"People talk about U2 being a 'live group' . . . because Bono will jump off the balcony to make a point -- but it's not me at all, it's Larry's bass drum."
Column: off the record..., vol. 13-582
September 01, 2013
Can you imagine a day when U2 asks us not to shoot photos or record videos during their concerts?
It sounds crazy, right? How can you stem the tide of technology? You can't keep people from bringing their phones into a concert, so how would you keep them from using their phones to shoot some pics and videos?
This is a topic I touched on earlier this summer when I wrote about wearing Google Glass to a small concert in Portland. Around that time, there were articles about artists like Jack White and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs putting up signs at their gigs asking fans to keep their phones in their pockets and enjoy the music.
Since then, there's been more talk and more artists following suit. USA Today recently wrote about Wilco and She & Him also asking concert attendees to put away their phones and cameras. I'm guessing there are many more artists doing the same, but not getting mentioned in major newspapers. :-)
It wasn't that long ago -- three tours, 12 years -- that you still had to try to sneak cameras in to see a U2 show. During the Elevation tour, I remember some venues not caring at all if you had a camera and others sticking with the strict "no cameras" policy that was printed on the ticket. (Ultimately, it's the artist's decision if cameras are allowed but some venues didn't get the memo that U2 was generally fine with smaller cameras.)
I'm kinda torn on this.
As part of our staff's tour coverage, we take a lot of photos (see our U2 360 tour photos page, for example) and shoot a lot of videos from every show possible (see our U2 videos on YouTube). It's a big and important part of what we do for fans around the world that can't make it to the shows. Taking that away would pretty much suck.
But as a fan, I know that I don't enjoy shows as much when I'm shooting photos and videos all night long. It becomes more like work than fun (#firstworldproblem), and some nights I'd much rather just enjoy and get lost in the moment. But that's not easy to do when you're in the middle of something like this:
That's a screenshot from U2.com's article recapping a December 2010 show in Brisbane. And the same scene happened at every show on the 360 tour (and the Vertigo tour, for that matter).
The debate is a little different for U2. As some artists are saying, they enjoy the shows more when fans aren't holding up phones all night. But when fans are taking photos and sharing them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or wherever, that's free advertising and good online buzz (the latter being something that U2 isn't all that great at on their own).
I don't think U2 would ever follow the lead of Wilco, Jack White, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and others and ask fans to put their phones and cameras away. But I wonder what the next tour would be like if they did. Or if they designated, say, 4-5 sections of each venue for photo and video shooting. (Kinda like some artists have done when they designated certain sections for bootleggers to record the show.) Or if they said, "Hey, if you want to shoot pictures and videos, do it for the first hour of the show and then put your gear away."
Can you imagine? I've started a thread in our forum for you to share your thoughts.
You may know that we have several educators on our staff: Scott Calhoun, Christopher Endrinal, Tim Neufeld and Arlan Hess (and I hope I'm not missing anyone!). I know that Tim and Arlan have used U2 in their classes -- and they've written about the experience in past OTR columns. (See Arlan's column and Tim's column.)
They're far from the only educators that have used U2 in class, and we recently heard from one of the more recent ones. Marty Folsom is teaching "U2 and Theological Mission," which is part of the Masters in Theology and Culture program at Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash. Marty shared the syllabus with us not long ago, and it was an honor to see @U2 listed on the recommended websites list. It was also fun to see Scott Calhoun's book, Exploring U2 (from the first U2 Conference), on the required reading list. (Also on that list is our friend Beth Maynard's 2003 book, Get Up Off Your Knees.)
We recently heard from another college instructor, but not about a new class where U2 is being used. Patrick Connelly invited us to check out a blog post he wrote about the Pop album called The Prodigal Album. We did. And we enjoyed it. And we wanted to pass it on to you since you may like it, too.
And finally ... how cool is this? Lenny Kravitz was just hanging out in New Orleans when he suddenly hears a student band/choir playing one of his songs. So what's he do? He goes to find them, listens a while, and then starts playing with them, too. It's a couple years old, but still ... fantastic!
(c) @U2, 2013.