A U2 Fan’s Diary from the Future*

January 31, 2007

By Dan Hanzus

Through the power of time travel, the scientific details of which can be neither divulged or even referenced to from this point onward, U2 super fan Dan Hanzus has navigated to the year 2026 to witness and report on an event that will captivate the imagination of the world…and, no doubt, countless supporters of a little band out of Dublin, Ireland. This is meant to be fun, folks.

It’s finally here. The night we’ve all been waiting for. The hibachi is packed, the cooler is stocked and the car has a full tank of gas. Turn up the music, and buckle your seatbelt because it’s June 22, 2026 – U2’s 50th anniversary tour has finally hit New Jersey!

An occasion of this magnitude must be documented for historians:

4:17 pm – We are on the road, making the voyage to East Rutherford. Our solar-powered car must pull to side of the road when some cloud cover rolls into the area, but it quickly dissipates and our journey resumes. While waiting, we listen to U2’s latest album, “Man,” the group’s first new recording since Bono announced at a New Year’s Eve concert in 2010 that the band needed to “go away and dream it all up again…again.” We agree that the first seven tracks of the album are excellent, the last four not so much. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” my brother winningly prods from the back seat.

4:54 – We glide into the parking orb and find an ideal spot close (but not too close) to the Port-O-Potties. We lament the lack of progress of the portable restroom in the last 20 years, which still smells like human waste mixed with a month-old Chicken Lo Mein. As expected, U2’s Man tour draws a more, ahem, veteran crowd; there are an inordinate amount of gray-haired men with ponytails and middle-aged women wearing fanny packs. The crowd does skew young in some areas of the lot, assumedly do to the success of “Man”’s first single, which is the theme song of a particularly popular CW teen drama starring Suri Cruise and the cryogenically-frozen head of her father.

5:45 – While we soak in the celebratory atmosphere, we discuss why we think the band decided to come back after all this time away from the road. Some think Edge’s new marriage to a fortune teller has something to do with it, while others speculate Bono needs the money, having squandered much of his fortune on an ill-advised theme park in central Africa. On Interference.com it is reported that Adam Clayton needs money to pay his staggering medical bills since getting back together with tempestuous former supermodel Naomi Campbell. We all pretty much agree that Larry Mullen’s doing it because he likes to play drums.

7:55 – We enter the building just in time to catch the tail end of opening act Oasis Starship, which features a weathered-looking Liam Gallagher and four unknown backing musicians. I am told later that Noel sued his brother several years earlier upon his departure from the group, forcing the alteration in the band’s moniker. Anyway, “Acquiesce” was enjoyable.

9:00 – The house lights dim and anticipation builds to a near fever pitch as U2 are about to make their first metropolitan area appearance since the Hillary Clinton administration. The stage setup combines all of the elements of past U2 tours. There are white flags, video walls, Trabants, giant golden arches, disco lemon mirror balls, beaded curtains, and two separate catwalks – one in an egg contour and another in a heart shape. There is also a b-stage somewhere in the parking lot, which puzzles us from a logistical standpoint.

9:05 – One by one, the band appears to thunderous applause. Edge has finally embraced his baldness, eschewing his signature skull cap in favor of a more natural “rich-man’s Phil Collins” look. Adam – his arm in a sling after serving the wrong flavored tea to Naomi earlier in the week – is reduced to a silver-haired cheerleader, but the crowd loves him anyway. We all agree – even the men in our group – that Larry is still pretty damned good-looking.

9:10 – After what seems like an eternity, Bono finally appears stage left. Oddly, the B-Man looks exactly the same as he did 20 years ago, to the point that it’s almost creepy. One considerable difference is that he has grown back his mullet from the “Unforgettable Fire” days, a hairstyle that has improbably regained its standing in popular culture in recent years. One interesting note: Bono seems to have a halo over his head at all times. Seated in the upper deck, I cannot decipher whether this is a special effect or an actual luminous ring of splendor. The crowd is strangely unaffected by this – assumedly because they wouldn’t be surprised by either reality.

9:53 – What a glorious return for Dublin’s finest! The band is in fine form. Bono is levitating – literally levitating – around the arena with nary a lifted eyebrow from the crowd. Edge hasn’t lost a beat, his guitar shimmering and shining like his uncovered cranium. Adam is working keyboards with his good arm and Paul McGuiness Jr. has managed to track down the roadie from the ’93 Zoo TV Sydney show to handle bass duties. Larry has yet to smile, but seems largely content.

