U2 Gets Back to Where They Once Belonged

Bono and AdamU2U2 Go Home: Live From Slane Castle, Ireland DVD

Conventional wisdom says that bands play stadiums because they’re so popular that they need a huge venue to hold the fans. Because they play such large venues, the bands must then adapt their music to fill that space and the outcome is stadium rock. In the early 70s (at the very birth of what is now stadium rock), Pete Townshend turned this theory on its head and instead said that the Who played stadiums, not to accommodate the fans, but to hold the massive sound the band had been developing in the studio. While the Who developed the genre (with help form Zeppelin, Mott the Hoople, et al), U2 has perfected it with stunning effect. The proof is in the newly released U2 Go Home: Live From Slane Castle.

Mediocre stadium rock bands have chipped everything I love about rock and roll away over the years. The spontaneity, the camaraderie, and the intimacy…it all goes out with the wash at a large stadium show. Add to that the “Broadway” factor of big shows and you’ve lost any interest I may have had in the band.

But U2’s Slane show stripped away most of the cheese of the big productions—and they’ve certainly been guilty of going overboard with the lunacy of the Zoo and Popmart tours—and left us with a band…again, after all these years. Somehow, U2 managed to keep a show in front of 80,000 people intimate. Gone were the pyrotechnics and the audacious costumes. Gone was theater. Gone were the characters. What was left was basically four guys who have been playing together for 25 years and who have never, ever, sounded better. There’s genuine camaraderie among the band, especially between Bono and the Edge who seemed to be looking at each other with sly grins throughout the entire show.

But while the schmaltz of stadium shows was mostly gone, the majesty of stadium rock remained. What U2 has done over the past two and half decades is nearly impossible. They not only perfected a genre of music invented by rock’s royalty, they developed a sound that is uniquely their own. I’ve mentioned that phrase—uniquely their own—in other reviews of Aimee Mann and George Harrison, but think of what a feat that is. In the 50 plus years of rock and roll, there are only a handful of artists who have truly created a sound that is immediately recognized as their own. And what U2 has developed is the Perfect Stadium Rock. You can hear the opening riffs of most any of their songs and KNOW it is U2, just as you can immediately recognize a George Harrison solo. That is amazing.

The opening notes and military studder step of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is as powerful and moving today as it was in 1983. It set the foundation for what would lead U2 to “Beautiful Day,” the greatest piece of stadium rock ever written. Don’t believe it? Watch the footage (WM, Real) of the band playing the song on the Slane DVD and tell me your heart doesn’t race a bit and that the air on the back of your arms doesn’t stand up like the sea of arms in the film’s frames.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a U2 fan. Bono’s preachy ways can sometimes rub us all the wrong way and the weirdness that was U2 in the late 80s and early 90s pushed the boundaries of irony, self-importance and authenticity. But in the end, U2 is a great band. The Slane shows prove it once and for all and I’m glad to have followed the band for 20 years.

19 thoughts on “U2 Gets Back to Where They Once Belonged”

  1. U2 is my favorite band. This DVD is stunning.

    Great article… you took the words right out of my mouth. Cheers!

  2. What’s interesting is how the band has managed to transcend, as Phil puts it, “Bono’s preachy ways” and has stayed current and relevant as not merely a group that makes some stunning sounds, but also sociopolitical comment.

  3. Mac,

    I agree. Maybe I’m soft, but I like that the band cares about stuff. I think they’re sincere. Sure, I like Rich Girls too, but it’s nice to see Bono’s not nailing one of ’em.

  4. Just some random thoughts…

    U2 is one of my absolute faves. Achtung Baby is one of my desert island discs.

    I find it interesting that U2 gets dogged a lot for their 90s stuff. I consider the experiments of Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop to be some of their most compelling work.

    I had never seen U2 until the “All that you can’t” tour — post 9/11. Nosebleed seats were actually a blessing in that I could experience the entire visual aspect of the show. Remarkable (if only just a tad not-loud-enough — nice grammar, feller). After seeing this show, though, I watched the DVD of the Boston show and was a bit (naively) dismayed to see pretty much a note-for-note replay of the live show I had seen. I know, I know, the tour was necessarily orchestrated and all … HAD to be to make the visuals work. But it somehow cheapened it for me.

    I haven’t seen the Slane DVD yet. Sounds like it might be more “genuine” (can’t think of a better word right now).

    Also – if you’re a U2 fan or even just a fan of recent rock-n-roll, read “U2 At The End Of The World.” It’s a fascinating and entertaining look at what it’s like to be the world’s biggest rock band. They basically let a journalist into their camp for two years or so during the making of Achtung Baby and subsequent tours.* It makes apparent that world travel exposed the band to lots of new music (techno, club stuff, etc), which pretty clearly led to Pop.

    * Factoid: Adam Clayton was once MIA for a show and the bass tech had to fill in!

    happy thanksgiving.

  5. Phil:

    My point is one of admiration: The politics don’t get in the way of the music, even though they have a sense of politics. And as for Bono nailing Rich Girls: Isn’t he all about forgiving Third World debt? That may explain things.

  6. Preachy ? The man genuinely cares about the entire human race. Bono is God.

    The cover of this DVD fills me with a great swarth of pride as a U2 fan. It makes me wish I were more Irish.

    There is no better early 90’s song than Mysterious Ways.

  7. — “There is no better early 90’s song than Mysterious Ways.”

    I’ve always thought that ‘Interstate Love Song’ was the best single during that era.

  8. U2 are what the Stones wish they were, a band that could still turn out worthwhile albums two decades after their debute. I also don’t have any problem with a sermon or two from Bono. He’s usually correct, anyway.

    When I saw them in Chicago two years ago, they also had a stripped-down show. No big props, just a big stage and screen above them for us in the nose bleed seats.

