Remember when music was tangible? Before iPods were all the rage you actively had to go to a shop and pay for an album in order to listen to a band or song that you liked. The excitement you felt holding a freshly minted album in your hands was as much about the cover art and packaging as it was about the music. A finely crafted album was savoured and played regularly—taking both the good with the bad. (And AH-MAZING things like THIS were still possible!)
These days you merely have to visit the iTunes store to purchase a song of your choice. While I love the convenience of paying only for the tracks that I want and having access to artists the local music store would be unlikely to stock, part of me misses the ritual and anticipation of hearing a new album for the very first time, and the second time, and third, and so on until I knew the words to every song. Now our listening habits are more about variety than consistency and our love affair with our favourite albums has lost its passion.
Subsequently, my life no longer has a soundtrack. For me, and you too I imagine, there are certain memories I can’t reflect on without remembering the music that accompanied them. Whole portions of my life cannot be recalled without hearing The Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Radiohead, The Doors, Nick Cave, Death Cab For Cutie and so many, many more. But now, for the most part, my more recent memories are silent.
One of the most prevalent bands to accompany my memories, at a time when I was first discovering the importance of music in my life, is U2. Towards the later end of my high school years U2’s Achtung Baby was the soundtrack. When I graduated high school and first discovered real independence U2’s Zooropa was the soundtrack. These albums defined moments of my life. And, even now looking back at U2’s discography I can’t help but feel nostalgic for my teenage years. So when U2 toured the spectacle that was Popmart in 1998, a concert I couldn’t afford to attend because I was only a poor student, I swore to myself that one day I would see U2 live.
Admittedly, I haven’t thought much about U2 in the intervening years. Like all bands that blaze too brightly for a time, there is undoubtedly an accompanying full from grace. Love them or loathe them, they are still unquestionably the biggest band in the world even if, these days, people tend to laugh AT Bono and not with him which is odd considering his philanthropic work has genuinely made the world a better place.
Thirteen years later when U2’s 360 tour was announced I had graduated from a poor student to a poor adult and initially thought that perhaps my dream no longer had worth, but on learning of the $40 seats the part of me that once longed to see U2 began to burn a little brighter. Although the ticket ended up being $6o with the inclusion of Ticketek’s ludicrous fees, it was still a steal to see the world’s biggest band tour the world’s largest stadium show and my excitement grew as the event edged ever closer.
Catching the free shuttle bus to the concert was an experience in itself. The driver announced he’d play some music to get us into the mood before assaulting our eardrums with a snippet of the kitschiest version of ‘Wheels on the Bus’ I’ve ever heard. This was quickly followed by the Chicken Dance, the driver’s cackling and the blaring of U2 at shattering levels. It was an odd sensation staring out the tinted bus windows, listening to blisteringly loud U2 and watching office minions begin their journey home.
Never before have I seen such a diverse range of people at a gig, ranging from children to the middle aged and all manner of sorts in between, including the charming young lady who couldn’t keep her boobs in her top. I heard a girl nearby comment that seeing U2 was on her bucket list and I realised I wasn’t alone in this desire.
The expansive set looked as if an alien from War of the Worlds had descended on Suncorp Stadium, laying dormant in wait for its masters to bring it to life. The massive 360 screen in the belly of the craft counted down from ten minutes to zero before Jay-Z launched onto the stage to attempt to rouse the beast. Jay-Z was an odd choice for a support, no doubt dividing the audience, but I was personally thrilled to hear favourites Roc Boys, Hard Knock Life and 99 Problems (no Death of Auto-Tune though?). While our view of Jay-Z was predominantly blocked by the drum risers for his two kits and horn section, the screen provided enough coverage for us to appreciate his lively on-stage presence (he always seems so serious in interviews?) Jay-Z SOUNDS exactly like I imagine living the glamorous life in New York FEELS and nowhere is that more evident than in Empire State of Mind which worked the crowd into an appreciative frenzy.
After a brief break, a Mexican wave and another countdown U2 entered the arena and sauntered along the walkway surrounding the stage to Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ and the cheers of a manic crowd. Their trademark jangly guitar sound was crystal clear (Jay-Z’s set had been a little murky) as they broke into the instrumental ‘Return of the Stingray Guitar’ followed by ‘Beautiful Day’. The set was equally littered with old favourites as well as newer tracks that I hadn’t heard. (The set list can be found here, although if you’d like to see a more comprehensive list including the dozens of snippets of covers included in the set, go here.) I’m glad I hesitated about buying tickets as I was more impressed with the set list for the second night of the Brisbane show in comparison to the first.
Naturally the alien spacecraft opened up and revealed all its bells and whistles under U2’s careful touch. Rotating bridges joined the stage to the circular walkway so the band members, wielding their instruments, could flounce back and forth to interact with the crowd at will, including their ageless drummer Larry Mullen Jr. who either walked about with a djembe or spun his drum kit around to face all angles. But it was the age old trick of smoke and mirrors that produced the most interesting effects with light reflecting off the two mirror balls, one below the screen and one atop the spacecraft’s tower, spewing so much smoke that the fine night above was shrouded from view.
However the true star of the show was the expansive 360 degree screen that for the majority of the show sat at the top of the stage transmitting in four different directions a mix of vision of the band, pre-recorded video and overlaid effects. The impeccable camera work and vision mixing continually reflected that of a well crafted video clip and was of the best live standard I’ve personally ever witnessed. It was a great surprise when the individual hexagonal panels of the screen OPENED UP on hinges to spread the entire height of the stage with each panel displaying a different colour. Having worked in the event and video industry I could fully appreciate how immensely impressive this was and how brain shattering difficult it would have been to conceive. The screen then closed up again at the bottom of the stage with vision that travelled around the screen in a circular fashion.
The band itself performed a perfectly manicured set and I couldn’t help but muse on how remarkable it is that they’ve never broken up or had to replace a drummer or bassist. Bono’s high energy antics wooed his minions as, at one moment, he serenaded a young girl plucked from the crowd, while the next he was swinging around atop the illuminated steering wheel shaped microphone which hung from the roof.
The band expressed their support for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi by inviting members of the Burma Campaign Australia and One, Bono’s own advocacy organisation, onto the stage with Amnesty International lanterns to form a ring of light around the stage while U2 performed the song originally written for Suu Kyi in 2000, ‘Walk On’.
‘With or Without You’ ended the show while an incredible amount of crew pooled to dismantle the spacecraft the second U2 left the stage. If only the thing really could fly. Perhaps that’s the next tour.
While I can only touch on the many highlights of the night, further incredible facts can be found about the tour here, including their carbon emission offsets and the placement of the stage on Google Earth a week before each show.
The show solidified U2 as still being as relevant and important as ever and while they may never return to high rotation on my iPod they’ve successfully managed to give me yet another memory to savour for life.