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"I don't think anyone can channel their taste in one area because music tends to be universal. In a way it's irrelevant what arrangement it's in if the song is good." — Adam

AtU2 Lists: Top 10 U2 Events from 2010-2019

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The past decade was certainly eventful for U2. They had some of the biggest highs of their careers, but also some very low lows. Now that we're walking into a new decade, let's review the most impactful events of U2's past decade. 

10. U2 Embrace Social Media

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U2 have been resistant to social media for a long time. For a band that was so tech-savvy in the 1990s and early 2000s, they went strangely tech-quiet in the latter half of the 2000s and remained so into the first half of the 2010s. Over the past few years, they’ve found their voice a bit again. They regularly post on Instagram and Facebook (No, I’m not going to link to Facebook and yes, I know that Facebook owns Instagram), and those posts are mirrored on Twitter. They’re still silent on Snapchat, but it is so nice to see a band that was previously so tech-savvy embracing the medium again.

 

9. The Revitalization Of Vinyl

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Over the past few years, U2 have re-embraced vinyl. They have been re-releasing a couple albums a year on high-quality vinyl, and they’ve been re-re-releasing albums on colored vinyl. Vinyl looks like it will overtake CDs in sales soon, if not already, so it makes sense to re-release the albums. The colored vinyl looks hot! But, now we have to decide if we hang onto a single version or all of them. I’m going with a single version. Sell the rest.  

Beyond the re-releases, U2 have also embraced vinyl for U2.com Fan Club releases and Record Store Day releases. For their Fan Club and Record Store Day productions, U2 released Artificial Horizon, U2 3D, Red Hill Mining Town, Another Time Another Place, Ordinary Love, The Europa EP, Wide Awake In Europe and white label Songs Of Innocence on vinyl in the past decade.

U2.com’s releases at the start of the decade were truly bad. They were shameful, especially considering how much U2.com charged and how little it offered. Duals, for instance, was simply a repackaged collection of some collaborations U2 have done over the years, with an additional couple live tracks thrown in. Over the past decade, U2.com has done a fantastic job of turning that situation around. Its Fan Club releases now are truly impressive, including exclusive lithographs, books and music. Its vinyl releases have been a fundamental part of this and have made it better to be a U2.com subscriber now than ever before.

 

8. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark

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You can’t win them all. There are a few fails on this list that make it clear that U2 are still learning. Turn Off The Dark is one of them. Weirdly enough, U2 decided to do a Spider-Man musical rather than a Batman musical. U2 had already delved into Batman a couple times, with “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” and Edge’s theme for “The Batman”

Bono and Edge ventured into the realm of musical theater, and things did not go smoothly. The production was plagued with physical injuries, cost overruns and story rewrites. The songs on the album weren’t all that (apart from Edge’s amazing “Sinistereo”), it felt like they didn’t really understand Spider-Man, and their relationship with Julie Taymor became contentious. The first Spider-Man musical should focus on the jubilant, teenage spirits of Spider-Man. Instead, this focused on a spider-goddess. Awesome ambition, but misunderstanding the character this much meant the project had a massive impediment before it even started.

 

7. Bono’s Health

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Image Credit Sherry Lawrence 

In 2010, Bono had surgery on his back, delaying the U2 360 Tour for months. In 2014, he suffered a brutal bike accident. He also revealed in 2014 that he’s had glaucoma for years, hence his wearing sunglasses all the time. The release of Songs Of Experience was delayed, and the album reworked, due to Bono’s being “arrested,” as he says in the album's liner notes. Take how he described that last health scare as you may. 

Regardless of what it was, the past decade as a whole was not physically kind to Bono. His health situations resulted in a delay in the U2 360 Tour, a stunted promo tour of Songs Of Innocence and a delay in the release of Songs Of Experience. Bono seems to be in fine fettle now. It’s always good to have a longer U2 tour, and it could be argued that the delay in the release of Songs Of Experience led to it being one of the most important albums of U2’s careers. However, it cannot be argued that Bono’s health concerns haven’t had a major sway on the band the past 10 years. 

 

6. U2 360 Tour

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Image Credit Wikimedia Commons

Prior to Ed Sheeran’s Divide Tour, U2 had the record for most profitable tour ever with the 360 Tour. Granted, U2 only did 110 shows against Sheeran’s 255 shows, but a tour is a tour.  The 360 Tour had the biggest stage ever used in a concert, and it lasted for over three years. It produced some amazing moments, it saw the return of “Zooropa” as a regular song in the setlist and it featured the first-ever live performance of “The Wanderer." U2 toured some rarely-reached places for them, including Russia, Poland and Turkey. The visuals for the tour were astonishing, but as it progressed the setlist veered towards Achtung Baby redux, as so many of their tours do. It featured the notable Fish Out Of Water remix of “Even Better Than The Real Thing,” which as become the band’s standard live version of the song (for the better, in my opinion). Even with Bono’s previously-mentioned back issues, it was a massive tour had the biggest music stage ever. What time is it in the world?

 

5. Songs Of Experience

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While not their most influential event of the past decade, I would argue that Songs Of Experience was the most important U2 album since All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Released in December of 2017, it featured U2 in a fine return to political form. It was leaked by an enthusiastic fan who had the album on vinyl, and his commentary on the (low-quality) recordings he made was interesting. Just a couple days later, near CD-quality tracks showed up, as if in response to the low quality versions.

U2 got political again. Bono used vocal distortion in a way he hadn’t for a while. It had a rousing queer anthem in “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way,” their best since "One." Songs Of Experience tied with Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN for the sixth biggest-selling album of the year worldwide, even though it was released in December. Their prominence in popular culture didn’t reach the same levels they had in the past, but they released one of their most important albums ever. And crucially, Songs Of Experience as an album told a real story in a way U2 haven’t since Pop.

