Monday, 26 October 2009

Tour At the Rose Bowl to U2 360

The U.S. leg to U2 closed of their massive 360° Tour in front of a record crowd last night, and the experience was nothing short of an extravagant spectacle. 96,000 people descended on the beautiful little town of Pasadena on Sunday, obliterating the 20,000 parking spaces by morning and causing the major transit lines to run overtime. I had refused to believe there was an actual subway in Los Angeles until I was riding it out of the station with the fan masses, but it's very real, and was very packed with Bono disciples yesterday.
The gates of the Rose Bowl opened nearly an hour after the listed 5 p.m. doors time, which led to desperate bottlenecking that would've turned massively fatal at the drop of a hat, had someone screamed "fire" or "bomb" or "Fergie pissed her pants onstage again!" Openers Black Eyed Peas brought their anthemics up to stadium level in pro fashion, recruiting special guest Slash to play "Sweet Child O' Mine" to the squealing delight of the crowd. The former Gunner wasn't the only famous face at the bowl, however; other stars in attendance included Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor, Paris Hilton, J.J. Abrams, Chris O'Donnell, Cindy Crawford and Michael Bay.

Of course, the biggest spectacle - what apparently justifies spending in excess of $300 million without turning a dime of profit - is the Claw, a giant, spider-like contraption that stands 170 feet tall, looks like a giant spaceship and is completely distracting as a stage prop. It's neat to look at, but when one considers that they've played to 3 million fans and are still in the hole, it begs the question: what's the point? Is the goal to cram as many people as they can into arenas? If so, U2 certainly succeeded.

But what about the music? Aside from the fact that the set was unreasonably heavy on newer material, I was four rows from the floor, and for all the hype about rotating platforms and "intimate" experiences courtesy of the Claw, I've had more intimate music moments watching YouTube. In fact, the show was broadcast on YouTube (and filmed for a future DVD as well), and those at their computers likely had far better a concertgoing encounter than anyone in the stadium that wasn't on the general-admission floor. Sure, the spectacle and energy of the staggeringly massive Rose Bowl crowd doesn't translate through a computer screen, but the songs didn't hit nearly as hard as they could've - for the simple fact that it seemed they (particularly Bono) were playing up more to the cameras than to the audience itself.

U2 felt like a company. They didn't strike me as a band trying to reach an emotional apex with their audience. Is this the price of a band constantly trying to outdo their own gimmicks? Is it truly better for millions of people to share an experience if that very experience is diminished by the grandiosity of it? The answer is no, and for all their noble efforts and seasoned showmanship, U2 just didn't pull it off.

All the same, the night was still full of beautiful moments. The snippet of Beethoven’s Ninth as the intro to “Get On Your Boots” was gorgeous, and a few lines from Daniel Lanois’ “The Maker” at the end of “Beautiful Day,” was memorable as well. The “Amazing Grace” lead-in to the deafening singalong “Where the Streets Have No Name,” as well as the uber-anthem "Sunday Bloody Sunday" didn't suffer from the grandiosity, but the general sense of spectatorship felt more like a football game than a concert. And in a climate where corporate generics are ripping the human experience out of life at every turn, what we need is intimate heart. You may still be able to find it on a U2 album, but certainly not beside 96,000 other fans, under a giant Claw.

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