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“He is a superb showman, but there is something more going on . . . Something to do with politics, kids, freshness and breakthrough. And love." — Joan Baez, on Bono's Live Aid dance

Column: off the record..., vol. 6-200


(Matt McGee is taking a few weeks off. Sherry Lawrence fills in with this week's OTR.)

First, congratulations to Marylinn and all who rooted for Pittsburgh with the Super Bowl. Myself, I was hoping to see Matt experience the joy of victory, but alas this was not the year for his beloved Seattle Seahawks. Matt: I'm sorry that you had to come in last place in this year's U2-themed "One Yard Closer" (to scoring) Fantasy Football league and have your team lose in the Super Bowl. Dang!

On a related Super Bowl topic, nice to see the Rolling Stones take a page out of U2's book and include an inner section to their stage design for the halftime show. I much rather preferred trying to get into U2's Bomb Shelter as opposed to the Stones' tongue. Also, I swear that every time I look at Charlie Watts, I have a time warp moment as he reminds me of what Larry Mullen's future holds.

My first concert after the Portland Vertigo tour closer was a few weeks ago when Billy Joel came to town. He is one of those American musicians whose songs you know simply because you've always heard them on the radio. After coming off of seeing U2 so many times in one year, it was interesting to see Billy's stage designed similarly to U2's with a round center, along with the similar teleprompter system. During the show, he shook things up for the longtime fans in the audience when he pulled out a tune called "Zanzibar." This would be like U2 pulling out "Wire" from The Unforgettable Fire. The gig made me realize just how much deeper U2 could have dug into their material for the Vertigo tour setlists. Even though Billy has about a decade's jump start on U2, they have released similar amounts of music.

Larry has said on several occasions that he never wanted to do a "greatest hits" tour. During the final night of rehearsals in Los Angeles, the U2 fans were separated from the radio winners as a way to see what songs resonated with which part of the audience to try to create a more fulfilling experience for the ticket holders. It was designed as a test of what the audience would want to hear. Granted, as the tour went on the tried-and-true war-horse songs started to feel fresh and new, however the setlist still felt safe. Over 75% of the songs were found on the Greatest Hits albums or were singles on their latest two releases. The remaining 25% were the war-horse songs played off-and-on over the past 26 years. The last week of the tour was more of a countdown to the tour's conclusion and less like a celebration of achievement. While I understand the frustration of creating a setlist that appeals to the 90% of the audience who only knows U2 based on what they hear on the radio (like how I am with Billy Joel), there's just something special about pulling out a gem like "A Sort of Homecoming," "If God Would Send His Angels," "One Tree Hill," "So Cruel" and so on. For a band with an extensive back catalog and the technology to support more flexibility, I hope they can shake things up for the next three months.

As the band gears up for the fourth-and-final leg of the Vertigo tour, there has been so many misuses of Edge's and Bono's quotes about this being the band's last tour, which Matt has talked about in previous OTR columns. The latest addition to this conspiracy comes from Larry in his interview on U2.com: "I think, if I'm to be honest, it's having done 100-plus shows and I feel like we played every show like it might be our last and every time the audience responded like it might be their last U2 show." Now, there's a point of playing the show like it's your last -- it means that you're giving it everything you've got for the audience. As long as we're honestly sharing, the Portland show for me felt like it would be my last U2 show of this kind in the sense that I firmly believe that this is the last major huge tour U2 will stage. (Note: the opinion here is purely mine and does not come from anywhere but my gut). 

This is a tough thing to say, but let's look at the facts: Three out of the four band members have families with children. Bono has been vocal from the stage about wanting to spend more time with his kids. Larry's the type of dad who will support the local boys football team (they get thanked in liner notes). Edge has taken great steps to protect the privacy of his family. It is my gut feeling that the band will go back to the studio when they're ready, and enjoy the company of their families for a good-long time. They have proven that they can remain relevant in today's music business, they can create music to be played on any type of radio station, and they can continue to build a fan base that spans at least three generations. It is my belief that when they decide to tour again, it'll be more selective: major-market mini-tours along the lines of what Van Morrison currently does. As I said, this is just my gut feeling.

And finally, speaking of gut feelings - this should not allow anyone's gut to feel good.


© @U2/Lawrence, 2006.