Thursday, September 24, 2009

U2; Muse @ Giants Stadium

U2; Muse
@ Giants Stadium
East Rutherford, NJ - September 24, 2009

U2 is an exploration in dualism. They are the last of the big rock bands, the last band who can still put out a new record and have it treated not just as something potentially fresh and invigorating, but as an event. Their tours (which still include the old time stadium/arena tradition of having a theme - this time the "360 Tour") are the last legitimate case for spectacle but at the same time make you yearn for the intimate beauty of a small club or theater show. They are the most well known rock band in the world - the ultimate definition of popular and mainstream - yet their pre-show PA music fare features Bat for Lashes, TV on the Radio, Hot Chip, and other pure Indie artists. Four lads from Ireland, they are often times considered to be America's Band, while managing to offend and alienate the most stereotypical of red-blooded "patriots" full of antipathy towards Bono's many causes. Many can lay everything that has become wrong with rock at the feet of U2, but just as many can cite them as champions of the last vestiges of the once dominant sound of music for well over a quarter century.

The only time time prior I had seen U2 was the November following the September 11th attacks in 2001. They had tastefully become the calm in the national storm then, before the invasion of Iraq tore the unity apart. This night in the Meadowlands, 8 years later, Bono chose his fights carefully - the One campaign, the struggle in Iran, the saga of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma. I didn't disagree with any of it but I personally no longer have the urgency to mix my personal, cathartic rock n' roll with the various world plights I cannot individually begin to conquer, let alone expect billions of people to finally take a cue on. Then again, just by going to this concert, I knew what I was getting myself into, so to become blustery and chest thumping in defiance of the band's righteousness, would be pathetic.

Oh yes, there was music. Playing the better songs off of No Line Horizon and the other recent records, as well as an array of their big, beloved hits and the surprising appearance of a track they once recorded under an assumed name, U2 pulled no punches musically. In honor of Jersey's Beloved Boss on his 60th birthday, the band played "She's the One". Technically in honor of Quincy Jones but really in honor of Michael Jackson, they played a little bit of "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough." And speaking of such dance songs, they stunned a good number in the crowd with a disco-fied version of the newbie "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight", proving that at some point everyone does disco.

U2 sounded their most U2-est, and their best, with two songs, one of which is almost assuredly played each concert, the other making for a more-than-nice surprise. "Where The Streets Have No Name" and "Ultra Violet (Light My Way)" are full of the crescendoing guitars that justify The Edge's existence, and each have a pathway into the both the mega and the minimum of what makes this band what they are.

If U2 had one American-grown counterpart as they rose through the ranks of the 1980's, it was R.E.M. Last year, in catching that band at the Garden, I saw for the first time a live screen display of the action on stage that looked like a perfectly edited digital concert film. Sure enough, U2 brought out such technology to make full use of their 360 degree display and in just a year said technology seems to have advanced exponentially. In fact it was to the point of distraction. I easily forgot the actual band members below the display time and again. Being near the top of the stadium certainly aided this effect, but also - after the 2001 show in which I was behind the band's heart-shaped stage and received a cup kicked at me by Bono - I had become a tad spoiled.

The aforementioned dualism, especially the dichotomy of their popularity and their Indie credibility, even manifested itself in their choice of an opening act. Muse are an increasingly popular band that almost no one realizes is so popular. While I got to the show too late to actually see what was happening, I know what I heard as I milled about the halls of Giants Stadium with various friends, and I know that a song like "Uprising" is the kind of song that tells you a band is here to make a mark. Like U2, Muse will never be a FAVORITE band of mine, but they will make song after song that will remind me why I can never shake them nor why I would never want to.

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