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Column: off the record..., vol. 13-553

@U2, February 10, 2013
By: Donal Murphy


off the record, from @U2

For those who missed it, Ireland's RTE 1 TV channel broadcast highlights of the Electric Burma event, a tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi that took place in Dublin on June 18. The hourlong program included poetry readings, music and Riverdance performers. I was lucky enough to attend -- it was a very moving event. Bono sang "Walk On" accompanied by Damien Rice, who did a remarkably impressive job of filling in for The Edge, absent due to the recent passing of his mother. The duo also performed "One."

Rice, no stranger to performing U2 cover versions, appeared on the Q magazine Achtung Baby covers album in late 2011 singing "One." At the time, a fellow @U2 staffer said, "I finally listened to this. I thought I was trapped in an elevator ride to hell." That assessment was not far off, to be honest, but the Electric Burma version of "Walk On" is different -- and excellent. A DVD/Blu-ray of the event is expected, but no release date has been confirmed. The RTE player link to the one-hour program of highlights is unfortunately no longer available, but a brief teaser of the film is available online.

Last April I blogged about a very enjoyable U2 fan reunion event in Dublin. A major part of that weekend was a U2 walking tour led by Dave Griffith. I didn't mention at the time that Griffith had started working on a book detailing U2 locations around Ireland. I am delighted to hear that all his hard work has paid off and he has a provisional April publication date for the co-authored book, Rock Atlas U2. It's now listed on

I helped Dave with a few items in the book, in particular the Cork U2 locations, and was thrilled to be involved, albeit in a small way. From the drafts I've seen, I can say this is the most detailed, comprehensive guide to U2-related places in Ireland that exists.

With no official word of a new U2 album, but a good chance of a release later this year, my thoughts have turned to the next tour.

Last October when I traveled to the U.K. to catch Radiohead on tour, I made several comparisons to how U2 tickets are sold, and how gig lines are organized. Let me preface this by stating that the comparison is based on U2 doing an indoor tour. The logistics of an outdoor tour are completely different.

First, Radiohead has a fan club website, which is free to sign up for. OK, it's not the best website around, but does include regular personal postings by the actual band members, including occasional links to hear unreleased material. More important, the band has a fan club ticket sale in advance of public ticket sales. For the presale, buyers had to name the people attending the gig at the time of purchase, and no physical tickets were issued. The public sale was almost entirely paperless as well. The ticket purchasing process came with a warning that a photo ID would be required along with email confirmation to gain access to the venue.

Curious about the effects of this innovative approach, I regularly checked online auction sites, and a remarkably small number of tickets were for sale. The band almost completely eliminated scalpers because of the way it sold the tickets.

Then came an even better ticket-selling feature. Initially, I was going to the first gig only, and bought my tickets without a problem through the fan club presale. When I changed my mind and decided to go to all three UK gigs, the tickets were sold out. The band, however, came up with a way for fan-club members to sell their tickets (at face value only) on a website called The Ticket Trust.

So I was able to purchase tickets for the second and third gigs on this website at face value. I did have to check several times over a few weeks before I was successful; tickets were sold almost as soon as they went up. The website took payment from the buyer and passed it on to the seller.

On gig day, I arrived at the venue with email confirmation and photo ID. Fanclub staff checked the ID and made sure the names matched. A separate priority line was available for fan club ticket holders, and we were let inside the arena first. It was the most comfortable, well-organized gig line experience I have been through.

I cannot overstate the importance of the fan club staff on the ground at the venue. Several times, I spotted one woman working for the fan club at the front of the line talking with security people. This might sound insignificant, but I was glad to see that someone was available to help with problems. Local security people are not always aware of the overall system.

The band and promoter clearly put a lot of thought and effort into the system, which was nearly flawless. Many acts have successfully used paperless tickets, so that method isn't new. But additional features -- naming those attending at the point of purchase, checking photo IDs, creating a priority fan-club line, and offering a transparent, fair method of reselling or buying fan-club tickets at face value -- made this a truly unique experience.

The Radiohead gigs brought me to the O2 in London for the first time. It's a superb venue with the capacity for handling long lines -- under cover, as the actual venue is within the wider O2 complex. In Europe, due to varying temperatures, relief from the elements can make a big difference. It's a venue U2 have yet to play, and if the next U2 trek turns out to be an indoor tour, I hope this London venue will be on their schedule.

I also hope U2 will perform at Dublin's O2, which has not hosted the full band since the indoor venue was rebuilt in 2008. It's one of the few arenas in the world of its size, and designed specifically for live gigs. Shaped like an amphitheater, the O2 Dublin is not a multipurpose indoor venue such as Madison Square Garden in New York, Earls Court in London, TD Garden in Boston or Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

The stage is located on the longest side of the building, and because of that design, the farthest seats away are just 60 meters (about 200 feet) from the stage. Many Irish fans hope U2 will play here. They've been very patient -- it's been more than 23 years since U2 played a full set at an indoor venue in Ireland.

Finally, for those who might have missed it, Amp Visual, which has designed many U2 album covers, tour programs, etc., recently published a very interesting blog post titled "U2 x 5 hidden things."


(c) @U2, 2013.

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