June 27, 2011
As Bono crooned a question in the pre-Motown girl-group sensation “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (made famous by the Shirelles) before ramping into the stratosphere with the stadium-rattling “Where The Streets Have No Name,” the band’s fans from Michigan, the Midwest, and the world let their reply of “Yes” be known during the encore’s familiar lyrics, in their collectively screaming, singing, shaking bodies.
Seeing my first show on the last leg of the postponed and rescheduled North American 360 tour (having taken in four in September-October 2009), I traveled to Michigan with fellow fans, family members, and best friends – with all three with me Sunday seeing their first 360 show, with one seeing the band for the first time ever (after following the band since the 1980s). Walking to the car and waiting in traffic after the show, Laurie Britt-Smith described the set as a “love letter to fans.” At her first U2 concert, my best friend who’s accompanied me to countless rock shows and festivals for the last two years, many in much more intimate venues, remarked at the effectiveness of the techno-cathedral stage and its respected ring of a ramp, where the band immerses themselves into the crowd with a sense of courage, surrender, and abandon she feels other bands lack.
And then, whenever he stopped to talk, Bono carried on and on (and on!) in a ragged and raspy post-Glastonbury voice about how great it was to be in the “verdant green” of East Lansing (a nod to school colors), extolling American ideals and campus activism at places like Michigan State to support the goals of the One campaign or Amnesty International. Before “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Bono took humility and humor to tell the university-town crowd that U2’d never been to college, that they were still students, still searching, still learning.
Overall, the combined and glowing consensus of my show companions put into perspective some of the complaints and concerns I’ve recently heard on the discussion boards from the more hardcore fan community about the alleged safety of current setlist stasis. Clear to me after last night, there’s nothing safe about the 24 songs chosen or their order of performance. With the exception of “Stay,” “Miss Sarajevo,” and the Amnesty-themed segue of “Scarlet” into “Walk On,” folks around us were on their feet for the entire show. And to some of the casual fans that were our neighbors among the metal benches of Spartan Stadium, some of the tracks clearly trekked into the realm of the risky, unexpected, and experimental, so ferociously featuring the rugged electrified thumps and bumps of each member’s contribution.
Nothing “safe” from our vantage point with opening the show with a string of four songs from an album that’s twenty years old or with the searing sonic rocking emphasis on tracks that “edge” so experimentally into the proggy, trippy, electronic realm with the zonkers “Zooropa” really stealing the show. With strange scratchy samples of rhetorical questions slicing the sky and the Claw dropping a veil of blinding blinking lights to hide the band, the jarring spectacle looks more like something you’d expect from the likes of Tool, Flaming Lips, or Pink Floyd.
As Bono’s shoutout before “Stay” namechecked Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, he thanked the magazine for supporting the band through its 1990s experiments, honoring and furthering a sense of moral and musical adventure that possesses U2’s inner light despite the pejorative logic and reason that might have the band merely limp towards retirement. If anything, this final phase of the 360 tour seems to be about a career-spanning set that pays due tribute to the boundary-lands of their creativity.
Late in the show when some fans were already itching towards the exits, the spaced-out final encore begins with a ridiculous SciFi cartoon that probably had something to do with the Claw’s own inner mythology. This surreal cinematic interruption collapses into a pre-recorded sample asking “what time is it in the world” before the band reappears with Bono decked in his laser jacket as the licks drop into the 1995 single “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” from the Batman Forever soundtrack. With Bono swinging from the spaceship’s steering wheel like a teenage boy might hang from the trees, nowhere to be seen is a middle-aged man who couldn’t play this gig a year ago due to back trouble. What time is it? Showtime, indeed!
Likewise, numbers such as the opening quartet from Achtung Baby, “Elevation,” “City of Blinding Lights,” or “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” really rocked and vibrated the building with ecstatic vision, involving every element of the senses and imagination, of sound and sight and stadium. Obviously, a viable current flows through a show like this that equals an immeasurable quantity greater than the sum of the many parts.
Only due to a spiritual and communal component do U2 operate so infectiously and effectively, even admittedly tired from spending their “day off” flying to England and back. Obviously, the band nourishes itself emotionally on fan response, as we feed ourselves cosmically on their redeeming message. To see half of this show in pre-dusk summer light only added to its grand sense of open welcome, of secular yet sanctified embrace.
