Column: off the record… vol. 11-464

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off the record, from @U2

It's been a busy week for the U2ers, hasn't it?

  • The Edge got bleeped during Sunday night’s acceptance speech for Top Touring Artist at the Billboard Music Awards for saying s#!t.
  • For the fifth-consecutive year, Bono was involved with the American Idol finals. This time it was to debut "Rise Above 1," the first single from Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. (Note: It was already debuted on Late Show With David Letterman on March 2.
  • Larry Mullen's foray into acting caught the eye of critics with a "sterling performance" for his role in Man On A Train.
  • The band joined up with It Might Get Loud and Waiting for Superman director Davis Guggenheim in Winnipeg to film a documentary about Achtung Baby.
  • Oh yeah -- the U2360 tour resumes in Winnipeg tonight.

I'm enjoying all of this now because after Moncton, we'll have a quiet period before the upcoming Achtung Baby remaster projected for this fall. Ali let slip that the Hewson family vacation will be for the month of August. With Bono saying that the next U2 album will come out "next fall," I'm envisioning another quiet period for U2 as they regroup and rest. As long as I'm projecting, I'm estimating 2013 will be the earliest we might see U2 touring again. Bottom line: U2 fans need to savor the next two months of activity.

I had the pleasure of seeing the May 22 performance of the "re-imagined" Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. While it's still in previews, I do want to let U2 fans know that the production is much improved. The lyrics in the songs have changed slightly to fit the revised story line, and "Freak Like Me" is a great, poppy show tune that left the audience clapping at the end of it. Looking back at my notes, "Rise Above," "Boy Falls From The Sky," "Bullying By Numbers" and "Bouncing Off The Walls" all got great audience reaction. Besides the musical changes, the story line is much improved and the personal relationship between all characters is stronger. When Bono said during the Nightline interview that the show was at 80 percent, I'd say that it’s probably closer to 90 percent when I saw it. I am very pleased with the changes and how the musical pace of the production has improved.

There is a thematic element to the show that has quietly changed: "Rise Above" has replaced "Boy Falls From The Sky" as the core theme of the musical. It makes sense in many ways. First, why underscore the whole falling from the sky issue that hounded the original version of the musical. Second, the production has had to rise above all the negativity and bad press. While "Boy Falls From The Sky" is more of a rock song with a peppy tempo, "Rise Above" is a more emotionally connecting anthem that moves the audience in their core.

During several points in the show there are blatant U2 references and jokes. For example, Green Goblin introduces Swiss Miss as "I was gonna call her The Edge, but I heard that was taken." "New Year’s Day," "Vertigo" and "Beautiful Day" all have cameos in the show as well.

The show lasted 2.5 hours, and that time felt like it flew (pun intended). Concise and entertaining, it is a show I want to see again, with the music being as much of a highlight as Goblin is. The cast recording is available for pre-orders on Amazon. Although, I do hope it is truly a cast recording and not an overly produced remix as "Rise Above 1" is. I was disappointed that it was not closer to the Broadway show version. As I tweeted after the American Idol performance, imagine if someone remixed "Memory" from Cats and called it the first single from cast recording but it didn't match the version from the show. If I'm buying a cast recording of a Broadway show, I want it to sound like it did on Broadway. The marketing materials for "Rise Above 1" state it was produced by Alex Da Kid, not Steve Lillywhite. Perhaps that is why it's not "Rise Above," rather titled "Rise Above 1." It was only a few months ago when Alex Da Kid told BBC News that he wanted to work with U2, so hopefully he's fine with half the band.

With a few shows down, fan streaming from the U2360 tour has been next-to-impossible due to cell phone reception that appears to mysteriously go down right around show time. Various theories are out there from the obvious to the ridiculous. When you get a large amount of people together in a stadium, it should be expected that demand on the various cell networks would make it difficult to get calls through, let alone streaming audio. This continues to be the No. 1 most requested item among fans on Twitter on show night, and I am told by the Zootopians on that it's a highly requested wish list item as well. With fewer than 20 shows left on the tour, it's hard for me to believe that we'll get this wish list item, so I would like to propose two new wish list items that I believe the official U2 fan club could (easily) implement to make it more enticing to get fans like myself to renew come November.

1)  Using the "cover-it-live" technology currently available on show nights, offer live chats with band members or their affiliates on a monthly basis. This has already been done by the band (with great success, I might add) back in 1997 on their original band website. The Edge did one. Adam Clayton did one. Paul McGuinness even did one! Other online fan interviews were with Sebastian Clayton and head-rigger Pete-the-Greek.

2)  Another idea would be to do what the Spider-Man production staff has been doing in asking people to submit questions and answering them in their weekly "web mail." For example, here is the one done with Reeve Carney.

With no tour to encourage people to renew (or join), I believe that offering more personal connection opportunities to let the band directly interact with their following might be the hook that'll keep subscribers.

Speaking of fans, it is a mind-blowing factoid that 7 million people will have seen the U2360 tour by the time it ends in Moncton. To put this into perspective, Carter Alan writes in his 1992 book Outside It's America – U2 In The U.S.:

Even when the band was just a young and determined unit touring exhaustively across America for the first time, the members recognized that the audience was as essential to the chemistry of each show as the performers. U2 treated fans with a tremendous amount of respect, working hard to inspire them during live performances.

Bono stated in an interview for Boston Rock magazine in 1980: "A lot of bands will go to the far right or the far left just to make 'new' sounds, but they can leave emotion behind. People can see through pretend -- if a band can't do it for real, then people shouldn't go to see them. Emotion is everything."

Fast-forward 31 years later and that philosophy has not changed. Bono said during the Billboard Music Awards video prior to their acceptance speech, "We've got to try and give them, in the very least, something they've never seen before, or more importantly, something they haven't felt before. If you don't feel the songs and the band, then what is the point?"

I believe 7 million fans is a compelling testimony to the band's unwavering belief in the emotional connection between them and their audience. Add to that the online fan community on show nights who connect on Twitter, message boards, Facebook and elsewhere, and you have the answer to why this tour has been so successful. It's that emotional connection. It's why I'm flying out to Seattle to see my 50th U2 show later this week.

And finally ... Larry asks Bono when he plans on making the next U2 album.

BONUS: This is probably why it's been almost 20 years since U2 appeared at the Billboard Music Awards.

Have a great week!

©@U2/Lawrence, 2011

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