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Volume 91, Issue 32
Friday, October 24, 1997
Pop U2 'em
By Jamie Lynn
Isn't it frustrating when your favourite band, one which has always stood for liberating moral principles and unyielding social consciousness, sells out and tours the world with a giant mirror ball lemon? So what the hell is up with U2 these days?
Lately it has been rather trendy to hear from many of the forever-stagnant '80s music fans who think U2 has become too commercial. They ask themselves why can't the band just make the Joshua Tree again. These same fans are equally baffled with the rather extravagant Pop Mart Tour, which rolls into SkyDome Sunday for a two-night stand.
Well, a good number of these fans are very astute in realizing that U2 haven't made an album that sounds like the Joshua Tree in quite a while and thank God for that! While Pop may not be the most accessible album U2 has ever made, its song writing and innovation cannot be matched. From the fuzz-techno of "Discotheque," to the earnest political yearning of the current single "Please," this is easily U2's most varied effort to date, and remains one of the year's most interesting albums.
Slagging off U2, however, is just a bit too easy. U2 hasn't lost heart, passion or politics, the group just became a little bit better at disguising it. They're a huge rock band with a full pallet of wonderful songs, which is complimented by an ass-kicking stage show. They've just decided to take themselves a little less seriously than they used to.
With Pop Mart, a tour that I had the good fortune of seeing this spring, U2 has perfectly bridged pop culture commentary, with a very genuine delivery of a wide range of their songs. Images, such as those of an ape evolving into a man pushing a shopping cart, are not those found at most stadium rock shows. Bono had once described Pop Mart as the band trying to "eat the corporate monster before it eats us." A sort of stealing from the thieves, if you will.
While the band did admittedly have a bit of a rough go of things on their opening night in Las Vegas, they have since found their "tour legs" and have come to grips with their own very complex renditions of these songs. In fact, at great expense to the band, U2 recently brought their Pop Mart show to Sarajevo. It was described as a very rare and united moment, as it was the first major event for this war-torn city since long before the war.
Fans of the music should look past the giant video wall and 100 foot golden arch to see the truly earnest presentation offered on the stage that actually manages to top the former Zoo TV's cable television brilliance. The songs from Pop, along with the many gems from album's past, are able to demonstrate both fantastic proficiency and current relevancy. The sarcastic kitsch of a giant lemon may provide for the ultimate Spinal Tap moment, but then hearing "One" set to a backdrop of Keith Haring's stick figure animation provides for an indescribable moment.
While admittedly, the price of a U2 concert is far from a bargain, one has to respect the fact they are the first band to ever put on a stadium rock show of this size and not use corporate sponsorship. This is especially credible when a washed-up and innovationally-starved band like the Rolling Stones have the audacity to charge over $65.00 for their current shows, while proudly accepting Sprint as their tour sponsor. In fact, Sprint paid the band an additional $5 million just to have the direct rights to hundreds of thousands of tickets. The catch is that only Sprint customers, or those who switch to Sprint, will have access to these tickets. How does Jagger sleep at night?
Obviously, U2 are a hugely successful group of superstars, but it doesn't mean they have sold out. They are willing to adapt and stay relevant within a changing musical environment. As Bono once put it, "if music doesn't change, it becomes folk music." By embracing their old tunes and promoting their current music, Pop Mart becomes a fascinating affair.
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