performance was fantastic and it’s tremendously sad how few of the people with tickets for that night actually saw Smith play. Watching and hearing that woman live made me understand why The Edge spent so much of his teenage years playing "Horses" to exhaustion in his bedroom.

After Smith’s set, where she mentioned the newly departed CBGB’s and dedicated a song to John F. Kennedy, whose assassination occurred 42 years earlier, the familiar U2 run up began. As Arcade Fire’s "Wake Up" began blaring from the speakers, the whole of Madison Square Garden, now at capacity, was up and ready to rock.

The set list was much like those of the other five shows I’d seen this tour but it still rocked. The U2 of Vertigo Tour 2005 is a band at the top of its game—competent, confident and content. Each song is a highlight, each exchange is worth writing down. There are no down moments or bathroom-break segments, Vertigo shows need to be experienced in whole.

The first surprise of the evening came seven songs in when Bono introduced "Original of the Species." I’d been waiting since March 28th in San Diego to hear that song live and the version I got didn’t disappoint. This is rapidly becoming my favorite track from "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" and I believe it’s become U2′s first song about pure love. What love is greater than that between a parent and child? It exists from the second life begins and pushes people to great lengths. Bono himself once said that he finally understood how people could go to war after the birth of his first child.

It’s that love and those feelings that brought me to the brink of tears on the floor of Madison Square Garden. As Bono sang out, "Sugar come on now, show your soul," I threw my arms into the air and just reveled in finally being able to be in the same room as U2 and that song.

"Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own" followed and kept my emotions heightened. Bono dedicated the song to his older brother, Norman, explaining that he helped write the song as well. Hearing and seeing Bono continually healing himself over both the fragile relationship he had with his father and his father’s death out in front of tens of thousands of people never loses its power.

"One" finished the main set, per usual, but after a quick sidebar with Edge, the singer and guitarist launched into "MLK," dedicating it to JFK. I never expected to hear that song live and spent most of the downtime between set one and the encore saying, "Oh my God, ‘MLK.’"

John Abraham Hewson opened the first encore screaming "Mama" in the guise of the Zoo Baby. "Until the End of the World" was amazing even though Bono and Edge aren’t bullfighting anymore (so sad). During "Mysterious Ways" Bono pulled up his only onstage guest of the evening, a girl wearing a clown hat that Macy’s sells in its bear department. Unlike most girls who get pulled up to dance with Bono, she didn’t, but was instead offered a piggyback ride to keep the moment special. A daring move from Bono to be sure, given his history with back problems. "With or Without You" followed with Bono sticking close to his bandmates and dancing alone.

The second and final encore began with a mostly acoustic version of "Stuck in a Moment," dedicated to INXS’ former lead singer Michael Hutchence who had died eight years earlier. "Don’t f–k up," Bono instructed Edge. On that night of all nights, the song had to be perfect, and it was.

Patti Smith joined the band for what turned out to be the final song of the night. Bono had already mentioned Smith and Television as U2′s New York ambassadors and was now talking about another great profit from the city. I had my money set on Joey Ramone and was wondering what punk classic the band would be cranking out. U2 doing "I Wanna Be Sedated"? Could anything top that?

How about U2 and Patti Smith doing John Lennon’s "Instant Karma"? Is that strong enough? Hell yeah it was. The music of Lennon and The Beatles is so much a part of my life, the shaping of my ideals, that to be there singing along with U2 as the band does one of his songs was such an amazing moment, I will never forget it.

The arena kept singing, "We all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun" as Bono, Smith, Edge, Adam and Larry exited the stage. They all snuck back on and did it one more time, Madison Square Garden erupting with the hopefulness of Lennon’s classic.

U2 and Smith once again exited the stage. The house lights stayed down for a while, leading most of us to think another encore was on the way. When the house lights stayed down, I knew the band wasn’t coming back. The guys had made a quick escape into the New York night, anxious to get back to their stateside homes to spend some downtime with their families.

With that, my Vertigo Tour ended. I’d been there opening night; I’d been there when the band completely changed the show’s opening just two performances in; I’d been there for three opening acts; I been there for Larry’s birthday and Exit’s big performance; I’d been there to meet Edge, Adam, Steve Lillywhite, Gavin Friday and Ned O’Hanlon; I’d been there in Vegas when "Elvis" took the stage; I’d been there in New York when "Instant Karma" sent us into the night.

