What a month it’s been for me! I put about 1,200 miles on my car chasing U2 around. I can’t believe I made it to both of their only two concerts in 2016!
Here are some personal highlights.
Las Vegas, iHeartRadio Music Festival, Sept. 23, 2016
- With iHeart streaming the entire festival on the CW Network outlets, I hadn’t planned on doing my usual U2 concert Periscope stuff. But then the Tweets and messages came flooding in . . . . The CW had concluded its feed before U2 took the stage! So, at just a bit after 11 p.m. (Pacific Time) – extra batteries out, mic plugged in, warmup stretches completed – I logged on and started streaming. Judging by the amount of views (over 6,500!) it was something lots of folks wanted. I wish I could’ve responded to everyone who offered a thanks in return. It was my pleasure.
- I’ll be hearing a different quality in “Desire” for years to come. Opening with “the year of election,” the band roared onto the stage as if they’d already been there for 45 minutes. Even from my cheap seat at the top the arena, the force was substantial. Videos of Donald Trump boasting about his wealth were intermixed with scenes of casino tables and ancient religious symbols. The musical feast could’ve ended right there — just five minutes into the show — and I would’ve had plenty to digest.
- I gotta admit, I often go to a U2 concert thinking, “It’ll be fine if they leave out ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’ this time.” But once again, I was completely taken in by the power of the old workhorse, this time as video of Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” sermon spoke to us from 1968. A complete juxtaposition to Trump’s “the American Dream is dead,” MLK reminded the crowd, “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!” It was an electrifying moment in the arena.
- Lots of other great bands played before U2 took the final spot. I especially loved Sia. Standing on the side stage, most of the time out of the spotlight, she integrated music, video and dance in a seamless experience, placing her art at the center of attention. But aside from U2, Twenty One Pilots was the act that really captured my attention. This duo, composed of Tyler Joseph (vocals, keys, guitars) and Josh Dun (drums), combines rock and hip-hop into a high-energy beat filled with passion. Their lyrics are equally charged, tackling intimate themes of self-worth, doubt, duplicity and more. Donning masks, they embodied their Blurryface character, and Joseph scampered up scaffolding much the same as our favorite lead singer did in a younger life. I think U2 fans could easily find a contemporary counterpart in this upcoming band.
San Francisco, Dreamfest, Oct. 5, 2016
- My wife and I landed on the rail right in front of the Edge for this full-featured 90-minute gig. It was a perfect evening for an outdoor concert in the City by the Bay as 45,000 Dreamforce conferees enjoyed a break from their seminars. I was glad I found a killer set of diehard U2 fans to hang with that night, many of which I knew but had never met in person. “Hugs before handshakes!”
- First impression: Hey, that’s the outdoor Vertigo stage! Good to see you old friend! The last time we were together was in 2006 at Honolulu’s Aloha Bowl when the band wrapped up their tour with Pearl Jam. Appropriately for the San Francisco gig, U2 launched the concert with “Vertigo,” complementing its hit song with psychedelic swirls of color cascading from a massive high-def LED screen. The visuals were as bold as the music.
- Before the show, I chatted with Terry Lawless, U2’s under-the-stage-and-out-of-sight keyboard player (“Terryworld”). He gave me a little heads up: “These subs you’re standing in front of—you’ll definitely hear them on ‘Streets’ tonight.” He wasn’t joking. I can’t say I’ve ever heard U2 with that many watts pounding through that many subwoofers. My innards agree. I’m not sure how it sounded three football fields back, but from where I stood, the organ intro accompanying Edge’s 6/8 trademark rhythm on “Streets” was glorious!
- U2 offered another takedown of the “Candidate,” this time in “Bullet The Blue Sky.” I’ve written extensively about U2’s treatment of Trump, so I’ll keep it short here. It was a highly charged, very emotional piece pitting potential immigration restrictions against the Statue of Liberty, while bringing a wall of media, a crushing wave of visual and audio stimuli. And then Bono’s “run into the arms of America” melted into “The Hands That Built America,” finally resting with “Pride” and again calling upon the ghost of MLK. It all seemed so fitting for the city (and the song) where U2 once scrawled “Rock N Roll Stops The Traffic.” Magic again.