To stake out what I see from this show in my heart’s mind, I’d have to name it as an extension of spirit, played out on a postmodern, pop-culture democratic and carnivalesque canvas as inclusive interfaith incarnational apocalyptic mysticism. From the work of activist volunteers at the event to the staggering statistics that scroll across the Claw’s screen right before the show to a stunning sermon inserted into “Until The End Of The World” about “peace, love, freedom” and the end of it all, U2’s performance as participatory liturgy invites fans to ponder faith’s unlikely optimism and practical relevance at the crossroads with global economic and ecological demise.
Seeing subtle lyrical threads woven into a larger scripture-like fabric forms a medium-as-message that mediates and meditates on issues of a political and spiritual swath much vaster than the largely upper-middle-class gathering comprised. As an important example, note this slight altering away from the original words in “Miss Sarajevo”: “Is there a time for first communion/a time for synagogue. Is there a time to turn to mecca/be a beauty queen before God.” Add this multifaith twist to the Lennonesque invocation of “no religion” in “Zooropa” to the “blessings not just for the ones who kneel” in “City of Blinding Lights” to the overt use of Muslim symbolism in the video montage now accompanying “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and we can cobble together a complex interpretative framework for Bono’s layered and challenging ethos for inclusion, incarnation, and illumination.
On his post-religious spiritual trip, Bono’s not just “turning tricks with [his] crucifix” to make boatloads of cash; instead, he’s employing a Christological vocabulary to push listeners into a collective space where we can “dream out loud” revolutionary notions of just what that cross might mean in our interconnected yet still impoverished and war-torn world.
I don’t really think the Claw had to tell us how many thousands of beings are dying these days due to hunger, suicide, smoking, abortion, and disease. No, the band didn’t need to broadcast all that bad news just to bum us out at a Sunday night party – not unless there’s a connection between the tragic bones and guts of those figures and their personal message of peace and surrender and sacrifice for one’s fellow human.
Now in the common counter-analysis of U2, all this spirit-theory’s nothing but cheesy pandering and sensationalist hypocritical liberal panic being pushed by megarich rock stars. But strip away the over-the-top 21st century shlock and awe of the whole endeavor, and we’re left with an antique first century poetics pointing to the ultimate in cosmic pandering – a physicality of loving sacrifice that still shakes the skies.
As we arrived at the stadium yesterday, we couldn’t help but notice a hell-fixated street-preacher hollering loudly at the fans in the GA line, matched only by a young dreadlocked woman dressed in a green t-shirt and kilt drowning out his voice with a bright version of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. Quite peripheral to the U2 concert itself, this scene embodied everything the night would unfold for me in its message.
If we’re going to “go there” to the muddy discourse of religion and politics in an entertainment spectacle like this, it desperately matters what version of the truth gets peddled and preached. In U2’s case today as it was thirty years ago, it’s often about pondering deep questions and not just offering cheap answers. If we’re going to get our heads out of the mud and plant flowers there instead, as the lyric in “Zooropa” suggests, it definitely matters that we spin a song of love and hope and peace and freedom and redemption, as U2 has done for me for more than half of my life on this earth. –words and images by Andrew William Smith, Editor
Bonnaroo’s Decade of Dust & Dreams: Jacket’s Sonic Beauty, the Sightings of Ben Sollee, & So Much More
June 19, 2011
Trekking down to Manchester, Tennessee for another music festival touches the body and soul like embarking on a mission trip or a fishing trip or a combat mission – where music fandom stretches your physical limits to achieve a limitless emotional and spiritual experience.
The social barometer consulted by our neighbors in the mid-South sees us as suffering a mild form of insanity, but that doesn’t stop us from returning again and again – despite logic and basic boundaries as to what a human can endure. This year, in a late spring where the weather’s been remarkably wet and mild, our convergence weekend wore us out by being unusually hot and dry.
With an outer composure hiding an excitement that hasn’t subsided even in my sixth year attending and an inner howl of “Bonaroo-hoo” warming my blood, I headed off with a crew of coworkers and best friends for the tenth anniversary of a world-renowned and somewhat risky weekend of concerts, community, and collaboration.
