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Column: off the record ..., vol. 16-711

@U2, February 21, 2016
By: Gary Boas


off the record, from @U2

I read an exciting bit of news about The Monkees this month (bear with me; I’m going somewhere with this). The band announced that they would be celebrating their 50th anniversary by touring and releasing a new studio album, their first since Justus in 1996. The album is especially notable as it will feature Davy Jones, the diminutive Monkee who passed away in 2012, in a new recording built around an archival vocal track from the sixties.

This led me to think about other instances of artists incorporating existing tracks into new recordings. Not least: Clarence Clemons made posthumous appearances on Bruce Springsteen’s past two studio albums. The Rolling Stones beefed up a batch of 1972 demos for the 2010 deluxe edition re-release of Exile On Main Street. The Beatles reunion of the mid-1990s famously used two unreleased John Lennon demos as a starting point. And of course U2 reworked the 1987 B-side “Sweetest Thing” for the single from the Best Of 1980-1990 compilation a decade later.

Here’s what I find especially interesting about this trend: In every instance the hybrid track sets up a sort of dialogue between present and past, affording both the artist and the listeners an opportunity to explore the space between, what’s happened and what never came to pass — all in a brief three or four minutes.

Never ones to do anything on a small scale, U2 have now also built an entire tour — the Innocence + Experience tour — around creating this kind of dialogue.

I almost didn’t go to any Innocence + Experience shows. By the summer of last year I had effectively broken up with U2. I had grown both weary and wary of Bono’s obsession with relevance and, honestly, for whatever reason — I know I’m in the minority with this one — Songs Of Innocence didn’t really speak to me. But I’d been hearing all the buzz about Innocence + Experience. I work essentially across the river from the TD Garden in Boston, so literally an hour and a half before the show on Boston Night 3 I decided to walk over and see if I could get a ticket.

I was glad I did. The production was stunning. U2’s dialogue with their younger selves during “Iris,” “Song For Someone” and “Cedarwood Road” — especially with the animations and video, and Bono interacting with the animations — was more poignant than I would have guessed based on what I’d read. I found I was totally on board with the band with their journey into the past.

And it wasn’t just the Songs Of Innocence set pieces. Even more so for me, it was the juxtaposition of the new songs with songs from 30 or 35 years before — of songs about their youth with songs from their youth — that underscored all the mileage in between. And as it invited me to reflect on U2’s history, the concert also bid me consider my own history as it unfolded in parallel, not least because songs like “With Or Without You” and “Beautiful Day” are part of my history. In a curious and entirely unexpected way, the performance served as a visceral reminder of the space between my own present and past.

Anyway, this is what went through my mind when I heard the news about The Monkees. I’m excited to see what U2 does next: to experience Songs of Experience and however the band chooses to present the songs in concert. If the show is anything like the one I saw, I don’t want to miss it.

(c) U2/Boas, 2016

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


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