10:40 – The band is breaking out the big guns tonight. After Bono gives a rambling speech about the kingdom of heaven and the scent of the top of a newborn baby’s head, 77-year-old Bruce Springsteen is beamed live via satellite from a Belmar, NJ rest home for a touching acoustic duet with Bono of “Satellite of Love” segueing into “Jersey Girl.” The crowd bellows, “BROOOOOOOOOCE!!!!,” which Springsteen acknowledges before diving into his second serving of tapioca.

11:06 – The band rips into a rocking rendition of the classic rock staple, “Vertigo,” before Bono admits to the crowd that he just found out that the English translation of “catorce” was 14. “What do you think of that The Edge?” Bono yelps while gesturing wildly, as the rest of the band shares a smirk, seemingly aware of the faux pas all along.

11:20 – U2 launches into an epic performance of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” with backing vocals from a deep and booming voice from above which everybody agrees is definitely not coming from the sound system. Bono then gives a 38-minute speech on why his African theme park failed (there were apparently “overhead” issues), before closing the show with a tender rendition of “One” – featuring a helping hand from an alarmingly rotund Mary J. Blige, clearly now in the Aretha Franklin stage of her career.

11:31 – Bono levitates out of the building during “40” and the rest of the band brings a truly epic show to a close. As we head to the car, “Howwww lonnnng, must we sing thiiiis song?” echoes through the parking lot and we all pretty much agree that forever is the right answer.

Frankly, I’m convinced Bono might be able to make this happen.

Dan Hanzus is a freelance writer based in New York City.

Review: Under the Influence of Giants*

January 22, 2007

By Kimberly Egolf

Struggling through the deep winter months? Tired of dealing with snow, rain, and cold? Try going Under the Influence… of Giants, that is. The self-titled debut album from this Southern California band will pick up your spirits and remind you of the warm summer months. At the very least, it’ll get you to dance and generate enough heat to forget the cold for a few minutes!

In 2004, Scissor Sisters began paving the international way for a pop revival of glorious 70s-influenced dance culture. And Under the Influence of Giants’ mission, according to singer Aaron Bruno, is to follow in this path: “We want to make pop cool again,” he declares. And this album will certainly help them reach that goal.

Featuring 11 groove-based tracks, the self-titled album draws together four young musicians (previously involved in other major-label bands) who aren’t afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves. The disco-era influences are the most immediately apparent on the album. Aaron Bruno’s falsetto vocal accompanied by Jamin Wilcox’s beats, Drew Stewart’s guitars, and David Amezcua’s basslines will instantly transport you into the world of “Saturday Night Fever” – whether you actually lived it the first time around or whether you’ve fallen in love with it later in your life. But the band also cites pop influences as varied as the Talking Heads (listen to “Ah-ha”), Michael Jackson and Prince (listen to “Mama’s Room”), Hall & Oates and George Michael (listen to “In the Clouds”), The Beatles (listen to “Stay Illogical”), Earth, Wind & Fire (listen to “Against All Odds”), and Madonna (listen to “Meaningless Love”) as central to their retro sound.

But though the sound may transport you to another time and the influences may take you back to the heyday of pop music, this is not an album that feels dated or recycled. Everything about this feels fresh. Perhaps this is simply because, unlike many of the pop songs blasted on the radio, the Giants’ music doesn’t feel like an aural assault. The groove works from the inside out, insinuating itself into your bones and cells. And “groove” is certainly an adjective that applies to every musical moment on the record.

Where Scissor Sisters give us the groovy grit of midnight orgiastic fun, the Giants’ album feels like the reason you went out at night in the first place. This album gives Tony Manero hopefuls everywhere a chance to dig out those white polyester suits and strike a pose on the dancefloor. The Giants have the ability to perfectly express those emotions that drive us to escape and then to provide us the perfect soundtrack to dance it all away. Relentlessly, the groove hits your ear drum and wills you to dance along with it.

Whether it is the upbeat opening trio of “Ah-ha,” “Got Nothing,” and “In the Clouds” or the sweet, mellow sounds of “I Love You” and “Lay Me Down,” the Giants deliver a strong record full of moments that will make you feel good and help to relieve those winter blues.

For more information on Under the Influence of Giants, visit the official website and MySpace page. “Under the Influence of Giants” was released in 2006 on Island Records.

Review: ‘Big Rock ‘n’ Roll’ Works for Boston-based Damone*

January 17, 2007

By Kimberly Egolf

Boston rockers Damone have been through a lot that would make a lesser band crumble: an overlooked first release, loss of their guitarist and songwriter, changing record labels, the near-death experience of their bassist, Vazquez… the list could continue. But Damone are thankful for their trials. “In hindsight,” says drummer Dustin Hengst, “it really brought us together musically and emotionally.” And resulted in some genuinely awesome rock music.