It’d been an amazing tour for me and Madison Square Garden on November 22nd was the perfect place for it to end. Even if that had been my only Vertigo show, it would have been worth it. U2 and Madison Square Garden were a perfect combination.

And the next day, the love continued. While lined up at FAO Schwarz, I was checking out the store’s samples of customized bracelets. Two stuck out, one reading "Edge" and the other "Edge Girl." Sadly, they weren’t for sale but they did bring back a little of that U2 high.

Defending U2’s PopMart*

November 21, 2005

By Mark Reed

"I have a very vivid memory of what the first PopMart show was like. I remember just being so aware of … extreme fear. The whole of the first week was like that, every night. We didn’t know what was going to happen with the technology. It was like being on a magic carpet that part if you expected to fly and part of you knew there was no way it could."—Adam Clayton in the November 2000 issue of Q Magazine.

Now reviled by many as U2′s lowest ebb and biggest mistake, the album "Pop" and the PopMart tour represent for an important minority of U2 fans what could be the band’s highest achievement. Now before you think that this is the rambling of some fan to whom U2 can do no wrong, I have three small words for you—"Rattle and Hum."

Despite well known and oft-voiced complaints by the band that at least another month in the studio was needed to make "Pop" a brilliant album, it’s fairly easy to see that "Pop" is a damn good album already. No, not perfect. After all, the band hadn’t written the chorus for "Last Night on Earth" until the morning it was recorded, and the vocals for "The Playboy Mansion" were recorded in the mastering room after U2 had officially finished the album and delivered it to Island. Later on, during the course of the PopMart tour and recording for 2002′s “Best Of,” the band rerecorded half the album.

The circumstances behind the flawed opening to the PopMart tour are well documented, namely a tour booked before the album was complete. Pressure was on to release the album in summer 1996 and thus to provide an infusion of cash into the troubled Island Records, who U2 had a seven percent percentage share in lieu of unpaid and deferred royalties from the ’80s. Album sessions slipped, with release dates moving to autumn, before the record was finally unveiled in March 1997.

Faced with an immovable object—PopMart’s scheduled April 25, 1997 Las Vegas launch—the band decided to cut short rehearsal time to work further on the record. Multiple titles for the record reflect the chaos of the time. Faced with a straight-into-the-stadiums tour starting April 25th (and no secret TV shows, club gigs, or a small-scale arena tour to ease them into the void after a 40-month break from performing, still U2′s longest absence from the touring stage), and with an enormous amount of cash on the table, U2 was faced with a simple, stark choice.

Shows couldn’t be cancelled or postponed. With a tour costing £400,000 (approximately $709,000) a day—even when the band wasn’t performing—canceling even 10 shows to rehearse would cost the band £4 million (approx. $7.09 million) in costs alone. Doubled up with the lucrative deal with promoters, and the costs of canceling each show would come to up to £10 million (approx. $17.7 million). In actual, and real terms, losing even ten shows may cost them up to £14 million (approx. $24.8 million).

But what was the lucrative deal? The rarely-seen, or mentioned, "PopMart: The Roadies" documentary, aired only on little-seen cable channels in their graveyard slot and, hopefully, will appear as an extra on the oft-delayed PopMart DVD, lifts the lid on the bands financial dealings, albeit a little.

Promoters paid U2 £1 million (approx. $1.77 million) a performance. U2 provided a "black box solution." The promoters paid the money and U2 did the rest. The band turned up with its entire show in 17 trucks, took the money, and any difference between the cost and the fee was a profit. It was a brave and excellent choice. With some careful financial thinking and organization, the profit per performance could be as high as £600,000 (approx. $1.06 million), even if only 20,000 people turned up. Simply put there was too much money on the table to cancel.

Come opening night in Las Vegas, the eyes of the world were on U2. The last time the band had toured, Nirvana was a going concern and Oasis barely a speck on the horizon. The world had changed. What was U2 going to do next?

The press is a fickle thing. In 1997, having indulged U2′s irony and mockery, it felt to me that the press was saying to the band, "OK, enough, we get you can do irony. Now let’s have the hats and flags back." And while ZooTV was a distinctly urban, industrialized exercise in mockery, PopMart was a lot more sincere. But some people mistook the wrapping for the gift.

