Just balance on the fence
Don't try and make sense”
Just balance on the fence
Don't try and make sense”
This lyric from U2’s song Numb, sums up quite perfectly the bands video releases. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of the Irish rock band U2. Musical geniuses. Bigger than the Beatles. It is, however, a love-hate relationship. I love their live performances, better than the studio versions because this is a band that really discovers their songs during a performance. The hate comes in with their concert video releases.
Under a Blood Red Sky (1983), their first major live release can be forgiven simply because it was the first. The only thing it really suffers from is the use of the wrong filters for the lighting (which causes streaks across the screen every time the camera pans).
From there I feel like Alex, slowly descending into hell for a bottle of milk.
There’s no denying the success of these concert videos and that whatever formula the marketing department, producers, etc. they follow hasn’t hurt their success. However, I would argue it has hurt their integrity.
Everyone is aware of the disastrous Rattle and Hum movie (1988). Directed by Phil Joanou, he actually suggested they hire Martin Scorsese or Jonathan Demme to direct the film. Why didn’t they? Apparently it was the band that chose to film in black and white as well. I understand that the Joshua Tree had a black and white theme to it, but this band is just so colorful. If you want to be arty and avant-garde, then film all the little bits in black and white. Keep the concert footage in color. And the few songs they did film in color – what a laugh. As soon as the camera pans away from the red background of Where the Streets Have No Name, the so-called color portions of the concert look like they were filmed in blue and white. It’s as though they used search lights from police helicopters to light the damn stage. And what happened when it was finally released on DVD? Were there any extras? Nooooo. Why would fans want to see Trip Through Your Wires live, One Tree Hill or Mothers of the Disappeared? Why would fans want to see anything from the Unforgettable Fire album (other than Bad and Pride).
Let me guess. They were worried about the quality of such tracks. They just could not bring themselves to put on these tracks that would undoubtedly have been of lower quality since they were not planned to be filmed. Yes that’s right. Poor quality. I would at this point refer you back to my criticism of the color portions of the concert: ‘It’s as though they used search lights from police helicopters to light the damn stage.’
“Everything You Know is Wrong.”
Zoo TV – Live in Sydney (1993) appeared to have been a bright shining star. A complete revamp of the band and a far cry from Joanou’s Trabant wreck. This is the very first time we actually get to experience the band. The film is magnificent. The DVD extra’s is where the real disappointment begins.
All tracks played on that night appeared on the video, with the exception of Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World. Yes that’s right. You heard me correctly. Let’s just decide to drop a) one of the best songs on the album and b) one of the songs we won’t hear again. And why was it dropped? According to producer Ned O'Hanlon the concert was too long and needed to be cut for the video release. Really? Four minutes more? Was videotape that expensive? You could have ran the credits over the last song if that were the case. Perhaps it was too expensive, but now with the digital age, why not add it to the DVD release? Or why not cut Pride, New Years Day, Sunday Bloody Sunday? It’s not that I dislike these songs, its just that we’ve been seeing/hearing them live since 1983/1984.
Because of the nature of the Zoo TV Tour, there were cameras all over the stage capturing the action at EVERY SINGLE SHOW. Granted, when you film a concert, you actually have to use different lighting than what the show is using, so footage from other concerts would not look the same. But honestly, would fans rather see the Fan Confessional Booth, or the History of the Trabant car over Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, So Cruel and Ultraviolet (Light My Way)?
Flash-forward (fast forward?) to Mexico and the Popmart Tour (1997). This is the only U2 home video to date to contain a concert's complete setlist. Amazing! The producers finally got it right. So what do we get for extras? Seven alternate live versions of songs that appear in the main concert.
Of course they don’t add Do You Feel Loved, If God Would Send His Angels or Miami.
“I’m Sick of All of This Hanging Around.”
The Dark Years. Hamish Hamilton and beyond. If you enjoy things out of focus (and I don’t. If I did, I would simply remove my glasses), and you enjoy shots of things not easily recognized (is that a leg or a guitar neck?), then Hamish Hamilton is the director for you!
The DVD extra’s of the Elevation Tour’s live in Boston (2001) hits an all-time low. There are alternate camera feeds from a small recorder in Bono's trademark glasses, showing unique footage from the band while on and off stage. Unique. Nice choice of words. Do you know what happens when you jump around with a video camera? The image skips. So imagine a tiny device on someone’s glasses. And this someone is known for bouncing all over the stage. And the device isn’t even used throughout the entire concert. It just sounds cooler than it actually is.
