September 22, 2009

That Was The Show That Was: U2 | Gillette Stadium

[We are pleased to once again present to you the work of friend and former editor The Good Doctor. While he does not contribute often enough, The Good Doctor has previously graced these pages with reviews of a couple Yo La Tengo shows. More recently he called a lot of Ben Kweller fans homely here in February -- Ed.]

The guy talking about the big stadium rock show he went to last night has a lot in common with the guy talking about his trip abroad. No matter how much either one says he liked it, you’re bound to hear more about the parts that sucked. Trips abroad always involve a lot of bad airplane experiences and food poisoning, while tales of stadium rock shows are headlined by traffic jams and bad seats.

Irish commercial rock unit-shifters U2 filled well over half of the football field at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. Sunday night with a metal sculpture that doubled as a stage and looked like a giant bug that had impaled itself on the Eiffel Tower. It’s unclear whether its comical size served only to provide spectacle or was conceived even a little bit to take up space in venues that a band like this must play to make money but are difficult to fill in this economy.

It’s a wonder to behold, 150 feet of steel supporting a 54-ton video screen assembled from nearly one million moving parts. The monstrosity takes four days to put together. They have three of these -- if I’m remembering the completely unverifiable press information I barely absorbed – so that they can keep the tour moving despite the glacial set-up schedule. So even if it’s there to displace sparser crowds where the pricier tickets are, who can fault a band willing to pour money and creativity onto the parts of the stadium where people won’t be standing? Is it a spider? Is it an octopus?

“We’ve got a spaceship,” Bono explained, finally taking the stage at approximately noon one week from now. The most time-consuming part of the set-up schedule is the very end, when the fans stand around waiting for the damn band to show up and start playing. The stadium vendors had long run out of beer, popcorn and mini-pizzas and had moved on to canned goods and pup tents. Everyone was already exhausted. Supporters Snow Patrol had begun the evening by threatening stadium patrons with a Bond-villain-like device that shot waves of boredom up and down the aisles. Most dodged the attack by keeping low and crawling toward lines of refugees hiding in the rest rooms. Others used pocket mirrors and whatever else was handy to fashion makeshift devices hoping to deflect the diabolically bland Irish cacophony.

But that was then. This was later, when Bono –- who is looking more and more like Robin Williams practically by the hour and also seems to have entered that stage of life when one starts to get shorter –- welcomed us to Spaceship 360.

"We’re not going anywhere without you," Bono called out, "Are you ready for the ride?"

“Hooray,” cheered the 90% of the audience whose sight lines weren’t blocked by the stage’s four colossally over-sized support beams.

“Screw you, Bono!” screamed the other ten percent.

And with that, on came the hits. Or at least a parade of album tracks that alternated between brand new (“Breathe,” “No Line on the Horizon,” “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” “Get on Your Boots”), recent (“Vertigo,” “Elevation,” “Stuck in a Song the Audience Can’t Get Out Of”) and arguably older (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “The Unforgettable Fire,” “Where the Streets Have No Name”).

They stayed away from the real vintage stuff, your “I Will Follow”s and the like. I was also knocked out by versions of “New Years Day” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” that sounded like effort had gone in to stripping them down to recreate the original album versions. Not to be polished and anti-septic, but crank the songs out with the same life they had just over 25 years ago.

The big surprise was how much new stuff rocked since I expected it to sound like Sting sitting in a bubble bath, but no. This was catchy, fast, crisp modern rock the way it really is supposed to be –- if you’re lucky enough to be near the PA. I’ve been assured that high up in the stadium it sounded like mud.

About a half-dozen people where I work went to this show and all of them had a long series of complaints. A band that plays in a football stadium –- U2, Bruce Springsteen, even The Beatles -– could never please anybody. Football stadiums are for football games not art exhibitions. At the end of a football game there is a clear winner and loser. At the end of an art exhibition held in a football stadium, everyone feels subconsciously compelled to pinpoint the winner and loser and inevitably they look within themselves and plan a trip abroad. -- The Good Doctor

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