U2 Slammed Unfairly

by Ryan Molde | 11/6/97 6:00am

With the incredible "Grand Conjunction" of Halloween, Homecoming, Harvard game and a U2 concert in Montreal, it seemed I had to go, if possible, to complete an epic weekend, despite the gloomy concert forecast.

"According to the thesis that the PopMart tour is built on, rock concerts are just another multimedia spectacle competing with films and theme parks for our entertainment dollars, but from the way Monday night's audience clung to and cheered old favorites, that thesis may require some fine tuning," says Tom Maurstad of the Dallas Morning News.

When I searched the internet for PopMart, instead of PopMart, this is the first quote I encountered. Tour dates were way down the list. So often these days, the harsh critiques fly well before we even know the show is coming.

We were late getting on the road as I had lost a set of keys and had to retrieve another from a remote destination after intramural soccer playoffs. As we drove through the faceless night to Montreal, in four hours, at a very good clip through the dismal, pouring rain, I thought I was crazy, especially with a midterm in two days. U2, I imagined, had forgotten themselves, and rushed into a techno wasteland, dragging their nostalgic audience along and giving them no satisfaction. We would be an hour late, and we would be lucky to have missed it. I bet that at the end, they would play a tune of Joshua Tree, and it might make it worth the ten-hour journey.

Canada was strangely unsettling. Mostly because I could not quite place what was different about the place, besides the fact that the lady behind the ticket counter could barely converse in English.

"Two tickets please? I have no identification, no carbons of my Visa," I said. Sheepishly I grinned. It worked. Things were looking up. We weren't late. 7:30 was when the doors had opened.

Anxiously the nearly packed stadium awaited the concert.

I was disappointed at how far away our seats were.

Several false alarms, no U2.

Then Bono strided down the center of the stadium in black, bug-eye glasses and one fist in the air. He was visible on the 56 foot tall, see through, video screen whose pixels were like blazing dew drops. No need for binoculars here. Honestly, I would have been overwhelmed had I been any closer. Staring at the screen would have been tantamount to "Staring at the Sun" as the song goes.

Bono shadow boxed for a while in a blue satin boxing robe, before beginning the concert. The first song, confirming my fears, echoed by so many critics, was a monotonous static of unrecognizable words.

After the initial tedium, the concert was bliss, and beyond my expectations in every regard. The giant golden arch (whose partner that would have made it a complete McDonald's ambassador) lit up red, green, and finally outlined in art deco type neon. Video footage on the screen constantly complimented the music with a tirelessly creative flair. It was as if the band were against a blue screen with comic book backdrops. Other times they appeared to be colorized negatives. "Only the Blue Sky," featured a cartoon rocket firing into a fighter jet, which exploded beautifully (although it is not a nice thought).

And every popular song they had they generously provided without withholding a one. Even somewhat obscure songs off the Batman track, or the somewhat obscure favorite "One Love." True, this production lacked the simplicity of the video of "One Love," a bison on black and white film, galloping endlessly across the TV. "With or Without You" was backed up by considerably more than the black shadows and an acoustic guitar swung around Bono's head seen in the MTV video version. But this was not a mind numbing barrage of random images. It had substance.

Beyond the visual effects were deeper meanings. Angels glided across the screen and a simple drawing of a bleeding man, hung by his wrists, lifted souls conveyer fashion to heaven. An interesting visual interpretation of love was also present.

There were little quirks everywhere. A fully loaded 727 worth of them. People leaped incessantly with sparklers on the periphery of the floor seating. Laser dots played tag like a swarm of gnats at the peak of the arch.

The screen, a visually pleasing golden rectangle angled slightly on top up to the hundred-foot spike impaling a twelve foot olive loomed over a lemon. It did not go over like a lemon.

I missed when they peeled it, but mid show I spied (how observant) a forty foot tall lemon standing upright, spinning on its long axis, driven down a long gang plank. It's million faceted mirrors tossed light to spin out into the oblong arena, like the orbits of stars in grand galactic splendor. The 2001 class had run around the bonfire, and now 2001, that celestial number, gave us something of a Close Encounter of the Third Kind (roughly the third reinvention of U2). The top lifted with a beam of light from the interior of the lemon, and U2 descended the stairs, Edge in a giant white cowboy hat.

The techno songs were good, too. If we have to go through a techno/pop stage, as a culture, aren't we lucky to do it U2 style? Do we want them to rehash old chords ad nauseam and just add new lyrics to Streets Have No Name? Let's just forget Zooropa. U2 did. Staring at the Sun, off their new album, was played with a nod to simpler times in a beautiful unplugged version, a real audio treat.

The encore was long, and I was completely satiated as we left the stadium, recharged enough to stave off blinkiness on the way home.

Eli and I looked back, and Olympic stadium, an incredible venue, reared its tower, roof raising apparatus like a scorpion's tail, the scorpion was crossed with a Millennium Falcon at the front.

I can only wonder at the bitterness of critics. As my neighbor says, they must be sucking on a pickle, and not a sweet one.

True, it was not a simple concert reminiscent of early U2. Had they sold out? It was not like the Petty concert I equally enjoyed with oriental rugs and candles.

It was something someone in the last row could enjoy. Something I can't say for a Petty concert I watched from the upper deck, craning my neck for a view through a porthole of Plexiglas.

Can't something have merit just for being visually impressive? With U2, the sound was a given, the theatrics a huge bonus. My bet is that the widely panned Seven Years in Tibet is at least visually impressive, and worth seeing. So was Waterworld, which was doomed to a watery grave unnecessarily by critics. Can't make a movie on water. Don't believe it. There it is, a critic of a critic.

U2 must have done something right, since I had an absolutely unquenchable thirst for lemonade on the way home.