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"White people don't do [soul music] very well because we don't want to let go. Nihilism suits us." — Bono

Column: off the record ..., vol. 15-701


off the record, from @U2

Monday night’s final Innocence + Experience concert in Paris was a fitting end to a tour that began innocently enough in Vancouver in May and grew up over 76 shows across 22 cities, playing to well over 1 million fans, grossing over $133 million. I’ve followed this tour intensely over these eight months, and the journey has provided its own narrative. As much as the shows themselves were designed to tell the story of U2, the tour itself did the same thing. Themes like friendship, defiance, resiliency, empowerment, advocacy, surrender, love, loss, joy and unification carried over from the concert stage and were embodied by the tour itself. That is how I will remember this period of U2’s career.

I will also defend this tour to anyone as a concert experience that mattered greatly. As the world has become more chaotic, unpredictable and, as Li’l Miss would say, scary, I found undeniable hope in these U2 concerts. Despite the subliminal message of “Rock and Roll Is Entertainment,” it was anything but. U2 has the unique ability to present you with a persuasive, informed opinion that challenges you to think otherwise. I believe U2 captured the zeitgeist of 2015 in a way very few other musical artists did. Instead of merely pointing out the issues, I felt U2 offered sage counseling advice in the process by showing love in action. The band made an effort to ensure their actions matched what was being said from the stage. For example, when Bono spoke on the topic of surrender in the intro to “Bad” or during “I Will Follow,” you saw it carried out as the band surrendered the stage to its fans and other artists. The ultimate was at the end of the final show in Paris when they handed over their stage to the Eagles Of Death Metal. The humility shown in this form of submission spoke volumes about the integrity of U2.

The same can be said of how the band members submitted to each other in performance. If you watch “Iris” closely, you will find Edge, Adam and Larry are looking down for most of the performance, sometimes even with eyes closed. I saw this consistently across the cities. This is a deeply personal song for Bono, and the three band mates allow him the space to perform the song. The Paris broadcast on HBO shows a bit of this as well. I was especially moved in Dublin when I noticed how much the other three band members did not move on the stage as to not distract from Bono as he sang the song. You felt that brotherhood and friendship bond. It spoke volumes to me.

As I wrote in my last OTR column, U2 has always required its audience to engage. With the Innocence + Experience tour it goes one step further: The audience required U2 to do the same. From social media to the concert stage, the Experience Bus to the meet-and-greets inside and outside the venue, the fans influenced this tour more so than any other time in the band’s career. To U2’s credit, the band did take notice from adding “Shine Like Stars” and “The Crystal Ballroom” in set lists to playing around with Periscope and dropping in on a certain website’s 20th birthday party. Even the fans commented from time to time how surprised they were at how accessible the band was outside the venue for autographs and selfies – Larry especially.  As we begin to recap 2015 and the Innocence + Experience tour more in the upcoming weeks, I believe we will see more commentary along these lines.

We were all thrown a curveball on Monday when U2 joined Snapchat. The jury’s still out as to why U2 chose Snapchat as the app to close out their tour year. Perhaps it was to appeal to the younger demographic the band is trying to court, or maybe it was to troll all of us middle-age fans who have been complaining about U2’s social media presence. Either way, it was fun watching the 13-minute social story behind the final tour stop in Paris. Even though it was gone after 24 hours, it was symbolic of the theme of living in the moment that Bono was trying to encourage people to do at the concerts.

This journey into different social media applications that U2 is becoming familiar with is only beginning. If you look at the statistics from the last concert date in Paris on Monday, over 10,000 people were tuned in on Mixlr audio streams between two sources. These are numbers that should make some take notice. Matt mentioned last week that we’re aiming to do another U2 fan survey in 2016. I will be very interested in seeing the numbers on how many people would pay for a concert streaming service if one were to be provided for the concerts. This would take the pressure off of the fan community to provide the audio or video stream as well as provide additional revenue to the artist. There is a market for this type of service. In the way that Live Nation tries to monetize its artists, I am still surprised that we haven’t seen this happen. If the consumers demand it enough, maybe we might see it by the next tour.

It was great to have Mark Baker join us for our latest podcast. He was kind enough to share his experience in Paris as one of the U2.com fan winners who joined the band onstage for the last show. During the podcast conversation, I asked about the staging and how sturdy it was given all the people up on the e-stage jumping, especially after the experience in Montreal where Bono invited dozens of fans to the I-stage only to find out that the stage wasn’t designed to handle the additional weight. Mark found out after the podcast that the crew did spend time reinforcing the e-stage ahead of the final show to ensure it was able to handle the enthusiastic fans.

And finally … I want to share with you a personal story from the Dublin shows. I spoke about it a little on a previous podcast. In being able to cover this tour as extensively as I have, I challenged myself to find ways to experience the live concert differently. It hit my heart about how fellow staffer John Tuohy experiences U2. If you read his Like A Song column, you’ll know that he is visually impaired. With that in mind, I spent part of Dublin 2 with my eyes closed to step in his shoes at a show. For him, the screen was a moot point. While I couldn’t wipe the visual memory from my head with my eyes closed, it was powerful to feel how the music was impacting my body as well as how the clarity from the specialized audio system was heightened. To be able to focus more on the audio quality of the performance and leaning on each word spoken while feeling the energy in the room only made the experience more incredible. I can’t even begin to imagine how awesome it must have been for him.

Thanks to all who shared their 2015 with me, and I wish you a very happy, healthy and U2-ey 2016. I’m ready to be experienced…are you?

©@U2/Lawrence, 2015

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