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All my favorite words are stolen. . . . They're all gone, meaningless. Like 'born again.' . . . Now it means nothing, because some very dangerous people got a hold of the word. -- Bono

The Memorable Moments of PopMart: Live From Mexico City

In our third installment of a series evaluating U2’s home video releases, Kelly Eddington explores the memorable moments of PopMart: Live from Mexico City.

 

I've watched this concert video countless times. It's not my favorite, but it hits the spot when I'm in an offbeat kind of mood. U2 were filmed in front of a profoundly appreciative audience that filled Foro Sol stadium to the brim, which was not always the case with PopMart. The band performs with the confidence of four prizefighters. 

Popmart gif article walking in

The opening sequence has become iconic: U2 walk in under black-and-white surveillance-style footage wearing their respective costumes (Bono: boxer, Edge: cowboy, Adam: face mask dude, Larry: Larry). Bono shadowboxes down the catwalk toward the huge yellow arch as "Pop Muzik" fades and "Mofo" begins.

 

Mofo 

Popmart gif article 2 Mofo riff

Once Edge hits that airplane-taking-off chord (you know the one), the black and white explodes into a flood of Oz-like color, and the biggest television ever produced makes its presence known in a mighty way.

 

Popmart gif article 3 screen color

Was yellow ever this yellow? Was green ever this green? I don't think so. If you're a color junkie like me, you are in for a treat. The screen provides gargantuan visuals that drive home the scale of the spectacular production, but it also frames individual band members with sparkling, ever-changing confetti. The band is bathed in its reflected light: Adam's face changes from blue to orange to fuchsia within a matter of seconds, and the effect is mesmerizing.

 

Popmart gif article 4 white haze

Photographing this concert must have been a nightmare, though. A strange, hazy aura dominates the visuals, and anything big and white positively glows, often to the point that surrounding objects are obscured.

Unwilling to be dwarfed by his own stage, a streamlined, hypermasculine Bono bounds through the first set of songs with the energy of ten men and moves around as if a real dancer is trapped inside of him and desperately wants to get out. Wearing black pants that leave little to the imagination, he swaggers and lunges at the crowd while That Voice hurtles out of his tree trunk of a neck. Edge and Adam are his bookends of coolness. 

 

Popmart gif article 5 Larry's head

Paul McGuinness has aptly described Larry as the band's engine, and PopMart: Live from Mexico City provides ample footage of the back of our drummer's lovely head. The view of the audience from Larry's perch is sure to terrify anyone who suffers from stage fright. The crowd's numbers become apparent whenever they flick their lighters to the beat of a song. Thousands of tiny flames strobe from the front of the stadium to the back as the sound waves travel over the crowd.

 

Last Night On Earth

And what a crowd it is. Bono has them in the palm of his hand from the beginning. A mere whisper of "Mexico" makes them cheer with glee. They swoon when he takes off his track jacket. But when the audience gets organized and begins to sing whole songs for the band, they become more than the sum of their parts. They transform into a giant organism in a symbiotic relationship with U2. 

 

Popmart gif article 6 Edge grins

Bono pulls out every weapon in his performance arsenal to captivate his love-struck audience. His exaggerated, full-body "jamming" on a red guitar during "Last Night On Earth" receives an amused reaction from Edge. "Until The End Of The World" finds him swinging the guitar above his head, carrying it over his shoulder hobo-style, caressing its curvy body as if it were a woman and tossing it onto the stage to antagonize the greatest guitarist of his generation.

 

Pride (In The Name Of Love)

 

Popmart gif article 7 umbrella golf

Bono is not afraid to play the clown as he twirls flowers, imitates a flamenco dancer and golfs with umbrellas throughout the concert.

 

Popmart gif article 8 teary Bono

But when his raw vulnerability takes over, the concert becomes magical. Visibly moved by the crowd's exuberant singing of "Pride (In The Name Of Love)," he wipes tears from his eyes.

 

All I Want Is You

 

Popmart gif article 9 Big Edge Little Bono 

During "All I Want Is You," which Bono sings alone on the B-stage, all but engulfed by humanity, an almost protective-looking Edge appears on the screen behind him and looms over his tiny form. Touching juxtapositions like this happen repeatedly throughout the concert. When that song morphs into "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS, whose singer Michael Hutchence had died only days before this performance, Bono's grief creates a moment that is searingly intimate.  