Simply put for some people, "Pop" and PopMart were a step too far. The idea of U2, once the most sincere band in rock, in Village People outfits, performing sub-Jesus Jones technopop, was a bridge too far. "Pop" failed because it worked at both levels—both utterly sincere and utterly satiric at the same time. The message of U2 hadn’t changed, but the medium had, and in a culture which is presented as all surface/no subtext, some people were simply unable to compute. And, matched with a recession that saw many
thousands of expensive unsold tickets sitting in offices across the United States, it was not too hard to deduce that maybe U2 should get back to basics and ditch the window dressing. U2 was never as experimental again after PopMart closed for business, nor is it likely the band ever will be.

But to me, and some other U2 fans, U2 was never as interesting as when it had that window dressing. In some respects, the Vertigo Tour is the offspring of both PopMart’s grand staging and Elevation’s intimate atmosphere.

The posthumous savaging of PopMart was undeserved and perhaps the first sign that, for some in the band, it had perhaps confused being the biggest with being the best. So where did PopMart go wrong?

Certainly the band was under rehearsed. A listen to the first few shows of the tour sees the band performing as yet undefined arrangements of the songs—the familiar chunky bass run of "Mofo" that announced U2′s arrival to the stage was submerged under a barrage of drums and guitars on the first dates. Bono’s voice was out of practice. The band had yet to nail the definitive versions of the songs and the guitars lack the colossal bite of later shows on the tour.

On the opening night, the one under the eye of the world’s savage media, U2 stopped two songs, "I Will Follow" and "Staring at the Sun," early and Bono fudged the lyrics to "Pride (In the Name of Love)." "Mofo" was an unapologetic mess and "Discotheque" was a shadow of the song, Edge couldn’t see what he was meant to be doing or playing in a fog of dry ice and dropped his guitar pick. In later interviews he said that scrabbling on the floor in a white cowboy outfit under the watchful eyes of 70,000 people in Vegas looking for a guitar pick was a low point of the tour.

But to U2′s credit, the majority of the set was solid and strong. Just a few shows later, the band was already beginning to attain the height of the powers that it was renowned for. But the damage was done. In the eyes of the press, U2 had blown it.

Somewhat oddly, when the band launched Vertigo in San Diego and made a similarly uncertain debut, U2 was hailed as the best band in the world back on form. For example, at San Diego, Bono fluffed lyrics in several songs, guitar cues were missed and some versions of the songs sounded distinctly underwhelming. At $160 (approx. £90.33) a ticket for some seats, to have the show called "a rehearsal" by the singer must have seemed a little disrespectful. Again, it sounded as if the band was working hard but wasn’t quite there. But savaged in the press the band was not. U2 had ditched the irony and the press was hailing it. But, to me, PopMart is still U2′s finest hour.

So what made PopMart to me, the band’s finest—and most underrated—moment?

Firstly, the vision. PopMart was huge and had a heart to match. PopMart took the established conventions of U2 and ZooTV, and instead of gritty and dirty, it went Day-Glo and playful.

The first time I saw the PopMart arch in the flesh was from a car. Driving into London’s Wembley Stadium, the first thing I saw was that Arch. Legendary already for being a 100-foot tall yellow McDonald’s sign, from miles away I could see a thin sliver of yellow and, yes, an inflatable olive poking off the top of a stick. I knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. By the time we entered the stadium and were looking at the gutsy and ridiculous stage, I knew that U2 had created something that some people just could not
get. Some people just would not be able to comprehend what they were seeing. Some people don’t like a challenge.

"I suppose in retrospect you have to draw the conclusion that the PopMart concept was asking a lot of American audiences. Whatever it was that we were playing around with, it wasn’t touching the right buttons."—Adam in the November 2000 issue of Q Magazine.

On the stage images seemed to come from everywhere with the world’s biggest video screen, four of the best musicians and some of the best songs, it was difficult to know what to do next or where to look. PopMart was the place where art and artifice met.

From a staging perspective, it was probably the most courageous staging the world has seen—an enormous art installation with a kick-ass soundtrack, topped off with a 100-foot tall olive, a 40-foot lemon on wheels, a 150-foot wide TV and an arch taller than the roof of a football stadium supporting a fluorescent orange pyramid of speakers. Given that there were no speakers at the sides of screens, the feeling was overwhelming, sound seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere, and the eyes were assaulted by a playful perversion of nearly every cultural icon known to man.

And for PopMart U2 took previously disparate elements of culture and welded them together into a coherent and overwhelming whole. From the opening moments of the concert, where the stadia of the world were converted into giant shopping malls—"Thank You For Shopping At PopMart" read the signs and the plastic bags—and long-established conventions of cultural reading were reversed, we knew that nothing was what it seemed and yet everything was what it seemed. The joke was on capitalism and some people
didn’t like it.

