Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Last week, I went to see U23D - in IMAX, no less. Totally appropriate format for U2. I'm a member of the fan club, and those of you who've been following No Expiration for a while know that I'm no cynic. Hell, I even dug Rattle & Hum. So, I was really looking forward to this experience, and it didn't disappoint.

Just like any other concert by an artist of this vintage, you might complain that your favorite song is missing. In fact, this film is shorter than any of the concerts that I saw on the Vertigo tour, which this was recorded during. But an hour and twenty minutes of 3D (or IMAX-ed 3D) is a lot for the system to take. I think the film was perfectly done. OK, so they should have included "Zoo Station," but at least they included "The Fly."

I always think of U2 and R.E.M. as counterparts: they started out at around the same time, they shared some influences, they had a healthy distrust of certain "mainstream" rock, but were good enough to be accepted by the mainstream on their own terms. One big difference is that R.E.M. seemed to be embarassed by, or intimidated by, their success, and actively sought to pare it back. Their big influences were The Velvet Underground, The Stooges and Patti Smith: they had no point of reference of how to keep that popular and be cool, and in some regards, I think it messed them up a bit.

U2, on the other hand, loved The Velvets, The Stooges and Patti, but also Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and The Who, all of whom offer varying templates for handling success and maintaining a high artistic standard. They saw nothing wrong with popularity: where Michael Stipe might enjoy the fact that only a cult of people love Patti, Bono might argue that there's been some mistake: someone that great should be headlining stadiums.

Anyway, it's this lack of contrarianism that allows U2 to make a film like U23D and have it be great. These guys respect the latest indie rock thing (on different dates on this tour, I saw The Kings Of Leon and Keane open - both were kind of boring) - but they don't worry about not seeming "indie." You can't really change the world if you stick to your corner. You certainly can't be an Irish band totally rocking a full stadium in Buenos Aires. These guys are fully aware of the ridiculousness, the power, the glory and even the responsibility of the position that they've found themselves in for the past twenty years, and they handle it really well. I hate when people rip on them for being big, being bold and for shooting for the stars. I went to the movie with my friend Ben (a great frontman himself, he's learned lessons from Bono, Stipe and Bruce) and he wrote about this topic - why people seem afraid to enjoy someone who is larger than life - on his blog.

One other note. I remember Adam Clayton once saying something like "I may not be the best bass player in U2. But I am the bass player." Well, I don't know if Bono, The Edge or Larry Mullins Jr. are great bass players, but Adam is one of my favorites, and the loud bass levels in the mix at the IMAX theater brought that one home for me. I think he is nearly Entwistlian in his bass playing greatness.

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