- This concert ended much better than the one in Vegas. Back at the iHeart festival, the band closed their mini show around midnight with an audience that seemed both tired from travel and distracted by the open-all-night vibe of nearby casinos. But in San Francisco, U2 had time to take us through the liturgy of a proper concert—they gathered us, challenged us, fed us and then sent us on our way. “With Or Without You” had the same somber, lullaby-like effect it always does on me. The tension. The peace. The end. Or is it? Nope, we all got to sing along to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” As we should.
- But . . . wait . . . Bono’s flagging Edge. One more? Yes, “David wrote this one,” says the lead singer. It’s “40” for their 40th anniversary! Absolutely frickin’ perfect.
Bono, flashlight in hand: “We give thanks to you for following us on this journey. Sing a joyful noise unto the Lord—that’s what we call rock ’n’ roll. Try it! ”
Crowd: “How long / to sing this song / How long . . . .”
Bono: “Turn the lights off, Willie!”
Then Larry laughs as he finishes his final beats with Bono shining the high-intensity beam in his face.
Before I put this OTR away, I want to mention a few humanitarian initiatives. Edge showed up on U2’s social media supporting Mencap, the UK’s leading learning disability charity. This weekend he posted a picture of himself wearing a shirt with the caption, “HERE I AM,” and asking U2 fans to join him in the #HereIAm campaign, an effort to create awareness about the issue. The Huffington Post has published a wonderful summary of the movement, challenging some of the myths that people often believe about those with a learning disability.
Mencap doesn’t just create awareness; they also provide services for people with a learning disability. Someone that works for the organization is Ciara Lawrence-Evans. Does that name sound familiar? She is Edge’s cousin (their fathers are brothers). It was just a few years ago that they wrote an article together explaining their special relationship and his role as an Ambassador for the charity. I spoke with Ciara recently and she wanted @U2 readers to know that — as a person with a learning disability herself — our support is critical to help shape an appropriate understanding of people often ignored, bullied and marginalized. Proud to be Edge’s cousin, she’s even more proud, I think, to represent Mencap as a Campaign Support Officer, serving with the group’s activism team. Let’s make her proud of @U2 readers — go check out the campaign’s inspiring website at www.mencap.org.uk, or follow the #HereIAm and @mencap_charity on Twitter. I guarantee it will bring a smile to your face.
One more note about Edge’s shirt. If that slogan sounds familiar, it ought to. The “I am” theme has infiltrated U2’s music for decades. Not just a common grammatical construct, “I AM” is the name of God in the Hebrew Bible and gets alluded to in a myriad of U2 tunes. Listen for it in “Invisible” (“I am not invisible / I am here”), “All Because Of You” (“. . . I am”), “Lucifer’s Hands” (“You’re no longer in control of me / I am”), “Wire” (“Innocent and in a sense I am”) and indirectly in “Yahweh” (which translates from the Hebrew to “I AM”). And then there’s the enigmatic “Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce,” which some fans view as a cryptic scripture reference – If you know how to find your way around in the Bible, look up the first testament (uno), the second book (dos), the third chapter (tres) and the 14thverse (catorce). Right? I’m guessing our mad-scientist- Zen-Presbyterian guitar player came up with that one. Hmm, maybe, maybe not. Regardless of how you read it, this is a perfect shirt for Edge!
And don’t miss what Adam was doing last week. Lots of us zeroed in on his prediction of a spring album drop, but his real focus has been to give attention to the Walk In My Shoes campaign. On Oct. 10 he tweeted, “Supporting World Mental Health Awareness Week at St Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin.” Picking up where his mother left off after her death, Adam has been active in this cause since 2012. Learn more by following #wimsfm on Twitter.
Finally, it appears that the gene for socially conscious entrepreneurial ventures has been inherited by at least one of Bono’s children. On Oct. 13, Jordan Hewson, the founder of Speakable, launched a revolutionary way for readers to interact with important news stories. Her goal is that web-based media sources will place a simple button on their pages giving options for engaging topics at deeper levels, especially through activism and financial donations. It’s a brilliant idea, and I wish her and her company much success!
(c) @U2/Neufeld, 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.