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I think the family is as strong as it is because of my wife, Ali. She is just really so cool.-- Bono, 2004

Column: off the record ..., vol. 15-686


off the record, from @U2

I can’t wait for Friday. All of us online fans will be back at it surfing the Periscope streams, digging for Mixlr broadcasts, waiting patiently for the official Meerkat link and posting across all social media platforms anything and everything regarding the #U2ieTour leg 2 kicking off in Turin, Italy. I am so happy to have more people on a different continent experience what we all did in North America. The spirit in the arena is unlike any spirit I’ve encountered on any other U2 tour. There’s a deliberate message this time around, and if your spirit is open and receptive, it will target your soul in a way that is nothing short of transformative. It’s performance art at its finest.

In the most recent Crystal Ballroom Periscope episode, Zootopia moderator and 30-year fan John (aka Bigwave) dove into the transformative aspect of the Innocence + Experience tour with @U2’s Tim Neufeld. Specifically, how the audience is asked to surrender and how U2 themselves submit to surrender. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of the band’s own surrender, but Bigwave hit the nail on the head when he brought up how U2 surrenders the e-stage to the fans through pulling them up on stage to perform, dance and video the Meerkat stream. He also brought up Bono’s request to put the phones away to be in the moment instead of photographing the moment – surrender yourself to the experience of the show … or surrender yourself to the band. This tour isn’t about a band merely preaching from the stage, it’s about active participatory engagement from both entities. As much as Bono makes demands of the audience during the show, the audience gives it right back to him with its own demands. That give-and-take conversation shifts night after night, which is why following this tour in such detail is so interesting to me and the many others who join in the fun online. Bono explains that U2 wants to break down the fourth wall in the arena, but it’s now extended through everyone’s phone, tablet or computer. We are no longer bound by arena or stadium capacity. As long as there’s a Wi-Fi connection and a personal computing device, we’re right there in the thick of it too.

Come to think of it, we did have some UStream links during the U2 360 tour. I recall watching a South American show being streamed from someone’s balcony that overlooked the stadium. Matt McGee even did a stream during a stadium rehearsal in Denver. However, the amount of social engagement and conversation wasn’t at the level it is for this tour as more people have more access now. It also helps that the technology has improved tremendously.

I am not aware of any other act whose fans engage on a global scale in such a way. I’d like to know if this is unique to U2, or if other bands’ followings do what we all do with the level of serious discussion and debate after a concert. After reading Bob Lefsetz’s recent column in Variety, I’d have to think there isn’t. He writes about how the on-demand nature of music has created a void in a communal music experience where MTV and radio no longer drive interest or discussion. He writes, “We want to not only engage with art, we want to discuss it, argue about it. … And then the Internet came along and blew everything apart. Without a manual, and with no sense of history, the industry has not only been flummoxed, it’s wandering in the wilderness with no direction home.”

If only Lefsetz knew about the symbiotic relationship between U2 and its online fan community. The band’s global fan base has used the very technology Leftsetz claims as a cause of the disconnect: the Internet. Perhaps it’s bold to say that U2’s fans have independently created a blueprint that the industry should be looking at when it comes to fan engagement with the artist. The many independent fan websites and affiliated social media accounts are collaborating more and more with each other, as well as with grassroots media like podcasts and video streams to increase that engagement. Perhaps more to Lefsetz's point, the music industry didn't build this tight-knit community, the fans did. I believe the band’s audience has never been more connected to one another in discussion than they are now. The band themselves are also getting into it as well. (We know you’re lurking!)

This area of fan engagement is ripe for academics to explore, and I hope there will be some papers on this topic at the next U2 Conference.