The McDonald’s arch became a grotesque speaker stack. The biggest television in the world was our backdrop. Established conventions were perverted, music became a product to be packaged and sold, and not only that, to be established as being sold knowingly as a pop group. U2 deconstructed the nature of commercialism with PopMart and showed the wiring under the board.

Some people didn’t want to look even though it had pretty lights with whizz-bang sounds. Some people only like their rock sincere. Some people can’t handle subtext. U2 was tired of playing it straight and here, PopMart took ZooTV to its logical conclusion. The band took the rule of Burroughs’ "Interzone" and made it flesh. "Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.”

On the screens we were presented with Day-Glo, Warholesque interpretations of the world. The band members themselves became fodder for pop art, their faces duplicated on the screen in a variety of hues. Icons of the dead were irreverently presented as heroes of the age, and yet also as hip cool product, mixing fiction and fact. Ziggy Stardust was one of the Icons of The Passed Away shown during "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me,” alongside Bob Marley, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison.

At this time, U2 took long established conventions and works of art and perverted them. Munch’s "Scream" was recreated by The Edge and reset as a single cover. Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe was recast with the prime movers in Ireland’s political crisis. U2 was cast as The Village People in the video for "Discotheque" and, then again, as superheroes in a deserted city for the video of "Last Night On Earth." Lichtenstein’s pop art comic books of war were brought to life on the PopScreen. Kubrick’s "2001" was
re-imagined as a Windows screensaver during "Where the Streets Have no Name." The established ways of reading a text no longer applied: the ZooTV ethos of "question everything" was extended to its logical extreme with PopMart.

Next came a belly dancing, cross dresser on the video screens and a UFO landing into "Lemon" whilst gigantic mechanized fruit traversed the stadium. At this time U2 was at its most audacious, most ballsy and, yes, most playful. No white flags, no sermonizing about war and human rights.

But to many the wind had changed. U2 couldn’t do this. Where were the three chords and the truth? Even now some fans lambaste U2 for making techno with "Pop" and for getting off message. People like to place bands in boxes. Sincerity, white flags, hats? That’s U2. Ballads about John and Jane fighting to achieve the American Dream? That’s Broooooce. People don’t like bands to step out of those boxes. Some people decided what they wanted U2 to be and in their minds U2 could be nothing else. U2 never went off message, just put the same picture in a new, shiny frame with glitzy disco balls. And it was fabulous.

"The irony is, there’s no irony in those songs [on Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop]. There’s never been any artifice in the material itself… the past decade of artifice [was in] the presentation of the material."—Bono in the November 2000 Q.

The message was still there but the members of U2 were also working as great artists. Seeing the world through a lens and re-presenting it to us through their own eyes. Art is how the artist sees the world.

As Bono said on that fateful night in Dublin, U2 had to go away and dream it all up again, in new colors and with brand new shoes. PopMart was, and is, the band’s finest achievement in mixing a serious message with a fundamentally flippant medium and speaking the truth in a way that ensured it could be believed if it could seen. Sadly, with time and circumstance, many people now no longer wish to admit that they saw it and no longer can admit that PopMart was, and is, one of the best concert tours of all time and, despite baffled reviewers and sometimes poor ticket sales, was the band at the peak of its abilities. We may never see U2 in that light again.

Review: U2 at Philips Arena, Atlanta, November 18, 2005*

November 19, 2005

By Andy Smith

As the Vertigo Tour winds down its third leg with only a handful of gigs left in the United States and Canada, what might the fans with tickets to the remaining shows expect?

Of some things we can be sure: The band will take the stage at almost exactly 9 pm and play at least 20 songs, captivating the crowd for over two hours. The set list will be a standard mix of "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’s" best, sprinkled with sparkling tunes from the back catalog. It won’t replicate the ones you’ve read about exactly but it will include a well-rehearsed core for at least 16 or 17 of the 21 or 22 songs.

What else does Vertigo Leg 3 offer? Perhaps someone famous will be in the crowd. Maybe it will be a badass peer like Bruce Springsteen in Philly and he’ll join the band on stage. On the other hand, it might be like tonight in Atlanta, with REM and a member of Pink Floyd in the house but not on stage.