Their sophomore album “Out Here All Night” contains rock like you’ve not heard since the ‘80s. Don’t worry. Damone aren’t bringing back big hair or spandex. What they are bringing back is what kicked ass about ‘80s music: power chords, killer guitar solos, manic drumming, driving bass lines. But Damone sprinkle their own special something into the tried-and-true rock mix: female singer Noelle’s vocals soar, at times almost sweetly, over the hard-rock chords and beats of her bandmates.

Don’t let her sweetness fool you; this is a woman who can rock with the best of them. On the album’s title track, “Out Here All Night,” she proves that she can pack a punch. And she is determined to drag you into the fight as well. Practically every song features a chorus you will find yourself singing whether you want to or not. Just try to resist chanting “Give us what we came here for!” when listening to “What We Came Here For.”

And try to resist playing air guitar while listening to this album. Go ahead, try. Mike Woods shines on lead guitar in songs like “Now Is the Time” and “Get Up and Go.” He is certainly primed to become this generation’s Slash.

All of the best elements of Damone seem to converge in the rebellious anthem “Outta My Way,” one of the standout tracks on the record. This jam is guaranteed to get the party started and to keep it going long into the night. A silly little mid-song sketch provides a helluva lot of campy fun.

Perhaps the most surprising track is the last one. “Wasted Years” is a bittersweet ballad that features some incredible acoustic guitar work with a flamenco feel. Noelle is also at her best vocally on this song. This sound is quite different than the rest of the album and shows how diverse this band’s talents really are.

“What we do is a celebration of what we like about big rock ‘n’ roll,” says drummer Hengst. There is nothing particularly new in their sound, but the band revel in the fact that they aren’t attempting to reinvent the wheel, they aren’t creating sounds that have never been heard before. They are simply attempting to rock you. So raise your rock fingers to the sky, tune up your air guitar, and give in to the nostalgic goodness of Damone.

For more information on Damone, visit the official website or MySpace page. “Out Here All Night” was released in 2006 on Island Records.

Getting Ready for What’s Next From U2*

January 16, 2007

By Matthew Anderson

Now that the atomic bomb has been dismantled and the world is recovering from a severe case of vertigo, Bono is already looking to the future and eyeing a new U2 album by year’s end.

While being interviewed by Jo Whiley on BBC Radio One recently, Bono provided the typical betwixt albums tease. "Our band has certainly reached the end of where we’ve been at for the last couple of albums," he said. "I want to see what else we can do with it, take it to the next level; I think that’s what we’ve got to do."

But the tease intensified when Bono said, "We’re gonna continue to be a band, but maybe the rock will have to go; maybe the rock has to get a lot harder. But whatever it is, it’s not gonna stay where it is."

A quick survey of albums past and the ensuing idle pre-next-album chit chat reveals that, well, Bono isn’t really revealing all that much here.

Happily, this is Bono being Bono and he’s left behind the stark talk that followed “Rattle and Hum” and the Lovetown tour, when he made his dramatic statement about the band needing to “go away and dream it all up again,” on New Year’s Eve in 1989.

No. This falls in line squarely with the rhetoric of the past several years.

After “Pop” and before “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” Bono spoke of advancing toward simplicity, while also noting that there are no reverse gears on the U2 tank.

But those were fairly natural comments considering how far out there the band had gone from the Heartland of America to the raucous reinvention of “Achtung Baby,” their album-from-the-road sequel, “Zooropa,” and the techno experimentation of “Pop.” A newer, simpler approach at that point seemed logical.

And let’s not forget that, prior to its release, Bono referred to “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” as the band’s “first rock album.”

Elsewhere in that same BBC interview, Bono said he’d like to do more acoustic compositions, simply focusing on voice and guitar. "I would like to do a couple of tunes in that direction, with just a lot of space around the voice," he said. "I’d like to strip things down; that’s something I’d be very interested in at the moment."

For U2, however, that seems to be part of their traditional modus operandi. Bono has commented in the past on how a great rock song can always be stripped down to a simple acoustic arrangement. That method is certainly obvious in the band’s earlier work, but it’s also evident in their more recent, technology-finessed productions.

Set aside all the backing vocals and ambient sounds in “Staring at the Sun” or “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” and the acoustic versions carry an elegant, raw power. In the same vein, the Acoustic Couch Mix of “Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own” is another prime example of a U2 tune unplugged. Regardless of the rendition, it’s a great song.

But far more surprising is how good “Vertigo” sounds with Bono’s vocals accompanied by The Edge on, of all things, a banjo. One need only check out the Temple Bar Mix of “Vertigo” to appreciate the energy that can exist between a voice and an acoustic guitar… er, stringed instrument.

