Believe me when I tell you that, with no exaggeration, seeing U2 in 1992 changed my life. As someone who has gone to hundreds of concerts over 20 years, catching the band three times on the Zoo TV tour had an indelible effect on how I rate and remember live shows. Back in 1992, the band created a stadium experience that was designed to involve the audience, whether they were on the floors or at the very back of the crowd in the furthest seat possible.
From the opening of Zoo Station to the Hendrix-like guitar solo from The Edge during Bullet The Blue Sky to the closing, hymn-like combination of Love is Blindness/Can’t Help Falling In Love, Zoo TV was the perfect concert. As a result, every show I’ve subsequently attended have had to measure up to what I saw when I was just 15 years old. Few have. Zoo TV was all about connection. The connection between band and audience. The connection between bandmates as musicians and friends.
I wonder how many artists of U2’s stature can say they’re still friends. The Rolling Stones are more about a business arrangement between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards rather than a friendship or the need to make music. I highly doubt they call each other to have a chat or vacation together. Same with The Who, though I give credit to Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey for actually getting down the to business of making new music with 2007’s Endless Wire (possibly the best album of the past few decades from any artist of that 60’s generation). While the Obama fundraiser that the surviving members of The Grateful Dead reunited for in the Fall of 2008 will go down as a highlight show of my life, I didn’t believe in the sincerity of the band as they played their Spring tour. Meanwhile, I hope and pray that my favourite progressive rock band Yes doesn’t reunite with their currently ousted lead singer Jon Anderson, since I believe that their current line-up with a cover band frontman taking his place is more relevant and dynamic then they have been in years. The three core members still on stage in that band today are clearly friends with mutual musical respect and it shows.
The best live musical experiences come when the artist is real and genuine. That’s what I saw at the two U2 shows I attended this past week at Rogers Centre in Toronto. There the band were motivated by transcendence. By not only playing at their best, but by being even better than they were the day before. The beautiful thing about Larry Mullen Jr., Adam Clayton, Bono, and The Edge is that their 30+ years of friendship is so apparent on stage that they can’t help but be inspired. That’s still one of the amazing things about U2. The four of them are friends first. The need to live up to the expectations of your friends or your family can be a great motivator and at both shows I experienced it was clear that U2 are still inspired by one another. A smile, a hug, a pat on the back – it was all there on display and helped make the concerts some of the best I’ve seen from the band.
Of course we all go to concerts looking for different things. Some people just want to hear the hits. Some want to get loaded and annoy the people infront or beside them. When I go to a U2 concert, I want to be taken away by the band I rate as the third most important in the history of popular music (behind only The Beatles and Led Zeppelin). Multiple times at Rogers Centre it happened, ironically occurring during songs like Unknown Caller, Magnificent, and show closer Moment of Surrender, all from their latest album No Line On The Horizon. It’s a record that’s perceived as a (commercial) letdown but one that also features songs that allow for those sing-a-long moments of transcendence.
20 years ago The Rolling Stones were in their mid to late 40’s and on the road with their Steel Wheels tour. The press roasted them at first, referring to the band as geriatric rockers and mocking the notion of an aging band on the road (the Steel Wheelchairs tour was a popular critique). U2 are now in the same place and nobody is mocking them. They’re are unarguably in a better position than the Stones were at the same phase in their career. Whereas back then (and to this day) the Stones are looking to rock the house, U2 aspires to do more. To mean more, to both their fans and themselves.
Mission accomplished. Again.