Visceral

Last night I joined a throng of 50,000 concert-goers trooping into Suncorp Stadium to see the U2 360 concert tour rock Brisbane.  It’s the second time I’ve seen them play live, the previous time was the infamous Zoo TV tour of 1993, the night where Adam Clayton actually took the stage in Sydney after a drug-bender the previous evening saw his bass tech fill in.

 

It's a beautiful day

Then, as now, my experience of the concert was primarily a cerebral experience, probably in contrast to many of the crowd at both venues.  Let me explain.

 

My relationship with U2 is more one of grudging respect than slavish devotion.  Unlike the majority of my peers, I just wasn’t all that into them during the 1980s.  Sure I will admit that some of their anthemic tunes play as a soundtrack to teenage life, but I think that’s a given for nearly anyone living in the West who was born in the early 1970s.  Arguably they were the biggest band of both the 1980s and certainly the 1990s, and in this century they’ve leveraged their fame and firmly established themselves as proud members of a small galaxy of über bands – Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, U2.

But in the 1980s my music tastes were profoundly influenced from growing up in Africa which means rhythm, beat and funk.   And just as I started turning on the radio for myself I was exposed to the New Wave movement.  My passions back then ran to Prince, Eurythmics (kinda), The Cure, Depeche Mode.  Oh, and The Choir.

Okay, in the late 1980s I was famously quoted as saying that U2 were “nothing more than a glorified pub rock band“.  (And I’m only admitting this because there’s every chance someone will remind me of this in the comments section).  Zooropa was the album that started to win me around, it brings back memories of early working life with a decent disposable income where I could buy what I wanted and go to any concert I wished – hence the appearance at Zoo TV.

My favourite U2 album is Pop, there are few if any who will agree with me.  It might be described as their most “new wave” album and it has a hint of electronica (at a time I was in the thrall of The Prodigy and their cohorts).  The band themselves say Pop is their least favoured album, a rush job that they suggest would have been improved with another 6 months of work.   Little wonder then that nothing from the Pop album appeared on the play list at last night’s concert ….

What did appear was a handful of songs from their most recent No Line on the Horizon and a greatest hits collection from their back catalogue stretching back to the early 1980s, including all of the afore-mentioned anthems.  And as they rolled through the night it became increasingly obvious that I might use words like respect for the band, I’m not a U2 lover.

Visually spectacular!

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m exceedingly glad I went to this concert because it is visually stunning and U2 a brilliant live band.  The 360 Tour is the greatest rock show on earth, so it’s a great opportunity to go and see the best of the best, and to be dazzled by the visual and aural excellence that can be bought with millions.  And it’s great to be in a massive, heaving crowd belting out great songs, some of which have profoundly impacted the social consciousness of a generation.

But for me it just wasn’t visceral.  Despite my best attempts I’m just not that into U2.

A few observations ……

U2 might be the rock masters of the lyrical sound bite.  They have some brilliant and timeless one-liners.  “How long, how long must we sing this song“, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle“, “I tried to drown my sorrows but my sorrows they learned to swim“.  But I realised last night that even some of their most famous songs were ones where their full lyrics hadn’t logged in the deep recesses of my consciousness.  It doesn’t help that I often get the opening bars of “Still Haven’t found what I’m looking for“, “With or without you” and “Where the Streets have no name” interchangeably mixed up.

I reckon it’s the visceral response to music that lets it past the gates into the recesses of the sub-conscious, where it is forever logged.

I think it’s possible that the mind-numbing scale of the U2 360 show eventually makes it a little cold and cynical.  It’s easy to be carried away in wonder at the sheer whiz-bangery of the spectacle of the immense stage, but in the end the sheer size detracts from intimacy.  I attended the concert with someone who saw U2 tour in 1984 in a crowd of 2,000 – a crowd that would have been big for their stature back then.  I didn’t get to ask him how they compared.

But I wonder if the scale of U2’s fame has seen them parallel this analogy.  If you talk to AFL or NRL fans they say a Grand Final often lacks character and passion because the crowd, whilst large, is sprinkled with corporates and in-crowd who go to one game a year.  The Grand Final is a far cry from the tribal passion of a suburban ground like Brookvale Oval, and lacking in comparison.

And kicking around last night’s crowd it did have a lot of people there (myself included) who’d struggle to name one song off U2’s latest (reasonably mediocre) album.  Who were there for the experience and the memories, but hadn’t worked themselves into the kind of frenzy that makes for a brilliant live experience (I’m told for instance that a Prodigy gig should appear on any fan’s bucket list).

So visually the 360 Tour is without peer, and it’s a great experience.  But in terms of my best concerts, not up there at all.  It probably didn’t even best the Zoo TV concert in my books, because back then I was young and impressionable (and so clearly now I’m not).  Three years ago I saw the Cure in Melbourne and that was a far more visceral and emotional experience.

But as far as all-time greatness goes, Prince, 1992, Sydney, Diamonds and Pearls tour still reigns supreme.

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