Crosstalk: Is it worth buying tickets to U2's latest tour?

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With tickets going on sale today, two fans discuss whether seeing U2 still justifies the price

By Andrew Reilly And Steven Hyden, A.V. Club

Andrew: Steven, you may have heard that U2 plans to bring its gargantuan U2 360 tour back to Chicago's Soldier Field next July. Tens of thousands of people are lining up to buy tickets as we speak, but I can't help but wonder why any self-respecting fan would bother at this point. It's not that I dislike U2--I submit my exhaustive collection of U2 records and my 2001 Elevation Tour T-shirt as Exhibits A and B proving my U2 fandom. What bothers me is the almost laughable similarity between that Elevation show and the current U2 360 show: a ridiculous stage (the band having traded the pink heart for the multi-colored spaceship), all the big hits from U2's middle years, and the remainder of the set dominated by cuts from the lackluster recent album. In 2001, new material at least meant the anthemic, self-aware nostalgia of "Beautiful Day" and effortlessly cool "New York," but this time around the band showcases an album you pretty accurately described as "half-baked" and "a grab bag of underdeveloped ideas"--not exactly a compelling sales pitch.

And while I wouldn't hesitate to place the long-dormant and newly revived "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" and "The Unforgettable Fire" atop the U2 song heap, it's hard to understand why anyone would spend so much time and money just to sit around waiting for the band to perform those numbers more than a decade after it stopped caring about them. If the live U2 experience has evolved so little in eight years, how could anyone think it has changed at all in just eight months?

Steven: I'm going to let you in on a little secret, Andrew. Nobody cares that "the live U2 experience has evolved so little in eight years." In fact, if it had evolved, people would probably be upset. Despite what Bono might tell Spin every time U2 has a new album or tour to sell, this band is firmly entrenched in its Steel Wheels/Voodoo Lounge period, when new albums are fodder for the egos of rock stars who can't admit that fans only care about songs that came out decades ago.

The fact is that at least 75 percent of the people who will buy tickets to see U2 at Soldier Field probably don't even own No Line On The Horizon. And half of that 75 percent probably aren't even U2 fans. They wouldn't know "Ultraviolet"--a great, great song by the way--from the comically bad "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" from No Line if it walked up to them and ranted about the troubles in Ireland. As far as most people are concerned, U2 only made three albums: War, The Joshua Tree, and Achtung Baby. The rest of the band's discography is reserved strictly for nerds like you and me. (By the way, the 25 percent of fans headed to the Solider Field show that did buy No Line On The Horizon probably love that record passionately, and desperately want to hear the live version of the comically bad "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight." Oh, and they're presently ripping you apart in the comments section for calling it "lackluster.")

I don't think you can blame U2 for finally settling into a groove that fans are comfortable with. Bono made it clear around the time of All That You Can't Leave Behind that he wanted U2 to be the biggest band in the world, and you don't fill stadiums by not giving the people what they want. Besides, U2 is still a pretty great live band, no? Shouldn't they just stick with their superior older material at this point?

Andrew: I agree U2 is a great live band, but they're not necessarily sticking to their superior older material--only their highest-charting older material, a move that willfully ignores the reality of U2 to fuel the idea of U2. I realize I'm flirting with obsessive fanboy whining, but leaving the bulk of their back catalog for dead only adds to the misconception the band wrote little of note before The Joshua Tree and nothing worthwhile between Achtung Baby and whatever dreck they're pushing these days. Bono might not realize it, but U2 has in fact been the biggest band in the world for 20 years--if "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" (which, as you pointed out, few in attendance would even recognize) won't prevent football stadiums from selling out, what could they possibly have to lose with more challenging material like "A Sort Of Homecoming" or "The Refugee"?

Steven: Look, I agree with you in principle, but even if you and I are sick of hearing "With Or Without You" and "Mysterious Ways," the fact is that about 50 gabillion other people aren't sick of those songs yet. And like any stadium rock band, U2 is going to run its biggest hits into the ground for as long as people pay to hear them. So, what does U2 have to lose by ditching its biggest numbers? A lot. You and I both know that jumbo jets and $100,000 sports cars don't run on "A Sort Of Homecoming" and "The Refugee." So, in these troubled times, let's not fault a highly successful financial enterprise for doing it what takes to stay successful. Bono doesn't give, doesn't give, doesn't give himself away at this point. And judging by how successful U2 still is, he doesn't have to.

© Copyright 2009 Onion Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on November 9, 2009 7:42 AM.

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