U2 and the blot on Croker's horizon

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By Eamon Sweeney, Irish Independent

There's been a rake of monster gigs this summer with Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles and AC/DC having already performed, not to mention Oxegen and the Live at the Marquee shows in Cork. But they're all small fry compared to next week's juggernaut steamrolling into Croke Park.

On June 30, U2 kicked off their latest tour in Barcelona. Onstage in Paris last week, Bono said, "Thank you for coming out and thank you for giving us a great life. Thank you for giving us the chance to build this madness, this space station."

This space station is the so-called "claw" that's the centrepiece of the 360° tour. The fact that Croker will see only 270° of the claw has been the subject of some consternation. Rather than getting the full show that's already got rave reviews from Camp Nou and the San Siro, Irish fans feel they're not getting the full 360° deal.

Paradoxically, the same band that was once canonised by the music press as the biggest and best band in the world, and famously hailed as "rock's hottest ticket" by Time magazine, aren't exactly flavour of the week, month or year. For a band that are famous for advocating worthy causes, they've received criticism for going on the road with such a gigantic, high-energy consuming production.

According to environmentalists, the band's 44 concerts in 2009 will have the equivalent carbon footprint of a return flight to Mars. Some detractors would hope for a one-way journey.

Since the release of No Line on the Horizon in March (or No Tune On The Horizon as some have joked) U2 have received one of the harshest critical maulings of their career with non-payment of taxes in Ireland and grandiosity topping the list. And the sales figures seem to support the argument that U2's influence has waned considerably.

A total of 484,000 sales in the first week would be considered an achievement for any band, but by U2's remarkable standards its quite low considering How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb sold 810,000 in the same period.

In an article entitled "The Soaring Nothingness of U2" in web magazine Slate, David Plotz claims: "U2 is perhaps the world's vaguest band. If a U2 song isn't written in the first person, it is penned to an unnamed, indistinct 'you.' Instead of stories or wordplay, they rely solely on fuzzy imagery."

Plotz continues to pinpoint the band's modus operandi. "The band's achievements depend on two neat tricks. First, Bono -- the public face of U2 -- has a genius for cognitive dissonance. He is the upstairs, downstairs king of rock: He simultaneously inflates himself into the most grandiose, arrogant, self-righteous rock star and deflates himself with self-mockery and modesty."

Perhaps the best illustration of this collision of pomposity and the ridiculous is when they were awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin in 2000. Bono and the Edge arrived at Stephen's Green with a lamb under each arm, citing an ancient right in the city's by-laws to graze sheep on the Green. The incident had a farcical, quasi-Biblical air to it.

The Edge once joked, "Ah yeah, Bono. He's a nice bunch of guys."

U2 have always enjoyed an ambivalent relationship with journalists. Onstage at Slane Castle in 1981, Bono said somewhat puzzlingly, "I'd like to tell you about a special sort of people. They're called reporters, and they come with their notes and pens in their hands. And they find somebody like that guy over there, who is throwing bottles in the air. And then they take a photograph of him and print the photograph. And then you are all throwing the bottles, do you see what I mean?"

U2 are far too easy to mock, so they do a pretty good pre-emptive job at sending up their more preposterous antics. Often Bono's quotes read as banal in cold print, but are delivered with playful and knowing irony.

Zoo TV was the band's post-modern rock pantomime featuring phone calls to the White House, a duet with a pre-recorded Lou Reed and Bono-isms turned up to eleven under the guise of alter egos MacPhisto and the Fly. When the tour arrived at the RDS, some of the show had been axed after negative criticism in the U.K.

Hometown shows have a habit of courting controversy and speculation. On New Year's Eve 1989, the band said goodbye to the 1980s by saying, "We have to go away and dream it all up again," prompting some to suggest that the band were about to split up.

The PopMart shows in Lansdowne Road nearly didn't go ahead because of objections from residents. Bono went onstage with a playful response to a bookmaker offering odds on whether the shows would take place: "We've pulled it off Paddy Power!"

U2 shows in the 1990s tended to repeat the same overwhelming effect of sensory overload. What began as a stunning re-invention of a stadium rock format became a thinly veiled attempt to outdo the previous tour. Their Spinal Tap moment came in 1997 when a giant 40-foot lemon pod malfunctioned and failed to open, trapping the band inside. The Edge later said, "All they could do is laugh."

The subsequent Vertigo and Elevation tours saw a more back-to-basics approach, but this appears to have been eschewed for their latest mammoth stage show. It will be interesting to see what U2 shows up next week, as there's a palpable sense that they've really got something to prove to their hometown fans.

The prologue to Eamon Dunphy's book The Unforgettable Fire nails a fascinating home truth about U2 and where they've come from which says a lot about the band and a lot about being Irish. "McGuinness and U2 evoked Dublin, its sights and sounds, the failures and minor victories -- all That passionate bickering about nothing."

© 2009 Independent.ie

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on July 18, 2009 8:14 PM.

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