Bono will likely sprint laps on the ramp like his life depended on it, wrap his arms around Edge and Adam Clayton, recite rehearsed rhetoric with radical implications, dance with a beautiful woman from the crowd during "With or Without You" and bring at least two young children on stage to shout "No More" during "Sunday Bloody Sunday" or wield a spotlight during "40."

When Bono "takes it to church" with the classic neo-gospel of "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For," the chorus of the arena will be like the angels of the Irishman’s most infinite lyrical flourishes. And when he makes God a woman and gets funky about her "Mysterious Ways," Bono might remind the dancing masses that they have a lot of soul for a horde of "white people."

And the softest parts can be the hardest hitting. When it gets time to dedicate "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own" to his deceased dad, I hope Bono blesses you with the speech we got in Atlanta. Because it wasn’t so much sappy sentimentality, but rather a searing quote from Bob Hewson who—going "head-to-head" and "heart-to-heart"—told Bono to "take off those fucking sunglasses." So, the younger Hewson, for one of the few times in the whole set, bore his naked eyes as he wailed the familiar familial line, "You’re the reason I sing."

Thankfully, and for the most part, the crowd will be generally enthusiastic, but sadly, someone will likely sit and chat through one of your favorite songs—like the welcome addition to the main set of new single "Original of the Species" or the heartfelt and holy rendition of "Miss Sarajevo."

While at times the crowd will invoke feelings of a place of worship disguised as a human rights rally, at other times, the folks might feel more like a bunch of lost football fans, drunk and stranded at a tent revival. Perhaps you’ll be unfortunate enough to have a wasted redneck sit behind you and shout, "I didn’t pay $200 to listen to speeches about poverty and peace." And perhaps you can shout back, "I didn’t pay $200 to sit in front of an obnoxious heckler who missed the taxi to the Bon Jovi gig." And perhaps, hopefully, by the time the fans get their cell phones out—without prompting—to prepare the way for the lepers in Bono’s head, you’ll remember that we’re all "One," just not the same.

And of course, Bono loves to make the links and loathes the divisions he sees between us—the real and imagined trenches between right and left, fundamentalist and free thinker, soldier and protester, preacher and punk. When Bono introduced "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by saying, "America, this is your song now," I don’t think he simply meant to invoke the woeful tragedies of war and hurricanes.

Rather, I think he spoke to the war within, the divisions in our country since the culture war intensified, in our school and church communities, about dogmas and social demons, over drugs and religion, in our blurred and fatigued attitudes towards the war in Iraq, in our treatment of others with whom we disagree, including those we saw in the seats at this very show. With a "tough-guy" preteen onstage with him, Bono in his "coexist" bandanna offered his prayer for the next generation, "That in order to defeat a monster, we don’t become a monster."

As emotionally and musically brutal as the war/antiwar trilogy of "Love and Peace or Else," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Bullet the Blue Sky" has become, even those moments of conflicted and compelling meaning cannot rival the spiritual epiphany still reached at the show’s conclusion. While there’s been some discussion and debate among the faithful as to whether the coda should focus on acoustic rarities or reliable rockers, in Atlanta, we got some of each, and the pacing was perfect. From the Zoo-terrific "Until the End of the World" and "The Fly" to the riveting "With or Without You," the first part of the seven-song encore was a searing and superbly engineered flight back to the flashing screens of an early 1990s techno-fest. By the time the emotionally stunning and musically sparse acoustic duo of "Stuck in a Moment" and "Yahweh" arrived, most fans were ready for the heart space. By that time, we expected "40" to close the show, but not until the band ratcheted it up one more time with a jubilant and jangly, religious and raw version of "All Because of You," broadcast live in a dedication to longtime U2 friend and producer Daniel Lanois.

Before the tired yet transfixed 22,000 could return to their hotel rooms and cars, U2 had one more song to pull from its hymnal. While this fan prayed for a "Bad" ending, "40" remains the perfect closing tune. Each band member’s dramatic exit was enthusiastically received, right up until Larry Mullen’s drum solo and departure. There’s always more to say about a U2 show. An entire review could be penned about Edge’s exquisite sonic engineering. Or about how enthusiastic, energized, and outgoing the guitarist and bassist have become. When Edge would pogo around like a teenage punker, it was easy to forget that these four guys were well into middle age. But as the Beatles snippets that laced a beatific "Beautiful Day" reminded us, this group has depth and gravity from beyond the good and into greatness. And this is a greatness greater than the guys themselves, for it comes from what Bono calls "the other place." Thanks again to the four of them and their entire organization for taking us there with you one more time.

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