I’ve enjoyed reading the many reviews of the Innocence + Experience tour. I love the latest one from The Economist: “The 480-panel cage transmitted live images to the audience, but it also functioned as the band’s advocacy tool, hiding place and chapel. … The use of technology in ‘Innocence + Experience’ marks the genesis of macro entertainment, a leap into the post-performer realm – a glimpse into rock and roll’s afterlife. While other artists continue to pander to fans who expect the sequined leotards and backup dancers that have become hallmarks of superficial showmanship, U2 is the first to turn an LED display into an X-ray of its heart. Like the Gothic architects who strove to connect the terrestrial world to the celestial one by building stone cathedrals to the sky, this band has erected its fair share of tour-prop artifice over the years for the world to see. This new concert suggests U2’s faith now lies more in the evidence of things unseen.”

While on the topic of evidence of things unseen, I’m sure many of you have noticed my Twitter feed was full of news regarding issues with the distribution of U2.com’s subscriber gift Another Time, Another Place. I have seen in various email lists and social media postings that I am not alone. To briefly recap, there are a small percentage of fans (myself included) whose subscriptions did not shift when U2.com relaunched in 2009. As I wrote on Nov. 1, 2008, early U2.com adopter renewals start being auto-generated around early November. We renewed our subscriptions upon receipt of that reminder only to find out a few days later that subscribers were instructed not to renew until the site relaunched in 2009, as I reported in my Nov. 30, 2008 OTR column. Those who did not renew had their subscriptions extended automatically. However, those of us who did pay our annual subscription in November did not.

Since then, we have had to contact Live Nation support annually at the time of renewal to underscore that we do not want the current subscriber gift; rather, we are renewing for the next year and wish to receive the new gift for the renewal period. Annually, we’ve had to contact Live Nation again when the gift gets mailed as we are not on the official distribution list due to our subscription being linked to the previous year. I wrote about this in 2013 and 2014.

This year, I took to the Zootopia boards on U2.com to explain this situation after getting a runaround by Live Nation customer support over the phone. I have encouraged other fans in the same situation to do the same. The Zootopia moderators have done a great deal of work behind the scenes to ensure that fans like myself were not left out. I am happy to report that I did receive a shipment confirmation email late in the evening on Friday; however, like all of the other fans who received one, I did not receive a link with any tracking information: “Tracking information for this piece is unavailable at this time. Tracking may take 24-48 hours after your mail piece has shipped. Please check back at a later time for additional information. If tracking is unavailable after 3 days, please contact your shipper.”

I’m working diligently with the U2.com team to find a more permanent solution so hopefully this is the last year where fans whose subscriptions lapse just before the next year’s subscriber offer is announced have to go through what we’ve gone through for the past seven years. Using my situation as the case study, I have provided the U2.com team full order details for my subscriptions over the past 10 years and explained that early adopters value the legacy status we have, especially as it pertains to ticket presale access. I am hopeful that a viable solution can be implemented so we no longer run into this situation.

In just 60 days’ time, the early adopters will receive our next auto-generated subscription renewal notification. I *really* don’t want to go through this again. Fingers crossed.

Many fans on Twitter wondered what happens on the I-stage while all of the attention is on the screen and/or Bono. That inspired me to film the I-stage during MSG8. It was my first opportunity to watch Larry perform “Cedarwood Road” from start to finish. Using my trusty Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge phone to capture the video, I did not adhere to Bono’s instruction to surrender and put the phone down. I’m sure he understands I did it for the greater good. I am also pretty confident he didn’t see me.

Iris (Hold Me Close)

Cedarwood Road

Song For Someone

Raised By Wolves

Until The End Of The World

City Of Blinding Lights

Bullet The Blue Sky

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Also, if you wondered what the Meerkat feed looks like from the arena, here it is from “Desire” from MSG8.


And finally … M2 will be the special guest in this week’s Crystal Ballroom Periscope chat. Tune in at 7 p.m. PDT (10 p.m. EDT) on Monday, Aug. 31. Follow @timneufeld on Periscope to be pinged when it goes live. If you miss the live broadcast, it will be up on the Crystal Ballroom YouTube channel a few days later.

Safe travels and good health to all heading out for Leg 2, especially the crew working the shows. It’s going to be an exciting few months!

Any opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of @U2 as a whole.

©@U2/Lawrence, 2015