It’s always tasty to speculate on the next set of U2 licks and this time is no different, particularly when Bono toys with the possibility of making the rock “harder” while also looking forward to the stripped down appeal of simple acoustic arrangements. Perhaps this is where Rick Rubin may or may not come in.

While no doubt the next change probably won’t be as dramatic and, for some, as divisive as the total reinvention that accompanied Zoo TV, the thought of U2 taking things to the “next level” is certainly enough of a tease to make the coming months boil over with anticipation.

Ultimately, though, whatever comes out will surely be the end product of the Zooropean Democracy that is U2. After all, Bono is merely a player in the Larry Mullen, Jr., Band. While it’s also a wee bit too early to consider all the tour implications and other residual effects of whatever new direction the band might take on the new album, four words continually bounce around in this writer’s head. They’re four other words from Bono, spoken from the Vertigo tour stage: “We’re just getting started.”

All right, Bono. And we’re ready. We’re ready for what’s next.

Jacket Ecstatic: Two Nights of Reverb and Revelations in Denver*

January 15, 2007

By Andy Smith, Contributing Editor

Having toured incessantly since “Z” was released in October 2005 (including a stint opening for Pearl Jam), Louisville’s My Morning Jacket just played the last shows of two short tours that followed the release of their live epic “Okonokos.”

To mark this moment, two dedicated fans from Nebraska got stuck in the ice and missed Friday night but finally made it Saturday for their first Jacket show. Traveling devotees flew in from around the country, including one woman from Los Angeles who came via the band’s last show in Salt Lake City—she’d taken time off work to follow them since the legendary New Year’s Eve shows at San Francisco’s Fillmore. One woman from Japan currently living in Colorado will see her first show since the band played Tokyo.

While I am generally skeptical of competition and comparisons and generalizations and platitudes, I am about to lay it all down plain and simple. And while I hate to break it to the fans of other bands, I have seen the future of rock and roll, and its name is My Morning Jacket, as the two-night stand in Denver shared with the fans and confirmed with the universe some otherworldly shape-shifting ecstasy. As great students of rock themselves, the Jacket channels their classic influences in a spiritual, non-derivative way. They are rock stars in terms of theatrics, but not pretension or ego. We can hear the echoes of Radiohead, Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, and so many more.

On stage in strange costumes, Jim James holds court like a science-fiction action-figure protagonist carrying his band of brothers into ever more majestic and mystic moments of pure sonic poetry. This is what rock and roll was supposed to be in their bedrooms when they were 14 and has been engraved on the souls of teenage air-guitarists everywhere. No wonder Cameron Crowe put them in a movie playing “Freebird.” It’s because Crowe appreciates the mix tape of the soul like few others in Hollywood, as evidenced by the story of “Almost Famous” and the cheesy but priceless ending of “Elizabethtown.”

To experience all of it in such intimacy two nights in a row is profound. To tell of its cinematic and religious qualities is point others to the sounds. But of course this means that the career should take these guys to the next level next time—which means I must cherish this closeness and ineffable camaraderie now. Someday they may hold stadiums rapt, and I can only pray they keep the same playful seriousness in tact. Meanwhile, mainstream radio ignores them, so we know it is through the albums and the shows, the internet and places like the theatrical screenings of “Okonokos” that we can gather like a tribe, each of us wearing the morning jacket of his or her choice.

Photo courtesy of Julio Enriquez for cause=time.

And frankly, and honestly, and I can only say this heartfully after seeing MMJ in Denver for two nights, I’ve rarely seen a band put on a live show like the Jacket. Best live band on the planet right now. Best old school rock band of our time. Great by any standards. Big words, yes, and deserving of them this band is.

Wildly, they’re still relatively underground. I still can’t get over how cozy the venues they sell out are. With five albums behind them, these late twenty-something’s are the music fringe’s best kept secret, even after owning a share of what the American rock festival means from Coachella to Bonnaroo to Lollapalooza and many of the smaller festivals and on and on.

Having seen this ferocious five-piece at Bonnaroo and the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, I am utterly shocked by both the small size of the Ogden, the lack of a line at doors, and the sparse crowd so close to curtain. Having played to only a handful of folks Friday, opening act Elvis Perkins in Dearland went on late Saturday.