Doing three days instead of four this year, I knew that Friday alone would be worth the journey. Making my first stop at our “home base” inside the Academy tent in Planet Roo meant stumbling into a mesmerizing and mellow chanting workshop led by the Rahasya crew from Athens, Georgia. In general, Bonnaroo doesn’t need to sell counterculture stereotypes or cultivate its jam band reputation because these notions tagalong regardless of how close they resemble reality. But in the case of these folks bringing the day by humming “Hare Krishna,” this welcome flashback to the early 1970s calibrated our inner spaciousness in a way that we could spread across the weekend. (Besides all the overt instances of jam band and classic rock that populated the schedule, the indy-Americana of Low Anthem came sweating into Saturday afternoon so steeped in retrophilia that a song like “Hey, All You Hippies” functioned as a sort of audio time machine for those who hadn’t already left the temporal realm by other means.)
Seeking my first serious headliner on Friday took me to The Other Tent at the edge of Centeroo for a rousing afternoon revival with the incomparable rockabilly hipster Justin Townes Earle. Like his father did in this same tent a few years ago, JTE reminded us how crazy we were for spending the whole weekend roasting in the heat with our fellow fans. His sizzling set brought our first Ben Sollee sighting of the weekend, as the Kentucky singer-cellist-activist came onstage to add cello to “Mama’s Eyes” and background vocals to “Harlem River Blues.”
As afternoons at Roo this year meant grilling one’s flesh like a burger in a global solar barbecue, we decided to seek refuge in the fabled and air-conditioned Cinema Tent. After cooking some more in line, we were able to score seats for the screening of Louisiana Fairytale, Danny Clinch’s documentary about the collaboration between My Morning Jack and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Immersion in the cool dark room as deep journey into dynamic devotional: a musical and cultural cross-pollination placed me in a religious mood that would last into the night. My Morning Jacket pay homage to the past as it lives in the present, presenting themselves to us as a tribal tributary that links heart and sound, sharing a roots reverence and popular lineage that taps history without cheapening it. At the movie’s conclusion, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band kicked it out live, much to the delight of the packed house of patrons.
Even though we were able to catch some of Ray Lamontagne’s set on Which Stage that included many of my favorite tracks from last year’s excellent God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise, his lack of conversation between songs combined with the day’s lingering heat, gave the performance a detached mellow and lazy mood that has historically been a real detriment to artists who’ve performed on Which Stage during daylight hours. Such was the steamy curse that I recall from a particularly alienating Animal Collective show in 2009 and that this time around afflicted the wispy waiflike work of Lamontagne and Amos Lee later in the weekend. Luckily, we’d see some folks defy the dusty odds and do their best to play their best even in the daylight.
Field of Dreams: the Jacket’s Victory Dance
As dusk quickly approached, though, we found ourselves on the crowded walk towards What Stage to grab a spot for the Jacket’s 8pm slot, seeking a particular piece of lawn where we could spread out and dance. Leaving the pit and the several rows after it to the patient folks willing to press, we really got a sense of the vastness of the main Bonnaroo venue by laying our blanket halfway back, with the VIP section just behind us and the waxing moon above. Seeing this band for about the tenth time brought layers and levels of emotion based on how their music meets me on a spiritual plane and in sheer anticipation of how they’d weave in the new songs that I’d been listening to for about ten days since Circuital had been released.
The opening one-two of “Victory Dance” and “Circuital” perfectly tones the crowd to connect with the new tunes – from the spine-chilling trumpet solo that kicked off the set as though “Taps” were playing in the belly of our common memory to Jim’s otherworldly wail at the end of “Victory Dance” to the comforting way the new record’s title track tracks our cellular responsiveness to the Jacket’s versatile jangle and sparkle.
Immediately switching gears to three soaring hits from 2005’s Z, the setlist immediately attracted anyone who wasn’t already reeling towards bliss. “Off The Record” opens slowly before slinking into lyric and hook and a danceable refrain that had the mass of thousands grooving along joyfully; then, suddenly, at midsong we meet the kind of whacked and wicked jam that makes the Jacket the Jacket, that stretches every player in the band to follow its tangly riffs into the manna of meaning as Bo Koster’s keyboards carry us to the misty mountaintops of rock and roll bliss. Followed by the fierce glory of “Gideon” and the playful abandon of “Anytime,” the party was fully underway, with James then greeting the “ocean of humanity” by announcing the occasion as an entirely surreal, mind-blowing, and “magical honor.”
