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Music Review: U2 – Popmart Live In Mexico City DVD

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At one point during this DVD, filmed in 1997 in Mexico City during U2's world tour behind the album Pop, Bono says to the audience that his band are "restless souls looking for new sounds and new colors." He then leans towards guitarist The Edge almost as if he was seeking approval.

It sounds suspiciously like an apology.

Indeed, the album Pop and its accompanying tour have both been long regarded as one of the few missteps in the otherwise brilliant career of U2.

The fact is, that whatever U2 were trying to accomplish on a tour that they will probably will tell you was meant as the band's statement about American styled consumerism, set to their own take on the club music of the late nineties — what they actually did on that tour was set a new standard for every big stadium rock show that has come since.

As seen on this DVD, the spectacular staging and lights are as much the stars of this show as U2 themselves. Everything you may remember about the Popmart tour if you saw the show — or heard about if you didn't — is here.

There's the stage with the giant McDonalds-like arch. There are the huge screens where Bono and company are displayed as gigantic 50-foot high images. There's the big lemon which moves through the audience as the strains of (what else?), the song "Lemon" play, only to see U2 themselves emerge to close out the show on a smaller stage situated in the center of the stadium.

With the Popmart tour, U2 took the art of the big stadium rock extravaganza to an entirely new level. Everyone from The Stones to McCartney has taken their cues from the innovations of Popmart in staging and lighting ever since.

So as you would expect, this DVD is visually stunning. The thing is, U2 back up all of the big effects with the music here. Say whatever you will about the disco-ish experimentalism of the Pop album itself (and plenty already has been). But the songs work amazingly well in the big — no make that, huge — setting captured here.

When U2 emerge through the crowd with the sort of entourage befitting a prize fight — Bono even wears the obligatory boxer's hooded uniform — to the strains of "Pop Muzik," they waste no time launching into a ripping version of "Mofo." On another of the tunes from Pop, "Staring At The Sun," they strip it down to its barest acoustic essentials revealing a gorgeous version of the song that might have actually worked better than the one found on the album.

U2 also manage to reinvent a few of the chestnuts from its own catalog of hits here. "Bullet the Blue Sky," for example, takes on an almost funk sort of quality here, before The Edge completely explodes the song with a great guitar solo.

Saying that the band "rediscovered" the song "Sunday Bloody Sunday," after playing it at a concert in Sarajevo, The Edge performs (and sings!) the song solo accompanied only by his own guitar. Here, the normally rock anthem quality of the song from the War album takes on more a hymn like tone. For "Desire," Bono and Edge once again go the acoustic route, in a version which finds Bono humorously trying to work in a few lines of "La Bamba," before laughing the attempt off.

For a band which is often regarded as taking themselves far too seriously, humor is actually a pretty common theme during this DVD performance. At one point, Bono is seen wearing a "Bono Man" T-shirt, while bassist Adam Clayton sports one that says "Poptart" throughout the show. Speaking of Clayton, both he and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. are the rock solid foundation which anchors down the mothership here.

Still the coolest thing about this DVD — and what makes it something that warrants repeated viewings — is picking out all of the cool images seen on the big screens. There's all of the images of rock stars — from Elvis to Lennon to Morrison to Bolan and Bowie — seen during "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" for example. I also got a kick out of U2's take on the classic "evolution calendar," where here we evolve from ape to a human pushing a shopping cart.

Even though the Popmart tour was seen by millions in stadiums around the world, for many it has always been sort of U2's own "missing link" in their evolution as a band. This DVD provides more than ample proof that the whole much maligned mid-nineties Pop period more than warrants a revisit.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Segueing from our previous conversation, I actually passed on this show because I thought it was a little pricey, laughable now I know, but it certainly was at the time. At least but you can see where the money went.

    My decision was also affected by the LA Colesium, which is a bad venue for a show, but obviously from the scope of the event, they couldn’t really have played elsewhere. And they probably felt like they had to top the Achtung Baby! Tour, which is arguably the greatest spectacle of a concert of all-time.

    Everybody knocked them for trying to jump on current sounds, but I find it refreshing when artists stretch. Not a great album throughout, but some fantastic songs. I liked all the songs they include from Pop. Mofo is a perfect companion to I Will Follow, interesting to see rockstar Bono still has those moments where he is the boy without a mother, and Please is as good as anything they have done.

    The 2-disc set sounds like the way to go.

  • http://www.lookoutforhope.com Tom Johnson

    You can’t beat this set, Bicho. It’s just a beautiful thing all around – as Glen beautifully stated it, the show is fantastic, but it’s also the package itself. It’s one of the few times when the deluxe edition is the must-own for anyone interested. Why they bothered to release a one-disc version is beyond me. Anyone buying that is seriously missing out.

  • Chris L.

    A lot about this era of U2 was sort of half-finished; I see what they were trying to do with the Pop album bit, alas, it remains an unfinished work. Everyone knows they rushed it due to their also juggling preparations for Popmart. I hope Pop will see a re-do sometime, maybe at its 20 year anniversary? Some great potential on that record and a few good tracks as is. Anyway- once this tour got underway it was great- I remember everything disliking it in America and there being general confusion about where U2 were going with all of this exactly but in retrospect it is a great work of art and fun to watch.