"A performance must be larger than life, but to be worthwhile you must have an element of humanity."
Bono talks about U2's 360 Degree Tour in exclusive interview
September 17, 2009
BACKSEAT OF BONO'S SUV, DOWNTOWN TORONTO — Most first dates involve having dinner and seeing a movie.
Thursday afternoon in Toronto, U2 frontman Bono picked me up in a shiny black Chevy Suburban on Yonge St., and it was non-stop talking.
OK, so it wasn't a date. Bono wasn't actually driving, and I got in the car first.
But the scenario was that one of the world's biggest music stars and his equally famous bandmates -- guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. -- had just visited 102.1 The Edge radio station, drawing dozens of fans for the last-minute appearance. And I ended up talking to the singer, resplendent in a denim ensemble and tinted glasses, in the backseat of his car, en route to Thursday night's second show by U2 at the Rogers Centre.
The only others with us were his driver and his security man, while the car was given a police escort through downtown Toronto.
Ah, the life of Bono.
We talked about the band's current 360 Degree Tour, their latest album No Line on the Horizon, the possibility of not one but two new albums by U2, David Bowie and the significance of space travel.
Here's the best of what he had to say in a Canadian newspaper exclusive with Sun Media.
SUN MEDIA: How did you feel about the first Canadian show of the 360 Degree Tour on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre? (The only other Canadian date is Oct. 28 in Vancouver.)
BONO: Well, I was in really great singing form, and the band played very well. The sound was good 'cause the roof was open. I mean, if the roof were closed we have a P.A. that can cope with it, but it was great to have the CN Tower as part of our light show. Thank you for contributing that to our show.
SUN MEDIA: Are Canadian fans different than those in Europe? (They opened the 360 Degree Tour on June 30 in Barcelona.)
BONO: We've always had a really kind of progressive audience here. They've allowed us to push and pull them in different directions, because over the years we have kind of swerved all over the road a little bit musically, and that's the fun of it for us. And some people, some fans like U2 as a straight-ahead rock and roll band, some people like us as a folk mass, some people like us as a rave, some people like it as a political rally. I think in Canada, they actually like us to be all those things.
SUN MEDIA: How does it feel to walk out onto the massive "spaceship" stage every night?
BONO: The scale of it was a little nerve-wracking at first. I was drawing this on napkins in restaurants, and I was building it with forks and things like that. But when you see it in front of you, I must say I did have a little bit of a knee wobble.
SUN MEDIA: Has anything in particular surprised you on this tour?
BONO: I've a few out-of-body experiences already on the road, which reminds me that I'm describing myself more as a doorman than a shaman. I do think there is magic in music that we don't really understand. Moments where the song sucks you into a place where, and this sounds pretentious, but where it's not so much where it's you singing the song, but it feels like the song is singing you -- and when that happens, I'm amazed.
SUN MEDIA: Did you think you were taking a risk playing so much of the new material off No Line on the Horizon (co-produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno) off the top of the live show, given the album hasn't produced any real hits?
BONO: I love hits, I love 45s, they're a thrill but our first responsibility for this album was to make an extraordinary album. We wanted to make an album as they were a dying species, a nearly instinct species. We said, 'Let's make an album with a beginning, middle and end, and take people into a world,' and so that was our first thing ... just to be challenging both of ourselves and our audience, and we succeeded with that. And maybe in that mind set you don't write a pop song, and that's probably what happened. But they're great songs, they're just not pop songs.
SUN MEDIA: What's the status on a second more ambient album, to be released from the Lanois-Eno sessions, with the working title Songs of Ascent, and then the Rick Rubin session before that?
BONO: We've got a few albums up our sleeves. We've got a whole album we started with Rick Rubin, which is a rocking club album with beats and big guitars, and I can't wait to get back to that. So we're going to see where the mood takes us. But it's not like we have to start afresh. We have five or six songs on that album. We have about 12 on the Songs of Ascent, plus The Edge and myself have written Spiderman: The Musical -- that's nearly done. It's been an incredible time as songwriters ... If you're going to go out on the road, you have to have songs that have the attitude and the ambition to play in a venue like (the Rogers Centre), because if they haven't got it, you're not going to play them because whilst we like people to look a little startled, we're not going to do a crap show just to promote our new album. So they have to be great.
SUN MEDIA: On Wednesday night on stage at Rogers, you ended the show by saying, "We're just getting started." What did you mean, given your first record came out in 1980?
BONO: The playing, just pure musicality is way ahead. And some of my singing voice. I've never had a voice like that. I only got this voice recently in the last five years. I wouldn't have been able to talk to you for instance before a show. So songwriting's come together and there's still bits we're missing, but this is our moment, it would appear. I think this might be our moment, especially if these albums come out quickly, then looking back on this period, maybe the most fertile period for our band. It's unusual for a rock and roll band, but we're not really a rock and roll band. I don't know what we are. I always say we're the loudest folk band in the world. I've had many attempts to try and explain, but we're not that classic idea that's based on youth culture and ... all the cliches of living fast to die young. I mean, we're over the '60s, I hope.
TORONTO — Houston, we've got liftoff.
Before U2 walk out on their "spaceship-like" stage on their current 360 Degree World Tour, they blast David Bowie's "Space Oddity" in its entirety.
So what's with all the space stuff?
"His prolific imagination had a huge impact on me, as a teenager and to this day," Bono said in a Canadian newspaper exclusive with Sun Media Thursday in Toronto. "I can't get over his body of work.
"And the spaceship (stage), to me, it looks like some sort of mad spaceship ... and I just think it stands for, 'Well, we can go anywhere.' Which has always been the throw-down at any U2 show. ‘Where do you want to go?’ You can stay in the stadium if you want, or we can go to this other place where the streets have no name. We can go to this other place, the place of imagination, the place of soul, the place of possibility, and we can just get lost in it. And a great show, when that happens, people don't know where they are, I don't know where I am. And that's what I think it stands for."
U2 connected with the international space station during part of their show on Wednesday night.
"It's a strange thing, because we were working on this space idea for this tour (in) an intuitive way, not knowing it was the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon literally the month we went out. And we had begun talking with the international space station in preparation for something we're going to do with (Canadian) Guy LaLiberte of Cirque Du Soleil, which I'm really looking forward to. He's getting ready to go, at the end of the month, to the international space station and we're doing to beam him into our show."
Bono, whose well-known social activistm has included the ONE Campaign, said he was nine years old at the time of Armstrong's lunar walk, and "it formed in me a troublesome thought. Something has bothered me ever since, which is that it's the impossible that makes stuff fun and worthwhile, and if you can put a man on the moon, that as capable as human beings are, of self-delusion and destructive behavior and greed and nihilism, we're also capable of harnessing the best of us to do the impossible."
© Sun Media, 2009.