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"The soul is much stronger than any technique. That's what we have." — Adam

U2: Musical masters of the visual medium

- December 11, 1993

by W. Blake Gray

U2's Zooropa tour redefines the visual language of rock concerts. The self-appointed rock band of the European Community deserves accolades for reaching such a demanding goal. However, there are some sacrifices.

The Generation X artistic information overload style of Zooropa, which ended this week in the Tokyo Dome after months in stadiums around the world, is awe-inspiring. But at some point late in the two-hour show, one can begin to feel a little numb.

Why? Don't alter the songs don't solo don't jam don't step out of sync don't revise the plan...

In short, don't make music. Make visuals. But, to be fair, U2's imagery is both technically and creatively advanced beyond any previous rock concert. It's like watching Laurie Anderson, in that the music serves only to heighten one's appreciation of the interesting things flashing by on the TV screens.

The band uses its 34 on-stage TV screens, including seven big multi-screens, to create, some amazing images. The show opens with a wonderful optical illusion, in which lead singer Bono goose-steps in silhouette in front of one big screen showing snow, and that image is projected on another screen while all the others around show the same snow. From a distance, it's unclear which is live and which is, well, live.

Most of the show is like that. Many bands now use big-screen TVs to project images and messages in their shows, but U2 demonstrates artistic mastery of the medium. Bono, holding a camcorder at his own face while spinning in a circle, provides a sweaty Brian DePalma-style video of himself during the appropriately-titled "Even Better Than The Real Thing." Bono sings along with a Lou Reed video vocal on "Satellite of Love." Perhaps most interesting, Bono sings half Of "Daddy Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car" from a backstage dressing room by live remote, as he applies the finishing touches to his Mephistopheles makeup.

It's a lot of fun to watch Bono do this, Bono do that. But the music--as well as the other three band members--has been de-emphasized and suffers for it, even though the band includes a couple of songs without any video played from the front of a catwalk well out into the audience. This unique forward position is a remarkably intimate setting for a stadium concert: a small satellite stage, surrounded by a host of fans, with no amps or screens or other visual distractions. But their playing simply isn't heartfelt.

Again, to be fair, maybe that's the point. Much of U2's most recent material deals with the emotional emptiness of a hyper-technical society. They are both children and prophets of the technoliterate age. The Zooropa tour captures both incarnations.

Early in the show, slogans flash past, with two messages lingering: "Everything you know is wrong," and "Watch more TV." Theband is one more group of swaggering techie know-it-alls with neat toys.

Later on, after a series of slower songs in which once-faithful Bono tries unsuccessfully to recapture his ability to preach musically from the unappointed catwalk, the neglected main stage flashes, pops and buzzes angrily, and Bono wanders dazedly back to it, signifying there is no escape.

His tired Mephisto, in cute red horns and a ridiculously overwrought gold lame outfit with huge sparkly gold highheels, is a clever representation of the perils of stardom. "Look what you've done to me," he says in a strained voice, as ersatz cash fired from stageside cannons gloats to the stage. "You've made me famous and I thank you."


© Daily Yomiuri, 1993. All rights reserved.

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