I tend to believe that the way you respond to a concert DVD should directly correlate to how you felt about the actual concert, should you have attended said experience. For instance, when it comes to U2 I absolutely love the Zoo TV concert that first hit video back in the mid 90’s. Makes sense since that was the first U2 tour that I experienced and which left an indelible mark on my 15 year old self. The Popmart Live In Mexico set is a lot of sizzle, and while the ambition is there, the steak isn’t nearly as satiating as the previous tour. The various sets that captured the band’s tour in support of 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind show the band aiming to recapture their standing as the biggest band on the planet, but the lack of a cohesive set list has always marred that tour and the videos that came out of them for me.
It was on 2004’s Vertigo tour that U2 firmly and unequivocally were back on top, and both the Live In Chicago DVD and the stunning U23D film capture the absolute majesty of the band’s live performance. I saw four shows on that particular tour, and while they all featured similar set lists and show pieces, the passion behind the performances and the immaculately tailored set list made it U2’s finest since Zoo TV. Which brings us to the recently released U2 360 at The Rose Bowl, filmed last October in front of nearly 100,000 fans as the band toured in support of 2009’s No Line On The Horizon. With their open concept stage, U2 made a real point for this tour to make the people sitting in the worst seats in the building feel as involved in the concert as those right up against the stage. Having experienced U2 360 from both vantage points, I’d say they succeeded. But how does that live experience translate to home viewing?
Directed by Tom Kruger, the same man who directed U23D, and first streamed live on YouTube, this new DVD/Blu-Ray set looks and sounds great. It’s certainly the band’s most cinematic offering for the home market (U23D won’t be released for purchase until there’s a viable 3D home experience, so I’ve read”). There’s lots of great camera angles and movement and you truly feel the magnitude of the entire concert. You’re also placed right up onstage with the band with lots of close-ups, which gives you clear shots of the band smiling at one another throughout the performance. Love them or hate them, I think that moving into their fourth decade, it’s clear that U2 remains a band of friends and not co-workers like so many others have become. The sound is top notch, but it did leave me hoping that U2 would finally release a live album proper, since it’s been more than 20 years since Rattle and Hum.
Which brings us to the songs themselves, the meat of this particular live set. Since the tour coincided with the release of No Line Of The Horizon, it makes sense that the set would be full of tracks from that album. And while No Line…wasn’t the commercial success many expected it to be, there’s no question watching the crowd reaction that the song’s have legs. Highlight’s include “Magnificent”, a remixed version of “I Know I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”, the anthemic “Unknown Caller”, complete with lyrics supplied for audience singalong, and the show closing “Moment Of Surrender” (one of the band’s greatest moments from any album). As for the back catalgoue, usual set pieces like “Where The Streets Have No Name”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “Beautiful Day” and “Until The End Of The World” are mixed in with rarities like “The Unforgettable Fire”, “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” and “In A Little While”. While the songs are all strong, the DVD/Blu-Ray falls short in the same way that the live experience did in some ways.
The best U2 tours that I’ve seen (Zoo TV, Vertigo) are in many ways like multi-act plays that tell a story. In the case of the Vertigo tour, the third act allowed the band’s politics to be front and centre in a way that made sense (“Love and Peace Or Else” –> “Sunday Bloody Sunday” –>”Bullet The Blue Sky” is as perfect a three song set as the band could have). But during the U2 360 tour, I really couldn’t find the rhythmn or story. Rather, it was just a collection of the band’s songs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it really does pale compared to what they’ve achieved in the past. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Further to that, the band’s big political statements during “Walk On” and “One” seem forced in. There’s no lead up or flow; instead, they’re almost forced in so that there could be some sort of broader statement placed into the tour. It’s the sort of the thing that gives Bono haters (and fans who think of U2 as simply a pop band) reason to complain. While I’m all for the band waving the white flag for their causes, I wish they would have crafted a set list that would have led to these moments rather than just sort of forcing them in there.
In the end, I walked away from watching the U2 360 Blu-Ray the same way that I did from the tour. It’s highly enjoyable, with plenty of great performances and stunning visuals, but lacks that special something that made U2’s best tours so memorable.