Column: off the record . . . vol. 11-466

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off the record, from @U2

Last weekend, I had the privilege of spending the evening with 62,000 others at the U2 show in Seattle. I also had the responsibility of attempting to stream the show over my phone. Out of the 15 or so @U2ers and friends, my Sprint phone had the best connection. However, as my husband (and many on Twitter) pointed out, the distortion made it sound like the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show was singing in place of Bono. I believe the hashtag my husband used was #borkborkbork.

While it can be said that streaming is "easy" because once you get the connection, you can just put your phone away and check on it periodically, I found it to be quite a stressful thing. I was worried that the sound would be awful and the connection would drop often, which it sort of did. I would encourage anyone who follows along on show nights on Twitter, in the @U2 Forum, on U2.com or elsewhere to try to stream a show if you’re going to one. It's not as easy as it would seem, and for those who negatively comment on show nights about the quality of the stream, let alone the availability of a stream, take a moment and think about the experience on the other side of the phone. The person trying to share in their experience is not having a full-on enjoyable time themselves because they are either having to hold the phone the whole time, make sure a button hadn't been accidentally hit, or their signal keeps dropping.

All this can be easily alleviated by offering paid subscribers to U2.com the privilege of tuning in with an official feed.

 


 

The Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger is the topic of a fascinating new book, Ticket Masters: The Rise Of The Concert Industry And How The Public Got Scalped, by Dean Budnick and Josh Baron. The book is getting a lot of good reviews in the major music magazines and trade publications. I can't recommend it more highly -- it's a must-read. If you're wondering why your tickets are so expensive, the authors explain it in this brief video.

The authors mention the 12-year 360 deal U2 signed back in 2008 and touch on how U2's fan club evolved over time. Many fans have commented over the years that there are great similarities between U2 fans and Grateful Dead fans, and believe it or not, U2's organization had contacted the Grateful Dead Ticketing Service (GDTS) to outsource fan ticketing back in the '80s. GDTS declined, but shared with U2's management how they operated. This is why the experience felt so similar because it was modeled after the Dead's.

The book is a well-researched, well-documented and well-written thesis on the history of the concert industry as a whole. The authors explore ticketing, scalping, acquisitions, promoters and the cut-throat nature of the industry's players. There is an entire chapter dedicated to Michael Cohl's rise in the industry and how he was forced out at Live Nation. Ticket Masters details the business philosophy of Ticketmaster, Live Nation, and all the companies that came before them. From the perspective of Joe Average-Fan, it made my stomach churn knowing just how much the average consumer is manipulated in the process. It also explained to me why my 2011 U2 360 North American tour book I bundled with my U2 concert tickets for an additional $$30 wasn't a good move on my part. For the convenience of not having to deal with it at the show, I paid twice as much as the same item was sold at the gig for $$15.

As I learned in the book, the current Live Nation/Ticketmaster business model stresses convenience and higher level of services for an additional fee. From paying extra for the privilege of having a lawn chair at an amphitheater to having parking included in your ticket package, if you're looking for the convenience, they'll provide it for a fee. This is why I'm still convinced that U2.com can offer the convenience of streaming the band's sold-out shows for its paid members. However, I would venture a guess that the band doesn't want to charge its members more for the service and thus we have a bit of a stalemate between the powers-that-be. That's my theory anyway. With less than 20 shows left on the tour, as I said in my last OTR column, it's nothing more than just a pipe dream. However, there is a strong desire for the Moncton show (as well as Glastonbury) to be streamed on U2.com. Fingers crossed!

 


 

Is there an awards show members of U2 haven't been involved in? Tonight it was the Tony Awards. Bono and Edge were in a joking mood as they introduced the musical number "If The World Should End" from Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. Edge quipped that Bono's newly found humility works for him, as well as that the show would have opened up in February but they wanted to give fodder to The New York Post. Earlier in the show, host Neil Patrick Harris got in eight jokes in about 30 seconds about Spider-Man. The best one was "I sent Bono a congratulatory cable, but it snapped." 

As soon as the U2 concert in Oakland concluded on Tuesday night, Bono and Edge were on their way to New York City for their full-on promotion duties for Spider-Man. Earlier this week, they spoke with industry associates and reporters from the Foxwoods Theatre. Monday night, Bono and Edge will be talking about their Broadway experience at the 92nd Street Y. Tuesday will be the big day as the show formally opens and their cast recording is released for all to buy.

In the same way the Spider-Man experience has broken the unwritten rules for a Broadway show in regard to its preview period, promotional outreach and promotion budget, the same can be said of the official cast recording. U2 fans who have seen Spider-Man may have noticed the track order of the cast recording does not match the flow of the show. When I asked Steve Lillywhite about this on Twitter, he responded, "What rules say it should?" Also breaking from tradition, Bono and Edge sing alongside cast members on the soundtrack. Their appearance on the official cast recording indicates a few things: It is a nod to them as the show's composers, it increases the market value of such a recording, and it fulfills the desire of U2 fans who wanted to hear Bono and Edge sing their songs. However, I feel it takes away from the original actors who have developed the roles and perform those songs eight shows a week. For example, Patrick Page and Isabel Keating sing with Reeve Carney and Jennifer Damiano on "Picture This," but the cast recording has Bono singing in place of Page and Keating. "Sinistereo" is sung by the Daily Bugle reporters in the show, while Edge sings it on the recording.

Steve Lillywhite asked for people’s opinions on the cast recording via Twitter earlier this week after the album streamed for free on msn.com. On the whole, I found the music to be representative of the experience of the show, even though the show's narrative flows differently from the cast recording. I believe that the recording could stand alone and people can enjoy Bono and Edge's songwriting. While you can't deny Edge’s signature guitar sound and Bono's lyrical prowess, without the understanding of the show's plot, the songs themselves may not pack the same power. It is a great souvenir to remember the show, but for U2 fans who do not care about the Broadway musical, it may not be for you.

 


 

Speaking of Spider-Man, the episode of NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent that is loosely based on the Spider-Man production issues from last year is airing within the next couple of weeks. The "Icarus" episode is described as "When a stunt on a Broadway theatrical production malfunctions, leaving one of the actors dead, Detectives Goren and Eames find themselves battling with the histrionic director as they attempt to close the case." Check your local listings.

 


 

And finally ... The U2360 show ends with Elton John's "Rocket Man." What if it got the Family Guy treatment instead? Or, better yet -- it was William Shatner’s version?

Have a great week!

©@U2/Lawrence, 2011

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