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"I feel that God would have more time for [atheists] than for most who are part of a religion, who seem so odd to me, or doped." — Bono

MacPhisto At 25



Twenty-five years ago, a new identity emerged from the static of Zoo TV in Rotterdam. Bono’s transformation to the devilish character of MacPhisto, resplendent in gold lamé and matching thick-heeled boots, ruffled lounge shirt, panto makeup, slicked-back hair and scarlet red devil horns, startled many attending the fourth leg of the Zoo TV tour. A quarter-century later, American audiences are having a similar reaction to a more 21st-century alter-ego version of Bono during the Experience + Innocence tour. While MacPhisto never formally performed to North American audiences, he was a familiar character thanks to the Zoo TV Live From Sydney pay-per-view special in 1993 and the accompanying full-length concert DVD released in 1994.

Bono had morphed into several different characters around the time of Achtung Baby, most notably The Fly and Mirrorball Man. In 1993, this new persona, MacPhisto, was in a league all his own as he phoned people like former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of the former fascist Prime Minister of Italy Benito Mussolini. Some nights, he’d phone a taxi company, KLM airlines and others. (Examples from 1993’s Zoo TV Zooropa and Zoomerang tours can be found at the bottom of this article.) Through his banter during the encore, MacPhisto would entertain using rhetoric and humor to point out the selfish nature of the human condition. With topics ranging from political allegiance to instant gratification, MacPhisto pointed out the absurdities of them all to an adoring audience there for a U2 show. Once he even gave the Archbishop of Canterbury a call. “Rock & roll -- it's the new religion, rock & roll. I have a great interest in religion. Some of my best friends were religious leaders. The ayatollah, the pope, even the Archbishop of Canterbury -- I think he's fabulous. They're doing my work for me...Nobody's going to church anymore. Shall I give the archbishop a call?"

A bit tongue-in-cheek, Bono would say as MacPhisto, “Look what you’ve done to me. You’ve made me very famous and I thank you.” He would appear at the start of “Desire” during the Zooropa leg in Europe, and “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car” during the Zoomerang leg in Australasia of the Zoo TV tour, and stay in costume for the entirety of the encore. The peculiar voice and banter would fade as the encore continued, and by the end there was an emotional Bono who looked like he went through hell and back.

MacPhisto became an important way to channel what Bono really wanted to say from the stage, but knew he’d be crucified for in the media by taking such stances. That was made a little clearer as MacPhisto became the star of the band’s video for 1995’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” from the Batman Forever soundtrack. The lyric “They want you to be Jesus, They’ll go down on one knee, But they’ll want their money back if you’re alive at 33” shows The Fly and MacPhisto about to duel in the video with Bono strapped into a hospital bed as it appears the transformation becomes more complete. The comic-book style video felt like the MacPhisto era had run its course. There is also a brief cameo in the video that features C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, where Screwtape is the Devil.

Paul McGuinness said MacPhisto was his favorite character during an online interview with U2 fans in 1997, “MacPhisto who came from lots of different directions – I don’t know if you know the character of Archie Rice in John Osborne’s ‘The Entertainer’ – I think MacPhisto derived a lot from him. I thought MacPhisto was terrific and I definitely miss him.”

MacPhisto has been described as “a cross between Noel Coward and Mephistopheles” by Melody Maker. The Edge said in Q magazine, “It’s an extension of the Mirrorball Man, telly evangelist, second-hand car salesman character that Bono developed on the indoor tour. It’s like that but…weirder. … We didn’t like it being comedic. We wanted it to be threatening and a bit frightening. Sad even.” Bono told Rolling Stone, “For me, MacPhisto is sort of sad, bad, not so funny but might be. It's like taking the rock jerk that the Fly is and -- if you're going to play him -- take him to his logical conclusion, which is when he's fat and playing Las Vegas. It's a bookend to the funky and fucked-up swagger of the Fly.”

