"The Latin Americans have the sexy end of Catholicism. They have carnivals, which we don't have in Northern Europe. We have all of the denial but none of the celebration."
Column: off the record ..., vol. 16-727
June 12, 2016
Like many U2 fans worldwide, I’ve been immersing myself in an Innocence + Experience Live In Paris weekend. The much anticipated DVD was released without a whole lot of fanfare in the U.S. Although social media promotion was in full swing, I can’t say that many in the U.S. knew about the release (of all places, there was a mention on NPR. Guess they know their target audience?!). It was actually difficult to find at major retailers in my suburban Boston neighborhood. Best Buy did not carry it. Didn’t see any at my local Walmart. I had to go to my independent record store, Newbury Comics, to find it. Even they didn’t have the deluxe box set. Amazon.com did not offer day-of-release arrival. After I paid for one-day shipping, my box set arrived on Saturday.
I have mixed feelings about the release. Innocence + Experience is my favorite U2 tour to date, so I might be biased on a certain level. The editing was cleaned up from the HBO broadcast. The audio mix was also enhanced to capture more of the audience singing along. It felt more like I was at the show than showcasing the grandeur of the arena spectacle. This release is tailored for the U2 fan and crafted by a director who loves the band.
The Blu-ray material looks and sounds stunning. The band took advantage of the best recording technology to capture the tour and it shows. If you are buying the release for the concert alone, it is worth it. One of my favorite features of the concert was the inclusion of “The Fly” with the flurry of activity going on beneath the stage for the changeover. Between Bono’s hair and makeup refresh (yes, there’s makeup), Edge’s chiropractic adjustment, Larry actually having a smile and Adam’s wink before heading back on stage, it gives a brief insider’s perspective. I had a good laugh seeing Bono being wheeled in an office chair to his next position. Can’t trust him not to trip, I suppose.
My only complaint about the concert footage is two continuity editing errors. The first occurs during “I Will Follow” where Bono leans over his mic stand, then the footage quickly cuts to him at a different part of the stage already spraying the audience with his water bottle. The second is during “Bad” where Adam’s shirtless and wearing his white jacket, then the scene cuts to him from the previous night wearing his black-and-white T-shirt. Those were obvious upon first viewing and could have been easily cleaned up.
I have mixed feelings about the bonus material on the more deluxe versions of the Paris release. I was pleased to see “Out Of Control” and “Electric Co.” because the second song in the standard tour set list was dropped for time due to the HBO broadcast. The Gavin Friday “Cedarwood Road” piece is a wonderful addition to the historical narrative. It’s also nice to have the music videos that go along with the 2013-2015 Songs Of Innocence era.
However, it missed the mark by not having any documentary or behind-the-scenes footage of the recording of the album or the engineering behind the tour. Most of the recent U2 concert releases have included someone taking you behind the scenes to talk about the technology that brought the tour together, the advances in sound and stage design, and the like. U2 - 360 At The Rose Bowl had “Squaring The Circle”; U2 Live From Chicago included “Beyond The Tour”; Elevation 2001: U2 Live From Boston featured “The Making Of.” This tour revolutionized audio and video design, but the DVD included nothing about it. Also missing was the History of Punk Rock intermission video. As much as it was a buzzkill between the innocence and experience acts during the show, the footage served as a very important piece of U2’s history because the band was born from punk. The context ties together why “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” leads off the show. If the band went through the effort to include the other featured videos during the show, then why omit this one?
Also missing is the historical context behind the “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Raised By Wolves” and “Until The End Of The World” trinity, as well as the storytelling behind the books Bono rips up, kicks and throws, and the debris coming out of the sky.
The other brief videos in the bonus features feel like teases. “The Future Better Hurry Up” is just a brief collection of small clips edited together without a lot of context. The director’s commentary for the Woody Harrelson version of “Song For Someone” does not offer a great deal of storytelling insight or context. Hamish Hamilton’s insight into how he shot the show was interesting but felt way too short after all the effort that went into it. I appreciated the quick glimpses into his 100-page-plus director’s shoot manual, but once again this could have been an opportunity to explore what it actually took to bring that production to the audience.
Given that the super deluxe box set three DVDs include all versions of the release, it just isn’t worth the $124.98 unless you are a collection completist. The bonus tchotchkes in the super deluxe box set aren’t worth the extra $100. Plus, the digital download code found with this version is good for only a one-time download, so make sure to save it so you can watch across multiple devices. For me, the only thing of real value in the box set was the 64-page booklet, a nice companion piece that lets us in on a few secrets of the tour, such as how instrumental Irish playwright Conor McPherson was in crafting Bono’s “Bullet The Blue Sky” rant and collaborating on the Innocence, Experience and Transcendence acts of the show. McPherson writes about how he was summoned by Bono to come to Vancouver to assist them with the storytelling after Es Devlin told the band they needed a playwright to help them. Upon arrival, he found a band asking a great deal of questions and running out of time to produce the answers for the show. He describes each band member’s role in the process. My favorite was his description of Larry: “Larry is the band’s built-in bull***t detector.” He goes on to write, “If U2 fans have a worldwide union, its shop steward is Larry. It’s like he feels personally answerable to them. You can’t help remembering that he started this band — and no one is going to make it look bad on his watch.”
This was a good opportunity for U2 to include some additional behind-the-scenes footage for the extra $100 cost, such as the Davis Guggenheim-directed tour documentary. McPherson refers to it in the booklet. Fans knew about it because of the press release from HBO in July 2015. This release would have been the natural one for its inclusion.
Overall, the timing of this release feels rushed and could have been planned a bit better. However, the technical quality of the end result makes buying the Blu-ray well worth it because the concert experience is quite enjoyable. It is beautifully directed and the footage is gorgeous. It’s hard not to compare it against other band releases, and for that reason fans may be disappointed in the bonus content. I was glad that Hamish Hamilton and Willie Williams did a Q&A at a U2.com private screening of the DVD ahead of the release because they were able to give a bit more context to why Paris was chosen as the recording location (pragmatic logistics, really) and a bit more insight into the production challenges.
The rumor mill is all abuzz about the potential of a big U2 announcement on Monday via U2.com. Adam’s 20-second video clip on June 3 posted across the band’s social media accounts might be to blame for it. As with any rumor, your mileage may vary, and as of publication of this column, we’ve had no confirmation of anything. All I can tell you is that it reminded me of hearing the MTV tease for “The Fly” in 1991 ahead of Achtung Baby and realizing U2 has changed the game. I can’t get enough of that heavy guitar and drum loop, and I’m ready for what’s next. Bring on Songs Of Experience!
Paid members of U2.com are still awaiting their subscription package serigraph gift set. The most recent update posted in the Zootopia boards by one of the moderators said, “As of right now, there is no news. Keep your eyes on your email and on here. As soon as it starts shipping, there should be information in both places.”
And finally … I was surprised to see what was on Larry’s teleprompter during “Bad” in Paris. Does he need constant reminding that he was the one who gave the band members their jobs?
Any opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of @U2 as a whole.