 

4. iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour

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The Innocence + Experience Tour was a mystery prior to the first show in Vancouver, BC. Apart from a New York Times article, there was almost no advance information about the tour and what it would offer fans. Walking into Rogers Arena that evening was a trip. We saw a screen hanging from the ceiling. We had no idea it could move up and down, had space for someone to walk inside of it or could serve as a literal divide between the two sides of the audience. Giant Bono playing with real-life Edge during Until The End Of The World had my jaw open, my eyes blinking, trying to understand exactly what awesomeness I was seeing. The Meerkat live streams (RIP) were so much fun and were a genuine moment of outreach to worldwide fans in the middle of a show. “Invisible,” performed in the barricage, ended up being one of my favorite U2 experiences ever. And they played the first full show since the release of Achtung Baby that didn’t have “One!” 

The tour was too short and too geographically focused. More of the world deserved the chance to see this show, and it’s a shame U2 didn’t give them the chance. And it was not the last time they’d make that mistake in the 2010s.

 

3. The Joshua Tree Tour 2017/2019

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Walking onto the floor of the BC Place stadium in Vancouver for the first night of the Joshua Tree 2017 tour was amazing. The giant Joshua tree looming over the floor stated clearly what the show was going to be, and if anything it felt emotionally bigger than the U2 360 Tour I saw for the first time at the same stadium. 

I was conflicted about the show overall. On the one hand, I like that the band felt comfortable reassessing this cultural moment they had where they released one of the biggest albums of the century. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of nostalgia trips for artists. An artist should be like a shark: it should continue to swim forward or it should quit. The Joshua Tree 2017 tour was both a hit and a miss in this regard. 

The screen was amazing, utterly gorgeous. It looked like the most incredible vinyl liner notes ever made, especially with that crease at the center. The visuals were incredible, just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It was truly a reminder that, maybe apart from Olympic opening ceremonies, a U2 show at full strength is maybe the biggest event most of us will ever see. They took songs like “Ultraviolet” and completely reimagined them. They played “A Sort Of Homecoming” for the first time in ages, and it was so beautiful! The Shadowman was a welcome new persona in Bono’s arsenal. And after his “arrest,” Bono sounded better than he has in ages. 

On the other hand, it was a nostalgia trip. It was truly the closest thing to a greatest hits tour I hope we ever see them do. After I left the Vancouver show, I spent the ride back down to Portland wondering if I needed to reassess my relationship with the band, as the tour seemed so forced. But by the time I finished the San Diego performance, I wondered why I hadn’t gone to more of the shows.

Most importantly, The Joshua Tree 2017/2019 Tour included U2 going to places they hadn’t been to in a while, and a few they hadn’t been to ever! They FINALLY went back to South America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. They played their first ever shows in South Korea, Singapore, The Phillipines and India. For a band as big as U2 are, and considering how long they’ve been together, it’s a real shame that they hadn’t played these places earlier. But better late than never. 

 

2. eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour

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This one was for the fans. It was one of the most impressive tours of U2’s careers; definitely the most important since PopMart. It didn’t get as big as Vertigo or 360, and it suffered from a lot of the same flaws as the Innocence + Experience tour: it focused on North America and Europe, it was too short and even in those areas it didn’t cover that many places. 

Still, it was bold in a way U2 haven’t been in years. It was firmly political. Seeing the faces of the people in the audience at the opening show in Tulsa, OK, was an education. Bono as MacPhisto was ranting against guns, and, judging by the looks on the faces in the crowd around me, plenty of people didn’t know what to make of it. Mr. MacPhisto’s return was a huge thing in and of itself. Bono put the mask back on and was more truthful than he’d been in years. Anyone who tells U2 to stop being political and stop talking, to just play music, is telling them not to be the band they've been for the past four decades. “Acrobat” proved wrong the worries of every doubter who thought it would be a dud in concert. It ended up being one of U2's most stellar live moments. 

The whole tour was performed without a single Joshua Tree song! Who would have thought it possible? For all of these reasons and more, the Experience + Innocence show was their most important tour of the decade.

 

1. Songs Of Innocence And The iTunes Release

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U2 were still in the mindset that they were the biggest band in the world when they reached an agreement with Apple to forcibly include their new album, Songs Of Innocence, on all iTunes accounts. That is the sort of ambition that benefits a truly ambitious artist at the height of their powers; U2 probably would have gotten away with it during the Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby or All That You Can’t Leave Behind eras. No such joy this decade. Songs Of Innocence was a good album, but overall it is very middle-of-the-pack in U2’s catalog. By blasting it far and wide, U2 brought attention to how less-than-their-best it was. If they wanted to force the album onto other peoples’ devices, it should have been up there with their very best. And it didn’t help that there was the rumor circulating that U2 got $100 million for the whole process

It got more people talking about U2 than anything else this decade, regardless of how awkward the initial announcement was. U2 almost certainly had an album ready to go with the drop of “Invisible,” but the tepid response to the single (and the framing of it as a charity single to perhaps mask its actual performance on the charts) suggests that the album they had at the time wasn’t quite what they wanted. “Invisible” was probably the best song off the album, but it didn’t connect with the culture at the time. 

It is easy to slag U2 for what they did. If an unwanted Taylor Swift album showed up in my iTunes catalog, I'd have been pretty irritated. But beyond that, U2 tried. They took the shot. They were still ambitious. They wanted to get their art to as many people as possible, even if they fumbled it. They showed they that they were still focused on connecting with people, not just going through the motions. They still cared that much about their art, almost 40 years in. It’s so crazy, and it’s so cool.

© AtU2/Ryan, 2020