MacPhisto never truly went away. His image would pop up from time to time, mainly in the center of Bono’s bullhorn. He also appeared as an easter egg in the Achtung Baby uber-deluxe 20th Anniversary box set. It came as a surprise by many to see MacPhisto in the flesh with new eyebrows and more defined cheekbones during Jimmy Kimmel’s (RED) special in 2016. He joined others for the satirical tune “We’re Going To Hell.” Now, in 2018, we have a dressed-down MacPhisto in animated form during the intermission video for “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” complete with a Screwtape Letters call-back (Wormword & MacPhisto, Inc: Bespoke Atonement Services), and in a digitized form as Bono transforms into him before “Acrobat.” Scott Calhoun details the additional influential linkages as it pertains to the “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” intermission video, and the transformation into MacPhisto.

This new millennium MacPhisto now takes credit for the KKK’s lack of “silly costumes,” incessant surveillance impacting our lives, and the rise of hate that has infiltrated the culture. He’s said so far on the current tour, “When you don’t believe I exist, that’s when I do my best work.” His cultural commentary is as sharp as his pointed teeth, and the shocked reaction to his rhetoric is similar to seeing his image for the first time on the 80-foot double-sided screen. A few U2 fans have commented, “This is not the MacPhisto we want, it’s the MacPhisto we deserve” after the tour’s opener in Tulsa, Oklahoma. MacPhisto’s resurgence, much like “Acrobat”’s inclusion in the setlist, caters to the die-hard U2 fans. This sinister second coming of MacPhisto 25 years later is a show-stopper and should not be taken lightly. He’s a hard character to break out of, so Bono’s resurrection of him is a risky one. It will be an interesting few months to see what path MacPhisto takes during the Experience + Innocence tour.

MacPhisto appearances during the 1993 Zooropa and Zoomerang legs of the Zoo TV tour

Thanks to all the people who uploaded these to YouTube. If you happen to have either audio or video from of the missing shows, please let us know.

May 9, 1993 – Rotterdam, Netherlands
May 10, 1993 – Rotterdam, Netherlands
May 11, 1993 – Rotterdam, Netherlandss
May 15, 1993 – Lisbon, Portugal
May 19, 1993 – Oviedo, Spain
May 22, 1993 – Madrid, Spain 
May 26, 1993 – Nantes, France 
May 29, 1993 – Werchter, Belgium 
June 2, 1993 – Frankfurt, Germany
June 4, 1993 – Munich, Germany 
June 6, 1993 – Stuttgart, Germany
June 9, 1993 – Bremen, Germany
June 12, 1993 – Cologne, Germany
June 15, 1993 – Berlin, Germany
June 23, 1993 – Strasbourg, France
June 26, 1993 – Paris, France
June 28, 1993 – Lausanne, Switzerland
June 30, 1993 – Basel, Switzerland
July 2, 1993 – Verona, Italy
July 3, 1993 – Verona, Italy
July 6, 1993 – Rome, Italy
July 7, 1993 – Rome, Italy
July 9, 1993 – Naples, Italy
July 12, 1993 – Turin, Italy
July 14, 1993 – Marseille, France
July 17, 1993 – Bologna, Italy
July 18, 1993 – Bologna, Italy
July 23, 1993 – Budapest, Hungary
July 27, 1993 – Copenhagen, Denmark 
July 29, 1993 – Oslo, Norway
July 31, 1993 – Stockholm, Sweden
August 3, 1993 – Nijmegen, Netherlands
August 7, 1993 – Glasgow, Scotland
August 8, 1993 – Glasgow, Scotland
August 11, 1993 – London, England
August 12, 1993 – London, England
August 14, 1993 – Leeds, England
August 18, 1993 – Cardiff, Wales
August 20, 1993 – London, England
August 21, 1993 – London, England
August 24, 1993 – Cork, Ireland
August 27, 1993 – Dublin, Ireland
August 28, 1993 – Dublin, Ireland

November 12, 1993 – Melbourne, Australia
November 13, 1993 – Melbourne, Australia
November 16 1993 – Adelaide, Australia
November 20, 1993 – Brisbane, Australia
November 26, 1993 – Sydney, Australia
November 27, 1993 – Sydney, Australia
December 1, 1993 – Christchurch, New Zealand
December 4, 1993 – Auckland, New Zealand
December 9, 1993 – Tokyo, Japan
December 10, 1993 – Tokyo, Japan

Want to know more? A fan has created one of the most comprehensive sites about MacPhisto I've ever seen. Full call transcripts, photos and more. Check it out!


©@U2/Lawrence, 2018