About a week ago, I got an e-mail from a colleague of mine here at Blogcritics offering me his tickets to U2's upcoming June show in Seattle at Qwest Field. As in free, no strings attached…
To say I was absolutely thrilled at this quite unexpected turn of good fortune would be something close to the understatement of the year.
U2 is a band that I love passionately, and as far as big stadium extravaganzas go, they put on a show like nobody else out there. One thing is absolutely for sure though — they have certainly come a long way from the band I saw in 1983 at Seattle's Paramount Theatre, or even the band I saw at California's US Festival the very next day (I was already on a plane to L.A. before U2 had played their second encore in Seattle).
What I remember most about those back-to-back shows I caught on the 1983 War tour was that, much like Bruce Springsteen in the early days, this was a band that was all about making an intimate connection with its audience — and that they succeeded at this (rather wildly I might add) — beyond all reasonable expectation.
In the confines of Seattle's 3000-seat Paramount Theatre, this was most demonstrated when Bono allowed the crowd to carry him on his back, long before anyone had ever heard of anything like moshing or crowd surfing.
At the US Festival, playing before 300,000 people in a God-forsaken dust bowl desert setting in the middle of what I remember as a scorching hot day, what stands out is Bono's death-defying climb to the top of a stage that was several stories high (at least) to hoist the white flag of surrender during "Electric Co."
It was one of those awesome concert moments you quite simply never forget.
But that one will forever stand out in my memory. I've never seen a rock performer, not before or since, literally risk his life to deliver whatever his message might have been — which I might add that despite the heroics involved, is one that I am still quite sure was mostly lost on the largely stoned, dehydrated masses that day in the freaking, absolutely scorching desert.
Oh yeah, and there was also that damn mullet.
We won't go there here. But looking back now, it was a rather spectacularly silly looking one. The point is, that whatever it was that Bono was trying to say that day out there in the Southern California desert — and I'm still not exactly sure what it was — he felt it important enough to risk life and limb to climb a sky-high P.A. tower to make it.
Right then and there, I knew that U2 was going to be one of the great ones.
I have since seen them several times over the years. There was the big stadium show I saw in Anaheim during the Zoo TV tour during the era of the first Bush presidency, with its big screen images of random news broadcasts. I thought the rafters were going to come straight off of their rims that night, as much as they shook during "Where The Streets Have No Name". It was an amazing thing to see.
And there was also the spectacularly staged spectacle of the Vertigo tour five years ago. But here is where the rub starts to come in…
The thing that got U2 to the big dance in the first place, at least in my mind, is that these guys — more than just about anybody outside of Springsteen and the E Street Band — have always positioned themselves as this wonderfully populist band. U2's message, aside from the brief misstep of the '90s PopMart period — has always been consistent. They have always been the band of the people.
The thing is, I still think that they really believe that — all evidence to the contrary aside. Well, at least to a point anyway.
And by the way, if you expect me to start bitching about the concert prices for the 360 tour here, trust me, I'm not going there. Rather, the thing that bugs me most is that for all of Bono's efforts as a big-time player on the stage of world politics, he may have lost his connection to the common people he was once so desperate to connect with.
Ya feel me here, Bono?
The same guy who once had enough blind trust to allow himself to be carried through a crowd of complete strangers at the 3000 seat Paramount in '83 — or to scale a several stories high scaffold at the US Festival back then — is these days spending as much time hob-nobbing with the likes of Bill Gates and his kind, as he is glad-handing with us mere peasants and common folk.
Does it serve a greater good? Perhaps. The thing I fear most though, is that he has lost that connection with the people who got him there in the first place.
And then, there is also that whole Christian thing.
From U2's earliest days on out, the band has worn its collective Christianity on its sleeve (with the exception of noted hedonist Adam of course).
And, in appearance at least, they still do. Still, it doesn't take a genius to connect the dots between lines about "the victory Jesus won" on 1983's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and 2005's "Yahweh." Nor to recognize the common thread of Edge's beautifully ringing guitar, which at the end of the day binds them together.
But then you get to the song, "One."
Earlier tonight, I went back and watched the DVD of U2's 2005 Vertigo tour from Chicago, and was particularly struck by the performance of that song. You see the thing is, as a Christian myself, I know a thing or two about biblical prophecy, and that's exactly why this performance disturbed me a little.
Don't get me wrong. I love the message expressed in this song about "one love" and all that wonderfully altruistic stuff. I really do.
But there is another point on this DVD, where a spectacular display of all these national flags come down, and the message is that all nations should come together as one. It's a beautiful sentiment. But it is also one that I'm quite sure Bono, as a professed Christian, knows all too well sets the stage for the end-time, one-world government prophesied in the Bible.
So am I going to go off into a wild tangent about things like the Rapture and the Antichrist here? Nope, not at all. Fodder for another time and another place. I only point these things out in order to suggest two things:
One, that somewhere along the line Bono seems to have confused his spiritual beliefs with his larger political ambitions. And two, that in doing so, he is steadily distancing himself from the very sort of populism that got him to where he is now. This is where my love/hate relationship with the leader of the biggest rock band in the world really begins to kick in.
My only suggestion here is that it is food for thought, and that I am going strictly by the parameters of the same personal belief system that Bono himself established early on in the game. And that by all evidence, is one that he continues to subscribe to. Or, at least you'd think that he does, right?
These are the rules that Bono continues to play the game by. And they are the same rules that I, as a lowly, somewhat nerdy observer of all things rock and roll, have to likewise consider him by.
It's not like I don't already know that the heroes I grew up with — from Lennon, Dylan, and Jagger on down — didn't have their own drug and sex addled faults. Not at all.
I completely recognize that. It's just that Bono and U2 set themselves a much higher standard from the git-go. And for whatever small place I hold in the much wider universe of rock and roll, I intend to hold them to that flame.
I am very much looking forward to seeing U2 next month at Qwest, and am equally sure it will be an amazing show. Hell, it always is.
Just don't forget us little folks, okay Bono?