At Roo, the everyfan’s festival, many bands forget their roots as fans, arrive just in time to do their set, and leave with similar haste. That’s not the case with My Morning Jacket who have been like pillars of the whole Bonnaroo project since its earliest years, always hanging out to catch other artists and really taking things to the next level with late-night sets of legend in 2006 and 2008. For two hours on Friday night, we got to give the Jacket their due by giving them such a premier place in the schedule, and the Jacket just poured the love back out on us.
Even though only a handful of tracks from 2008’s excellent but polarizing Evil Urges have remained in the set, the journey that injects “Smokin’ from Shootin’” into a snippet from “Run Thru” (a 2003 track) and then collapses into the arms of “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Part Two” undoubtedly torques listeners into a state of rotation and levitation that leaves little doubt that this band has no qualms about bending the tilt of the universe for the time that it’s onstage each night.
Intentionally or inadvertently, My Morning Jacket give a ton of credibility to the narrative that the moment of Circuital signals a retro movement all about returning to the band’s roots by playing more songs from the 2003 pre-breakout album It Still Moves than they do from either Z or Evil Urges. And even though I did miss hearing “It Beats for You,” “Wonderful,” Librarian,” “Dondante,” and “Evil Urges,” to name a few, neither the focus on the new album nor on the older, jammier jams from earlier in the century in any way diminished the devastating beauty of the entire evening for me.
From their funkiest and freakiest with newer tracks like “Highly Suspicious” or “Holdin’ On To Black Metal” to the culminating guitar-god pyrotechnics of “Dancefloors” diving into “One Big Holiday,” My Morning Jacket made my night and my weekend with what may have been one of their career’s most important sets to date. For me, it meant watching and dancing from a vaster vantage point, from a different distance and angle, from a more mature but no less appreciative perspective. As far as I can tell, the latest album embraces all these added textures in what is already a many layered rock and roll masterpiece of a musical vocation.
Festival Gospel and Living Greats
Nobody pretends that Bonnaroo is a gospel festival or that when most people use the term “religious” to define the weekend that they really mean it in any other than the figurative, symbolic, or mythopoetic sense. Nonetheless, in ways that might surprise people who have never caught one of these shows or are skeptical of such old-fashioned spirituality in general, Bonnaroo offers plenty of bonafide soul songs for people who want to get their Jesus on or feel the Holy Spirit moving in ways that don’t require chemically-induced imitations of infinity.
With Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens and then Mavis Staples, both Saturday and Sunday afternoons kicked off with healing services on main stages, giving us what Staples said would be the closest thing to church we’d find inside Bonnaroo. Complete with arm-waving ambiance and “Amen” shouts, the altitude and attitude of the sun-kissed masses shifted as we got a taste of the Son – whether that’s what we were looking for or not.
Later Saturday afternoon saw the sought after Mumford & Sons show overwhelm the capacity of the Which Stage field for a stunning 90-minute set that included several new songs and all-out closing jam of “Amazing Grace” with support from members of Old Crow Medicine Show and Apache Relay. As great of a show as the Mumfords was, we snuck away to catch some of a veritable legacy Loretta Lynn over at That Tent. In a similar fashion on Sunday, we decided to forgo Iron & Wine to watch Cold War Kids but then ditched CWK to hear a few tracks from living legend Gregg Allman.
Such is the reality of seeing shows at Bonnaroo: you don’t ever see all the shows you want, and you often stop short of seeing all of one show just to catch a moment of another one. Sometimes this decision making is based on which artists I have seen before and which artists I expect to have the chance to see again.
One set that stood out among the others as a “must see” and “might never see again” came Sunday afternoon with Daniel Lanois’s new project Black Dub, featuring Lanois on guitar, Trixie Whitley on vocals, Brian Blade on drums, and Daryl Johnson on bass. For years, I’ve followed Lanois as the legendary U2 co-producer, and this was my first opportunity to hear him with his own group. For some reason, This Tent wasn’t terribly packed for the set; we got a great spot in the center of it all, in front of the sound board, and just sank our toes into the sandy floor and soaked in the funky, jazzy, clubby, soulful, and pleasant assault on the senses.