And this release actually has bonus live tracks! What will they be? Peace on Earth? Wild Honey? When I Look at the World? Grace? Sweetest thing? Nope. Actually three songs we see in this concert filmed at other locations. Beautiful Day, Elevation, and Stuck in a Moment. If you’ve seen these songs once….
Did I say an all-time low with the last release? I take that back. Consider the venue in Chicago for the Vertigo Tour (2005).
"Party Girl" was performed both nights this concert was recorded; however it wasn’t included on the DVD. WHY? A song, a silly song, not played since their first concert video? Yeah, who needs it?
And here is why this DVD hits the absolute low: the extra’s come with Surveillance Cuts of 4 of the songs already in the concert. Or as U2.com describes: startling 'surveillance cuts' of the Chicago show. Filmed using four remotely controlled black and white infra-red surveillance cameras, the footage offers a totally different perspective on the show.
I mean, seriously? Who the hell thought this was cool? Who the hell cares? It is because of this stupid addition that blows my theory out of the water that they don’t want to release sub-quality material. Once again, you can’t release One Step Closer? Or the rare track Fast Cars?
Surveillance Cuts. I still can’t believe or even get over this. Who the hell is making these decisions? And who the hell is agreeing to them? And who the hell actually got excited with the idea? I can just picture the DVD Extras Meeting.
Producer: Anyone have any ideas?
Hamish Hamilton sits silently continuously removing prescription glasses that are far too powerful for his eyes, watching the entire meeting in focus / out of focus / in focus / out of focus.
Producer: Nothing? We’ve got to give them something. We have to make it look like we’re making an attempt here.
Producer’s Wife: Darling, you’re the producer, don’t you have any ideas?
Producer (exasperated): I’m the producer for chrissakes.
Neighbor’s Kid Visiting For Lunch: My dad caught an employee stealing by watching his video cameras.
Producer (eyes open wide, he is short of breath): Yes that’s perfect! Surveillance Cameras.
Neighbor’s Kid Visiting For Lunch: You could use random shots throughout the concert as an added camera….
Producer (has stopped listening and is on his cell phone): Paul? I got it. It just came to me. We’ll have entire songs filmed with the Surveillance cameras. That should be easy and cost us nothing.
Hamish: in focus / out of focus / in focus / out of focus.
“The Future Needs a Big Kiss” (The Band Needs a Swift Kick…)
U2 Live at the Rose Bow(E)L (2010). This still to be released concert, that has previously aired on the internet is already making me shake my fist. The entire Tour has begun with the song Breathe. This particular concert begins with Breathe (I know, I saw it with my own eyes!). The DVD will not. In fact, you will have to purchase the Blue Ray package in order to get the “Bonus” track Breathe.
Early in this tour I felt my heart take flight as I saw such rare songs appear in their setlist:
My Blue Room, Party Girl, Electrical Storm, among others. Do you think any of these will make it to the DVD as bonus features? And what’s with playing a REMIXED version of I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight?
Imagine being a fan and purchasing their next concert video and to their utter amazement, Disc 2 is actually an entire concert from 1989’s Lovetown Tour. It can be done. They have the footage - it actually aired on satellite way back when. Now that would be a bonus!
The price of U2’s concert tickets require a small loan in order to purchase. They are that expensive. Their show is always impressive, as well as their set. You simply can’t be bored at a U2 concert. Their reason for charging so much? They tour without the aid of corporate sponsorship. U2 claims to be afraid that once corporate sponsors get their hands on them, they will be dictated to what songs to perform and they will no longer have control.
U2, I beg thee, go the corporate sponsor route. Really, could it be worse?
U2, I beg thee, take a chapter out of Bruce Springsteen’s Tour book – take out those rare songs. Have the guts to play a song like Kitty’ Back (from Springsteen's 2nd album way back in 1973) on a Late Night Television show. Have the guts to play entire studio albums and rare B-sides. Have your fans not made it clear enough that they love your B-sides? Who wouldn’t kill to hear Hallelujah, Here She Comes, Lady With the Spinning Head or Red Hill Mining Town (I know, that’s a studio track)? Pull out A Sort of Homecoming.
Dear DVD Marketers/producers, etc. We don’t want to see other versions of the SAME song. We want to see surprising material. Songs that aren’t always played.
I am excited to be going to see the band play live on this tour in the upcoming months. And yes, at some point I will end up buying the dang Rose Bow(E)L DVD. You really can’t go wrong with U2, but even near perfection is still not perfect. It’s like admiring the Mona Lisa, but without that smirk. If it didn’t have that smirk, you could still appreciate the art, but you would walk away always feeling like something is missing.