Bono & Edge Busk For Bill Clinton & Other Bigshots At The Hollywood Bowl

October 26, 2011

Officially tagged “A Decade of Difference: A Concert Celebrating 10 Years of the William J. Clinton Foundation,” the former US President invited the likes of Lady Gaga to perform at this gala event in the Hollywood Bowl back on October 15.

U2’s frontman and guitarist gave this gig their all in a stripped down “Irish busker” mode that included lots of buzzed Bono banter and the live debut of “A Man And A Woman” that, like the rest of the set, included an intoxicated and improvisational  vibe and a bleepy backing track courtesy of Edge’s Mac.

The singer’s extended rambles between songs sometimes sounded like stumbles, so when he made some snarky asides or called the newest live song a kind of blue-eyed soul with red eyes, it caused many on the fan forums to speculate that the singer was drunk—or perhaps just a little bit “off” for the performance.

But U2’s relationship with our former president has always involved a mixture of partying and politics. Bill Flannagan’s brilliant band biography U2 At The End of The World chronicles the band’s first meeting with then Governor Clinton—at dawn in a Chicago back in the early 1990s. As the story goes, a bendering Bono almost wakes the sleeping (then candidate for) President in the wee hours, and then, the bright-eyed Clinton wakes the passed out bandmates in the first light.

All that said, Bono balanced the silly speechifying with some serious solemnity, including props to Mrs. Clinton and a prayer for peace in the Middle East preceding a heartfelt and stripped down “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

The passionate and poetic conclusion to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” included alternate lyrics that by vivid implication lifted up the peace prayers of the people of Israel and Palestine:

On another broken hill

red crosses and a crescent moon collide.

Pilgrims pray to know God’s will

Scracthing in the dirt, queuing up to die.

Scorched earth or cruel sun

Is this the battle Jesus won?


Like “A Man And A Woman,” another nugget that didn’t make the standard 360 tour setlist, “Staring At The Sun” really soared into the dark night with a stunning string section. Other tracks included “Desire,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “One.”

Before the closing song of “Miss Sarajevo,” Clinton joined the band on stage and shared quite the fan’s testimony in favor of the band’s commitment to social causes. This speech sums up so much of what people admire (and many people deride) about this band.

Clinton concluded, “I want you to know something. Of all the people who made all the efforts to come here, these guys came the furthest. They have others things going in their lives. They are the greatest touring band in the world; the last thing they needed was another trip on an airplane. But they came.”

“We’ve been friends a long time. I want to say to Bono, thank you for the ONE campaign. Thank you for campaigning against debt. Thank you for trying to save the foreign aid budget of the Secretary of State and the United States. Thank you for campaigning against poverty.”

“And I want to thank Edge for doing something very close to my heart. When Hurricane Katrina almost destroyed the most unique cultural and musical resource in America in New Orleans, this man led an effort to raise money for all those musicians in New Olreans who had no money but are part of America’s cultural history, and I will never forget it. So give them another hand.”

We in the fan community—who have been “giving them a hand” for three decades—concur with President Clinton. –Andrew William Smith, Editor

Photos from the fan forums. 

Angel of Georgia: Lizz Wright Live

October 10, 2011

Georgia-native Lizz Wright lights up rooms with her smile, style, and sound. Tapping jazz, rock, folk, soul, R&B, and social justice freedom songs to create a fluid repertoire, Wright mixes nighttime sultry and slink with her Sunday’s best altar-call alto to take listeners to the brink of utter brilliance.

Raised with roots in the southern church, gospel music and the gospel give her a natural gravity and grace, blending terrestrial and celestial grooves and moods in a seamless secular-sacred stew of stunning flavor and sanctified favor.

Four albums into her career, Wright remains a rising star with a dedicated and diverse fanbase. Her current tour includes only a select few dates which prompted driving several hours to catch a show at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Under an October moon and in the epic spiritual and architectural shadow of the Duke chapel, we found our way to the Reynolds Theater just as the show started with a scratchy and catchy rendition of Neil Young’s “Old Man.”

Now, we all know that classic rock owes its genesis to gospel and the blues just as we know that the best men were born of and nurtured by women. With her treatment of masculinized FM radio standards made famous over-saturated airplay and stoner sing-alongs, she takes a genre full-circle, reinterpreting in a way that’s so much more than a “cover song.” Her version of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” sends shivers as a soul-shaking and heart-tugging date-song sure to make your sweetie quiver. The version at this show had the desired riveting and romantic effect.

Wright’s seductive recontextualizing of rock classics is more than enough to make me adore her, but what’s equally compelling and mind-blowing to me comes with how well and with what a sense of maturity she inherits a voice that recalls freedom movement anthems by the likes of Odetta, The Staples Singers, and Sweet Honey In The Rock. In particular, Wright’s collaboration with Sweet Honey founder and matron Bernice Johnson Reagon resonates so religiously it’s just stunning to hear Wright keep the tradition and the message alive.

On a previous record, Wright treated a Sweet Honey standard “Hey Mann,” and on her recent records, she moves us with the miraculous Reagon track “I Remember, I Believe”—the definite and distinct highlight of Wright’s most recent record Fellowship. Getting to hear this song performed live was worth the price of tickets and the journey from Tennessee all on its own. The song’s opening and sustained refrain of “I don’t know why” reminds us that so much of life’s glory comes not from certainty but from mystery and doubt, that belief and courage come from fearlessly facing and embracing regardless.

To close the show, Wright had the crowd that had been modest and well-behaved most of the night suddenly singing and clapping and dancing in their seats. Her encored edged us into throwdown gospel-revival mode with multiple shouts and shoutouts coming from the crowd. From start to finish, Wright’s stage presence was friendly and radically unpretentious, and the almost two-hour show just whizzed by, ending as exuberantly as it began.

As we walked around the campus for a few minutes before finding our car, we stumbled across a dozen or so students sharing a ‘Jesusy’ jam session on the front steps of the Duke chapel. This seemed fitting. As much as the Spirit had been “in the house” for Wright’s set, this was an obvious reminded that the Spirit is everywhere that people sing. —Andrew William Smith, Editor

Photos are from previous Lizz Wright shows by Greg Aiello, from