Cheesy Does It & Our Late Night Danceathon
Sleep at Bonnaroo is both rare and precious, and the musical schedule both dares sleep-deprivation and defies what’s even possible. As I grow older into the festival, I’ve had to sacrifice some shows for others, and I’ve had to prioritize rest. Now, many people might think I was crazy to skip both Buffalo Springfield and Eminem (skipping Black Keys was no big deal, having seen them many times before, including a real disappointment at the Ryman last year). But as soon as the sun set Saturday, I took a nap in order to be able to enjoy one of the fabled Bonnaroo late nights (which are in fact very early mornings).
Rising from my rest around midnight meant enjoying shows under the cover of darkness, with thinner crowds and cooler temperatures. And we found it amazingly easy to make our way from tent to tent to stage, taking in bits of Scissor Sisters, Dr. John, String Cheese Incident, and STS9 – and still making it back to the tent long before dawn. I don’t what it is about slipping from the simply sleazy gay disco of the Sisters to the mojo-moving Louisiana hoodoo of Dr. John to the eclectic cheesy jammy-pleasing work of String Cheese or STS9, but I was able to get my dance on in every case and loved the last stroll home with Cheese ripping through their closer, an awesome cover of U2’s “Mysterious Ways.”
The Wild World of Ben Sollee
On Sunday morning, we were browsing some booths when we stumbled across Ben Sollee giving an impromptu unplugged concert outside the Oxfam American tent in Planet Roo. We heard his track “Electrified” and a cover of Cat Stevens’s “Wild World.” Having arrived at ‘Roo in 2009 by bicycle, Sollee required many golf-cart shuttles this time around to show up at just about everything.
Even though we missed his actual headline set, we saw him jam with Justin Townes Earle, My Morning Jacket, and Low Anthem. We caught a bit of his set on the Sonic Stage and this spontaneous Planet Roo set. We also saw him marching in a protest parade around Centeroo with the folks from Mountain Justice Summer, advocating an end to mountaintop removal coal mining. And when we were deeply enjoying the Black Dub show, we looked behind us to see Ben Sollee just digging the set as a fan.
In a musical and cultural world where borrowing is both blessing and necessity, it’s hard to call very many artists original anymore, but Ben Sollee’s invigorating and innovative blend of cello, songwriting, and singing sure comes close. Add to that his warm activist spirit, and we have a real force for good in the world, embodying the best of what we’d like a festival of Bonnaroo’s magnitude to be.
With an anchor in the arts, music, theater, spoken word, gardening, drumming, and dancing classes we taught back at the Academy and with as many shows as I could manage when not working, eating, or sleeping, another Bonnaroo came and went quickly. With attendance such a miracle in logistics and a marathon in persistence, each year I tell myself that it could be my last. We’ll wait for the lineup to be announced in early 2012 and for our Academy plans to coalesce. We’ll wait and see and recover and rest. In the meantime, we have dusty memories (as well as pictures, videos, and downloads) documenting our dreams all over the web. –Andrew William Smith, Editor
My Morning Jacket pictures by Jeff Kravitz; Black Dub picture by Morgan Harris; courtesy of Bonnaroo.com; all other pictures by Andrew William Smith. For more information: Bonnaroo.com
June 19, 2011
Bono and the guys returned to play a second night at Angels’ Stadium; many fans returned from the first night as well. U2 opened with flurry of songs from Achtung Baby. This was a big variation from the usual, first-night setlist. Even Better Than The Real Thing kicked things off, but then the crowd ate up The Fly. The heavily front-loaded setlist of Achtung Baby hits was presumably in honor of that album’s twentieth anniversary.
Bono transitioned to a different album with a lovely version of Amazing Grace which segued beautifully in Where The Streets Have No Name, much to the crowd’s surprise and delight.
After Get On Your Boots, a playful Bono talked about his bandmates. Adam became a new father. Larry has starred opposite Donald Sutherland in the upcoming movie, Man On A Train. Half jokingly, half serious, Bono then said, “And The Edge has become a farmer,” referring to the recent decision by the California Coastal Commission to block the building of his large estate in the hills of Malibu. This got a big laugh from those fans who have been following the drama.
