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06 October 2009

The Edge? Yeah, He Can Play!

After almost a decade of not seeing any concerts beyond the NC Symphony's children's series, I've reverted to early-20's form and have now seen (and blown lots of money on) Bruce Springsteen and U2 in the last six months. And, well, they were both more than worth it.

Look, I can get as cynical about celebrities, music stars, etc. as anyone, and the ticket prices are decadent. But for now I just want to gush a little about these guys based on the work they do on stage and in the studio.

The U2 show Saturday was the first outdoor stadium show I've seen since the late 1980's, and what a spectacle it was, with the giant stage-set of doom holding up the giant 360 degree kazillion dollar video screen. These days, the video screens have HD t.v. quality pictures, so they are really hard to take your eyes off of. When I wanted to just concentrate on the stage, I lowered my head and let the bill of my ball cap block out the screen. Just, you know, to verify that I was at a concert and not a movie.

As for the band, they were fantastic, and when there are only four band members (only three of which play instruments the whole time) in the middle of this huge stage, amidst a sea of people, there is really nowhere to hide. Really, this should have been no surprise, but watching U2 live, I realized immediately just how much rides on The Edge's guitar work. He provides every bit of melodic atmosphere that each of their songs has, almost as if his guitar is a stand-in for three or four different instruments at once. Again, no surprise, but that guy is damn good, and how often can you say a performer was better than you thought he would be?

Similarly to Bruce, U2's shows, as with the major thrust of their recording work, are life affirming. Over half the show was comprised of the three most recent albums, and anyone paying attention knows about the spiritual nature of many of these songs. However, in spite of the stage and the religious coloring of the songs, there was never a feeling of overreach on the part of the band or the audience. Instead there was just a sweet affection between the two. When Bono spoke of "issues" (and yes, it would be more than fine with me if "issues" never came up at these concerts), they involved oppression of democracy in Iran and Burma (friend Brad pointed out that Bono sounded positively forceful in defense of democracy compared to certain elected leaders we could name). So, there was minimal damage on the political front. He did give a shout out of thanks to both the Edwards and Helms families for their support of his foundation, but I think the unintended main effect of this was to completely embarrass North Carolinians of all stripes ("Oh, those political figures are/were from our state? Really? Who knew?").

Best moment of the night? There were several terrific moments, but I'll take when Bono pulled a boy, around 10 years old, up on the outer ring of the stage with him and sang "City of Blinding Lights" to him as they strolled about, like a father singing to his son. During the song's intro he found out the boy's name (Brian?), and they even went for a jog together. Imagine being 10, minding your own business, and having tens of thousands of eyes suddenly trained on you. The boy's reward? Bono took off his omnipresent sunglasses, put them on him, and gently sent him back to his parents. I'm an easy sucker for this stuff - anyone who's seen Bruce's shows recently knows he regularly includes kids as well, and it is great fun for me to see big rock stars, who also are quite upfront about how much they love being fathers, letting that side of them show up in performance. Second best moment? "Where The Streets Have No Name" completely blew the place up - I never would have guessed that that would have been the show-stopper, but it was.

The cherry on the top for me came at school yesterday, when a couple of my students from the spring, who remembered I was excited about getting tickets, found me to tell me they were at the show as well. They were positively beaming when I asked them how they liked it, and I remembered (with just a tinge of melancholy), that I was about their age when I first heard, and was mesmerized by, U2. Nice symmetry, huh?

1 comment:

Renee said...

Yep, I got a few chill bumps reading your post. Especially the connection with your students.