    The thing that struck me about the show was that there was little of that political sermonizing between songs. But as I listened to the lyrics of each one of their tunes that night, I was struck by how often they have taken a stand, politically and socially, in their music. But it doesn’t necessarily smash you over the head. It’s like good poetry, or a slightly subversive film. You see or hear it and it’s only an hour later that you realize how impactful it was.

    I think about a song like Bloody Sunday, and the fact that a million americans could show up for a concert and sing the entire song together. But if you sat them all down and started discussing the implications and politics behind the story in that song, you’d eventually have 500,000 people at the throats of the other 500,000 people.

    It’s the broader truth in the message that unites people through U2’s best songs. This is the one amazingly confounding thing about really good rock and roll music. It’s what Elvis did. It’s what the Who did. It’s what the Ramones sometimes did. It’s transcending the sticky details to the point where a homophobic redneck is holding a lighter up high and singing along with Freddy Mercury. And it’s what U2, above all the rabble today, still manage to do. They somehow can put out there to their audience a larger truth or emotion that everyone can agree on. It’s not just that everyone likes the beat, it’s the fact that everyone is on the same page for two and a half to three minutes.


  9. — “I think about a song like Bloody Sunday, and the fact that a million americans could show up for a concert and sing the entire song together. But if you sat them all down and started discussing the implications and politics behind the story in that song, you’d eventually have 500,000 people at the throats of the other 500,000 people.” —

    Fucking A. Well, put, Scotty. Very well put.

    I’ve always been a little lukewarm on U2, but I guess that’s mostly because I only started getting a lot of exposure to them in the late 80’s when they went kinda schizo for a while. I’ve always felt that Bono is a pretty good guy, though.

    Good article, DP – made this middle-of-the-road guy very curious to see the DVD. Can I borrow it?

  10. Nice work D. Regardless of what anybody says, it takes something special to truly cut through the vastness that an arena can provide to an audience. Nobody does it better as far as i’m concerned.

    On a side note, forget the politics in their lyrics…these guys have been taking you to church for years (AKA waxing upon their religious views) and you may not have even known it. I love them for doing that in such a covert way, that you can still listen regardless of your faith or lack thereof…the bigger message is just being good to each other. It doesn’t seem cool to just come out and say that in music anymore.

    I can’t belive someone would fault an entertainer for giving something back. Who cares if it’s genuine or for publicity…SOMETHING IS BEING GIVEN BACK. I want another Live Aid and instead I got Woodstock 99…thank god somebody is doing something.

  11. “You wish you were more Irish”:

    I sincerely hope U2 isnt considered the maxim for our fine nation in the States.

    A bunch of tax exiles who live in houses in Killiney (the snittiest part of Dublin)with long enough drive ways so they never have to mingle with the population?

    As for the politics, 1,000,000 Americans singing Sunday Bloody Sunday. Granted it’s a great song but I would sincerely doubt Bono ever experienced the sentiment behind the song.

    Its a well known fact that in Dublin at the beginning of the Eighties the Blades were more popular than U2. U2 got their break from Paul McGuinness, a slick lawyer whose “politics” are

    sell, sell, sell.

    As for Bono, the mans a prat. At ever famous artist opening, or famous poetry reading, there he is the man of the people. My ass.

    If you want genuine Irish, try Rum, Sodomy &the Lash by the Pogues or read Brendan Behan.

  12. Funny, I’m good friends with a couple from the north of Ireland. They’ve been in the states for only about a year. They love U2. When I talk music with them, they tell me that the two ‘biggest’ bands in Ireland are the Cores and U2, and that when U2 plays a concert there it’s a very very big deal. Of course, they’re not music snobs. They like pop music generally.

    They seem like real Irish people to me. I don’t know how they could fake their northern accents for so long if they weren’t.

    Maybe they work for the CIA, cause they don’t seem to know that U2 are posers in Ireland.

    I know that in the US, anybody with the celebrity of a prat like Bono does need a pretty long driveway, just like Elvis did. We all know what a prat Elvis was, eh? Over here, rabid fans have a tendency to go nuts on celebrities that just walk around on the street. But I guess that wouldn’t happen on the Emerald Isle. No one would mob Bono if he lived in a row house or a cottage in Antrim.


  13. Anyone who likes the Corrs couldnt be Irish.

    They must’ve been CIA.

    Please don’t compare Elvis with Bono. Just don’t.

    Of course its a big deal, but then again Robbie Williams just played the to the biggest audience in England EVER so where does that leave us?

    Let me put it this way, the Cranberries have sold 30 million albums yet there a joke in Ireland, so….who bought those records?

    All the “Irish” people in the States.

    And as for U2 being what the Stones wish they were, Id like to be there when you say that to Keith.

  14. I dont want to get into one of those tit for tat posting arguments, but it make a sort of perverse sense that the British could love Robbie Williams so much.

    He has absolutely no talent AT ALL.

  15. Of course Bono is a prat – one, he is a rock star and a very successful one at that , it is a job requirement to think you are better, smarter and more talented than everyone else. Otherwise you would be a dj, a rock critic, booking agent, manager, nightclub owner or someone else who exposes people to the great music you know you could never do yourself. Two, he is a lead singer/enthusiastic front man – in any band that guy is the biggest prat of them all. He is the guy that said “Be out front? the voice of the band? Have something important to say? … Yup that’s me!” (occassionally the singer just thinks he’s better looking and a better singer – see: Liam Gallagher or Roger Daltry – but still a big prat). Three, Bono has been told since he was, what 18?, that he is the most important guy around – eventually that would turn anyone into a prat.

    As for U2’s rep in Ireland – I live in Canada and I’m not going to start in on that one and have to explain Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Shania Twain or even Alanis Morrissette.

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