The night continued with the wonderfully bittersweet performance of Beautiful Day. Dedicated to U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the song contains lyrics and video from her husband, NASA astronaut, Commander Mark Kelly. Giffords, who is recovering from a severe brain injury from an attempted assassination, is remembered by her husband as he recites lines from David Bowie’s Space Oddity. “Tell my wife I love her. She Knows,” says Kelly as he floats in the International Space Station. It is impossible to keep a dry eye as you watch this.
Following U2 fans’ deep-cut favorite Zooropa, the band launched into a string of big, singable, danceable hits including City Of Blinding Light, Vertigo and the bizarrely un-U2 and hugely fun remix of I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.
Ultra Violet (Light My Way) led the encore with Bono in his “suit of light” (an outfit with red lasers shinning from it in all directions). With Or Without You and Moment Of Surrender rounded out the night. Bono read some Bruce Springsteen lyrics to honor the recently deceased saxophone player from the E Street Band, Clarence Clemons, and a long list of “thank you’s” to management and supporters.
It was a great show. The weather was beautiful. And, the crowd seemed to enjoy it all immensely. I had a wonderful time at both shows. As I had hoped in the previous night’s review, I got to meet quite a few more of my fellow Interference “blue craic-heads.” (Hi Y’all! :wave: ) I also had a nice time talking to those around me. I was bookended by a young and an older fan, both of which were eager to see more shows even after having been to several already. That’s fun to hear. This band brings out something in people that is great to share.
Angels Stadium, Anaheim, California
18 June 2011
1. Even Better Than The Real Thing
2. The Fly
3. Mysterious Ways
4. Until The End Of The World
6. Amazing Grace
7. Where The Streets Have No Name
8. I Will Follow
9. Get On Your Boots
10. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
11. Stuck In A Moment (And You Can Get Out Of It)
12. Beautiful Day (Cmdr. Mark Kelly Video Mix)
14. Pride (In The Name Of Love)
15. Miss Sarajevo
17. City Of Blinding Lights / Follow The Yellow Brick Road (snippet)
19. Crazy Tonight Remix / Discotheque (snippet) / Please (snippet)
20. Sunday Bloody Sunday
22. Walk On
23. Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
24. With Or Without You
25. Moment Of Surrender
Photos and video by kramwest1
June 18, 2011
I follow U2 around seeing their shows because I enjoy the music. The side benefit of this always has been meeting new people and sharing our common interest in the band. With the U2 360 Tour, this has changed for me somewhat. I still enjoy seeing the live performances, but now the reason I travel is to see friends and meet new people. U2 is just an excuse for me.
I have long-time friends in Southern California that I initially met through U2. I planned to come to Anaheim to see the band’s two shows and to meet up with these friends and to hopefully meet a few more people from the Interference.com family. When the 2010 North American tour leg was postponed last summer, I continued with my plans to travel to Anaheim and see these friends because I enjoy them and need more excuses to visit them.
Now, with the rescheduled 2011 North American leg of U2’s 360 Tour underway, I realized that for me (and probably many other people) it is okay to use seeing U2 perform as a reason to visit friends. I hope the band understands this. Each night Bono sings of unity, peace and love. And, while his lyrics often speak to this on a global level, it starts individually with each of us finding friendship, comfort and understanding with those immediately around us.
I have become a better person through listening to U2, not just through their words, but also by traveling and broadening my horizons. Obviously, I enjoy seeing the friends with which I stay in communication, but also I enjoy the casual interaction of those who I may stand next to in line or during a show. Certainly, this is not unique to U2. I’m sure there are other bands with other fans that travel and interact and maintain personal communication with each other. But, this seems to be Bono’s mission, and it seems to be working. So, I hope he knows this.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that we all grow together a bit more as we sing, “Ooooooh, oh, oh oh…” at the end of With Or Without You. I’m not growing closer to someone up in Section 523 while I’m down in the G.A. pit, but I am growing closer with my good friends standing by me and a little closer to the girl and the dad who brought her to her first concert ever. We won’t be close friends. We won’t stay in touch. We only exchanged names and a few stories. However, we will have a little more understanding of each other as people, as fans, because we shared a U2 concert Friday night in Anaheim.