Listing their influences online as “the sun, wind, rain, fire, the sea, gravity, stars, death, the night, Time, the planets, their moons and ours,” Elvis Perkins in Dearland speak in the pure language of what’s come to be known as alt-folk or freak folk (and reminding me of Dylan, Nick Drake, Alexi Murdoch, and Devandra Banhart.) Another critic compared ‘em to John Lennon and the Band; either way, this group grooves with traditional instruments like acoustic guitar, harmonica, stand-up bass, harmonium, trombone, and an antique marching-band bass drum. Their sets were filled with carnival-esque sweetness, surreal lyrics, and an obvious admiration for the headliners. After two memorably puckish sets, I plan to make myself much more familiar with their stuff before seeing them again in two months. With only two weeks off, this group will tour all winter and into spring. Their next show is in Dublin.

The break between bands passed quickly both nights—just enough time to hit the bathroom and the bar and get back to where your spot was being saved for lights down and Jacket up at 9:30pm sharp. “One Big Holiday” proved the perfect opener Friday, and we were off. (The same song reappeared the second night toward the end of the first set, where it practically took the roof off the Ogden.)

The shows had many breathtaking, mind-stretching moments. When James’s pipes climbed to the high, high notes at the end of “Wordless Chorus,” the “weeowoohwah” or whatever-it-is-so-angelic-and-eerie-that he does struck itself inside my soul. He finds a similar synthesis of soul-soothing and spirit-shocking inside “It Beats for You” (which was the second night opener, casting a sacred and hair-raising spell on the whole place).

Photo courtesy of Julio Enriquez for cause=time.

Just as James finds such elusive epiphanies with his vocal yoga, the band bends its own massive metaphors when channeling the classic-rock gods—as in the spacier, harder, longer, let’s-not-call-them-jam-band-moments of tracks like “Lay Low,” “Run Thru,” “Steam Engine,” and “Mahgeetah.”

The crossover appeal to jam band fans everywhere should not be understated, but it should not be misrepresented or misinterpreted either. The Jacket groks the integrity of the song and gives its live rendition the space to breathe, but not the space to grow like mold into boring, self-referential, cock-rocking whateverland. They take us to the outer galaxies and back, sure. Yes, they can sustain a musical thought for more than ten minutes, and they can get tweaky and freaky and geeky in the most gifted manner. But they return to rock’s mission statement in a way that’s both refreshing and chilling, understanding a vocation to write and perform rock songs—not to randomly splash sounds on the aural canvas.

In one of his few moments of speechifying between songs on Friday, James referred directly to the death-defying drives, of trusting the tour bus driver to face the snow drifts safely. He also mentioned flu in the whole crew, suggesting that no one kiss the band-members tonight. When we think about the first night’s 115-minute set in the context of how utterly whipped they all appeared, we can understand how heroic they still are in spite of it, giving 200% for the fans who risked as much just getting there, too. But Saturday, the band seemed born again, breathing fire into a breathtaking show that lasted until midnight without much of a break. The “encore” was really just a second set, clocking in at some 55 minutes.

Such over-the-top energy from a band that only 24 hours earlier had seemed just a little ragged was revelatory and refreshing. Who plays at least two hours or more every night? Who switches the set list every night? Over the course of this last mini-tour, some nights were mirrors, but at least one song would inevitably change. In Denver, we got treated to two completely changed shows as delicately dissimilar chapters forming a complete rock and roll masterpiece.

Every aspect of these gigs just felt like family, with all the fans up front forming a reflection of the bands loving, laughing, prankish camaraderie—theirs evidenced by Patrick Hallahan and Bo Koster playfully attacking each other like adolescents in a locker room, tossing towels and playing with toy guns.

Another family member of the band is called reverb—best defined as “the acoustic environment that surrounds a sound.” One very cold Colorado Friday night, the Ogden Theatre patrons were soaked in sacred reverb and smoked-out by second-hand reefer fumes. Throughout both shows, I could lose the bone-cold chills and loosen my scarf and feel the heat of: Carl Broemel and James’s dueling guitars; Hallahan ‘s cymbal-riffs rocketing through my head; Two-Tone Tommy’s bass bad-assedly thumping my third-eye; and Koster’s bopping keyboard cool keeping it soulful and real.

Rock and roll wizards each of them, the Jacket have set a new standard for nailing each song as if the earth depended on it and playing each show as if it were their last. Other bands, please take some notes. MMJ has something so sincere to offer, frothing with showmanship but not showing off. I love how tight and completely communal the shows are now, but I imagine bigger things for these deserving guys. It’s not a secret I can keep. If you love rock and roll and everything you thought it had lost through 30 years of shitty sell-out commercialism, go see the Jacket. Their next gig is at the Langerado Festival in Florida in March, and we’ll all be surprised if they don’t show up at Bonnaroo again.

Stay tuned.

For more information on My Morning Jacket, please visit the official website and MySpace page. “Okonokos” was released on ATO Records in September, and “Okonokos: The Concert” was released October 31st.

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