 

Sunday Bloody Sunday

After about a dozen songs and a barrage of colors and lights, Edge joins Bono on the B-stage for a necessary break that showcases several acoustic numbers. They share a laugh as Bono screws up "Desire" and harmonize sublimely on "Staring At The Sun." Bono exits and his guitarist sings "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

 

Popmart gif article 10 Golden SBS Edge

The crowd becomes spellbound as a golden Edge transforms one of the band's most bombastic songs into an achingly beautiful lullaby with his near-static pose, gentle voice and serene, otherworldly face. (Note: Edge belongs in the pantheon of men who are born to wear cowboy hats. John Wayne, Gary Cooper, The Edge.)

 

Bullet The Blue Sky

 

Popmart gif article 11 Whaaamsplosion

The rest of the band return for a final set before the encores. A funky arrangement of "Bullet The Blue Sky" begins with a blank screen. It eventually erupts into an animated version of Roy Lichtenstein's Whaam! that coincides with Edge's solo.  


Please

If you ever want to change the mind of a friend who doubts Bono's gifts as a performer, the next song is all you'll need as evidence. "Please" builds slowly, and he sings the first half of this outstanding lyric with his eyes closed while standing in his customary "heroin arm" pose. This restraint falls away, and he becomes agitated during the "September" bridge of the song. When the music swells, and he launches into an incredible, singing-in-tongues falsetto, it becomes clear that while Bono is physically present on that stage, he's also somewhere else, in a place that is painful and frustrating. The song ends with him kneeling, drenched in red light, and repeating "please" in a high, ghostly voice. 

 

Popmart gif article 12 Please Bono Please

Still on his knees as "Where The Streets Have No Name" begins, he struggles to escape from that darkness, and it doesn't happen right away. At this point, any viewer should be able to appreciate the emotional wringer Bono willingly puts himself through whenever he performs songs like this. There's a reason why he's a rock star and we are not.

 

Discothèque

He hammers that point home during the encores. While the gigantic mirrored lemon spins and moves along its track, there's a great reaction shot of hypnotized fans, all of whom are realizing that the lemon is rock and roll itself. 

 

Popmart gif article 13 Lemon opens

You all know what happens next: it opens, our heroes come out and walk down the steps, and they tear into "Discothèque." Adam, Larry and Edge form a fun power trio, all playing together in a tight cluster as Bono, now wearing bubble pants, hams it up and channels Donna Summer at her most orgasmic. Like it or not, that lemon sequence took guts, and I for one am proud of my band.

 

With Or Without You

The lemon becomes a perfect disco ball backdrop for songs like "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" and "With Or Without You," and it scatters a blizzard of white microbeams all over the stadium. Bono dances with one of the women in the audience and embraces her as if she were all of them. 

 

Popmart gif article 14 Fans touch B's head

When the dance is over, he submerges into the crowd for more, and a dozen pretty arms spring forth and grow around him like a field of wildflowers, all keen to stroke his face and his wet little haircut. He eventually tears himself away to join the rest of the band in the icy blue light. What could that level of adoration possibly feel like? In one of the long shots, an airplane can be seen flying over the stadium; what a sight that must have been for those passengers.

 

Mysterious Ways

 

Popmart gif article 15 mic sharing

U2 return to the main stage for their second encore, which includes some fun interplay between good cowboy Edge and human .jpeg Bono during "Mysterious Ways." I challenge anyone to name a singer and guitarist whose odd-couple dynamic is more satisfying to watch. I swear Bono sings "if you wanna kiss this guy" during the song, which also boasts one of the all-time greatest examples of microphone sharing between these two, if you're into that kind of thing. Rounding out the show is a poignant rendition of "One," dedicated to Michael Hutchence, followed by "Wake Up Dead Man" (the credits run over it, unfortunately).

For all of its theatricality, PopMart: Live from Mexico City packs an emotional wallop and an intimacy that has the power to astonish fans who might still believe that less is more.

 

© @U2/Eddington 2020