Angels Stadium, Anaheim, California
17 June 2011
1. Even Better Then The Real Thing
2. I Will Follow
3. Get On Your Boots
4. Magnificent (Bishop Tutu mix)
5. Mysterious Ways
7. Until The End Of The World
8. Happy Birthday (to band manager Paul McGuinness)
9. All I Want Is You
10. Stay (Faraway, So Close)
11. Beautiful Day (Cmdr. Mark Kelly intro and dedication to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords)
12. Pride (In The Name Of Love)
13. Miss Sarajevo
15. City Of Blinding Lights
17. Crazy Tonight Remix
18. Sunday Bloody Sunday
20. Walk On
22. Where The Streets Have No Name
23. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
24. With Or Without You
25. Moment Of Surrender
All photos by kramwest1
June 15, 2011
No, it’s not some sort of tongue-in-cheek inside joke. Pearl Jam front-man Eddie Vedder has called his second solo album Ukulele Songs because that’s what it really is. It is a gorgeous album full of serious and sentimental songs Vedder has composed over the years, as well as a couple covers, for the small four-stringed Hawaiian instrument.
In 2007, on his first go at recording independently of Pearl Jam, Vedder made the critically praised soundtrack Into the Wild. Still rooted in guitar-driven rock, Into the Wild had a sound that was somewhat folksy and far more airy and free than would ever be achieved on a Pearl Jam album. Here you will find songs that required nothing more than a guitar (or a mandolin) to accompany his dynamic voice. This may have been the first sign that an entire album like Ukulele Songs would be possible.
If Into the Wild was musically sparse, then Ukulele Songs is entirely bare-bones. Vedder abandons all additional accompaniments beyond the ukulele, save for some strings in one track and a bit of vocal assistance.
In Pearl Jam, the combination of Vedder’s powerful voice and the intensity of the talented rock group is simply overwhelming (in the good way). So when the drums and electric guitars are all stripped away, we are left with a chance to focus in on the texture of Vedder’s unique vocal stylings. The simplicity of the ukulele allows Vedder to play with his voice in a way that only he can, flowing between a gentle, whispering croon to a shout that can shake your soul.
What is so impressive is how Vedder takes a novelty-toy of an instrument and creates sincere, listenable music with it. However, there is still a whimsical element to it. You will not hear Vedder’s political viewpoints on this album. You will hear love songs and covers of old popular songs like you might hear performed by Ella Fitzgerald. (If at this point you still think this is totally ridiculous, at least give him a bit of credit for skipping over all of those painfully obligatory ukulele performances like “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”)
The album begins with “Can’t Keep,” a perfect first track that’s as hard rocking as you can get on a ukulele. It keeps building and Vedder’s voice keeps soaring until you think he might just start to fly up into the atmosphere.
Just by looking at the song titles, you can guess that the first half of the album is about heartbreak: “Sleeping by Myself,” “Goodbye,” and well, “Broken Heart.” These songs are yearning and passionate, but not altogether depressing. Vedder rips your heart out but eases the pain with the sweet ukulele. It brings you straight into the writing process. How relieving it must be to have such a happy little instrument to write songs on when you are feeling sad!
To be honest, the ukulele does have its limitations. After a point, I found myself wishing it would stop sounding so… twingy. Fortunately, like an oasis, “Longing to Belong” is tucked into the middle of the album at track 8, providing relief from the lone twingy uke. This beautiful song includes a lovely cello accompaniment. The additional instrumentation makes this song more accessible than some of the other songs on the album, making it the obvious choice as the single, released in March.
Another highlight of the album is “Sleepless Nights.” I am a sucker for vocal harmonies, and when that harmony happens to be Glen Hansard of The Swell Season and The Frames, I am sold. “Tonight You Belong to Me” also includes additional vocals from Cat Power.
This is the perfect summertime album. “Light Today” even has the sound of gentle ocean waves on what I imagine to be the most peaceful beach in the entire world. Although “Ukulele Songs” might sound like it would be an album full of images of piña coladas and Hawaiian luaus, the 50th state is hardly brought to mind by this music. Ukulele Songs could just as sweetly treat you to nostalgic visions of yesteryear lounging in the backyard with an iced tea and someone you loved.
After over twenty years of rocking out (Pearl Jam’s Ten came out in 1991. Feel old?), Eddie Vedder has not only kept the spirit and passion in his music that we have come to expect, he has continued to press himself creatively and grow as an artist. In Ukulele Songs, he has reached beyond grunge and alternative rock into a realm in which he can really show off his musical and vocal talents. –Amy Rauch, Contributing Writer