[Ed. note: This is the 14th in a series of essays by the @U2 staff about U2-related visuals and videos. Some essays may be informational and educational, while others may be more personal.]
I went to five U2 concerts on the not-so-recent 360 tour. I took lots of photos and videos for @U2 and had a blast covering the shows in Raleigh, Pasadena, Oakland and twice in Anaheim (see the @U2 Flickr and Youtube coverage). But there was a moment at every show when I'd snap just a few pictures and then put down my camera. That "Moment Of Surrender" became an intimate encounter for me on many levels.
The Milky Way
On the DVD U2 360 Live From The Rose Bowl, Bono introduces the song by connecting a hyper-digital audience to the beauty of the natural creation. The grandeur of the cosmos is symbolized when tens of thousands of cell phone displays light up the stadium. As an astronomy enthusiast, that metaphor really grabs me because I know that the universe is a very big place -- there are hundreds of billions of galaxies each with hundreds of billions of stars. If I really stop to think about it, I feel pretty small and insignificant.
As this pseudo star system ignites and the stage lights set behind a techno-horizon, Bono explains, "Right now, wherever you're watching in the world, we're just gonna turn the Rose Bowl into the Milky Way. So, it's a little magic trick .... In the corner, there's our little blue and green planet. Some people, trying their hardest to hold on, don't want to fall off. This song is for you."
Watch the Rose Bowl performance.
Throughout the 360 tour, U2's incomparable show designer Willie Williams had been thinking of ways to capture what was happening during "Moment Of Surrender." In the recently published book From The Ground Up, Williams commented, "The darkness reveals a universe of cell phone lights that, in the 360 configuration, is so vast and so concentrated that it's hard to comprehend until you see it with your own eyes." Just as the Milky Way's crystal white pinpricks of light are punctuated with red, orange, yellow and blue stars of varying age and size, so too the stadium became a collage of postmodern stained-glass artwork. This is what Williams dreamed of re-creating as a visual aid to the song.
Though the images aren't included on the Rose Bowl DVD, he continued to experiment and began inserting new video scenes on later iterations of the 360 tour. This evolution of design was complete by the time the band reached Glastonbury in June 2011. Through a spectacular projection of out-of-focus abstract lights on a giant screen, the splendor of this cosmos-on-earth experience was brought to the stage.
Watch Glastonbury light up.
While the impact of this living kaleidoscope was significant, the image that really moved my soul came later in the song. In a marvelously understated yet powerful piece of videography, Williams managed to capture the feeling of the lyric, "I did not notice the passers-by, and they did not notice me." I'll never forget watching the hollow images of unknown people stroll across the giant 500,000-pixel conical screen in slow motion. It was eerie. It was haunting -- these shadows, these ghosts, these nothings silhouetted by holy light.
Williams, a master of contrast, created phantoms that walked across the screen in anonymity, almost seeming to carry the anxieties of those who feel they might actually fall off a wildly spinning Earth as it careens through cold and empty space. Void of meaning and plagued by indifference, these are the soulless beings of Albert Camus' Stranger. This isn't the first time U2 has used these shadow people. Williams' "Walking Man" paraded across the backdrop of the Vertigo tour in 2005 as Bono sang "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," a reflective tribute to his father.
But "Moment Of Surrender" isn't a tune that leaves us without hope. The broken-hearted narrator of the song gives witness to an epiphany at the ATM: "At the moment of surrender, I folded to my knees." The light manages to penetrate the darkness, the collage of color prevails, and I know I'm not alone. Giving up certainty and control, I find my place once again in the created order, and I hang on for another orbit.
Taken by me at the Anaheim show, June 18, 2011.
Many, if not all, of U2's closing songs function as a benediction of sorts. The final song is an act of blessing, sending people out into the world, back to their homes and into real life, and it always involves audience participation, usually through clapping and chanting out a lyric or soaring set of "ohs." I love watching concert footage of the crowd as it engage the band one last time before departing. The final song isn't just a means for calming people down so they don't cause a riot on their way out of the stadium. This is an intentional act of corporate prayer and dismissal. In From The Ground Up, Bono reflects on the band's 30-minute ritual of spiritual preparation before each show.
It's a hard thing to describe, but we sort of pray. We tell each other how lucky we are. In that way that one shouldn't be public about private matters of faith, what we say is secret, but it's important. We are grateful for what our music has given us, and above all, what God has given us. We reflect on the fact that the audience we try to serve as musicians has given us so much and how we might serve them better. As I say, it's a private moment. This is the only time that it's just us together, heads together, praying, and we do it every gig.
When I think back to the many 360 shows I've seen, I remember that moment when the "Sci-fi cathedral" turned on its stained glass and the synthetic strings accompanying the introduction for "Moment Of Surrender" filled the atmosphere of a monolithic coliseum. And I remember putting down my camera, clapping in solidarity with the crowd and shouting out a prayerful chorus of "oh-oh-oh." It's a divine moment, a moment that lives better in my memory than in the memory of a digital storage card. In that moment I'm reassured that I'm not alone and that we as humans have a significant place in the universe. I'm sent home reminded that "life is short" but "it's the longest thing you'll ever do," and that we all do it together.
(c) @U2/Neufeld, 2013.