Sunday, June 07, 2015

Mark & Ravi, Chattin' About U2

With the “Innocence & Experience Tour” now well underway, it’s time for the internet’s two biggest U2 conversationalists to once again join forces and discuss the band…

Mark: So, after the initial run of shows, I am quite fired up for seeing them in Toronto next month.

Ravi: Yeah, I’m very impressed so far.  I am pumped I got tickets for end of July.  You never know when Larry is gonna say "fuck it" and ride off in the sunset, so I decided to see this tour. Pumped with the decision.

Mark: Absolutely, it was only a question if I'd see one or multiple concerts.  Though since they're not doing the 'two different shows' gimmick, I feel like I probably didn't need to attend both Toronto concerts.  C'est la vie.

Ravi: First up, what's your thoughts on how the new material is playing?

Mark: Thankfully, almost all of the new songs are playing well in a live format.  The only issue is that aside from Every Breaking Wave, I'm not sure there are any that are real showstoppers

Ravi: Yeah, I think that's right.  I think that's part of the genius of the tour.  If they did an Elevation tour totally stripped down first half, I think the audiences may not have been super thrilled - but by combining them with a "story" and the video, they work well.  If we count "Ordinary Love" as a new tune, I thought that worked well last night and could do well if played on a regular basis in the second half of the show.

Mark: Yeah, in terms of how the setlist flows together, that opening 'half' of the concert is brilliant.  The initial 'punk' set that provides an easy fit for Vertigo and one of the Boy oldies, then you have the newer songs flowing into SBS and the natural segue into Raised By Wolves. 

Ravi: So I don't see them abandoning the new stuff like they had to on 360.  They work really well in the format they've been packaged in.

Mark: It helped that U2 built the tour around the songs and the 'theme,' rather than for 360, they just had a big massive stadium show planned for a pretty introspective and quiet record.

Ravi: My one beef is why not include "The Troubles" to conclude the first half? It is a solid track and falls in line with the sombre mood the first half is supposed to leave the audience with

Mark: It seems like they're having trouble (pardon the pun) finding a good spot for Troubles, and slotting it between RBW and Until The End Of The World is actually a great idea

Ravi: The other night it was in the second half between Beautiful Day and With Or Without You, which makes zero sense to me.

Mark: Your Troubles placement works much better.  They should run with that.

Ravi: Song For Someone works better in the second half, though I realize they put it after Cedarwood Road to convey the idea of Bono at home writing a love song for Ali.  I can see Joey Ramone (clearly made to start a show), SFS, Cedarwood Road, Raised By Wolves, Iris and EBW being permanent fixtures. If they can implement Troubles in a good spot it may get more play, and I suspect Ordinary Love may see more play as it was well received last night.  Volcano/California will likely see occasional play. Frankly, I'd also ditch Invisible and put in something better.  If they do play Crystal Ballroom - where could it fit in?

Mark: Yeah, Invisible is the only one that doesn't quite seem to have a foothold.  You'd think having it kick off a set would be a natural spot, but it's maybe not quite fiery enough played live.  Crystal Ballroom could go at the end of the ' fan with cameraphone' set.  Mysterious Ways then CB is a good match.

Ravi: Invisible is a song which I think is OK at best, but whatever you think of it, it is a rare U2 song that comes off worse live.

Mark: The visual is at least very cool, with Bono 'not visible' behind the video catwalk until the screen opens to reveal him.  That catwalk screen is awesome, btw.  What a brilliant idea.  The Iris/Cedarwood Road combo went from "hmm, not sure if it's a great idea to pair two mid-tempo new songs together" to a major highlight since that's when they reveal the screen.  The walk down Cedarwood Road is an instant U2 concert classic.

Ravi: Very, very smart.  So, what about act 2? Thoughts on the material in the regular rotation/stuff being swapped in and out?

Mark: For Act 2, you have Invisible/EBTTRT/EBW/Bullet/Pride/Beautiful Day/WOWY every night, in some order.  For the other 3-4 songs, seemingly anything goes, which is great

Ravi: Yeah I like how on any given night you could get two more SOI tunes/two Rattle & Hum/two ATYCLB etc.  I must say, as much as Sweetest Thing is a crowd pleaser and great track ... they gotta rehearse that one a little better.  Bono never seems to remember its words

Mark: Switching between the 1987 lyrics, the 1998 lyrics and...well, general Bonoglese.

Ravi: I thought it was quite gutsy doing In God's Country after years with a random fan, and all in all it worked out well.  To be honest, when they take risks like that, I think it really adds something to a show (like in 2011 Chicago when they did One Tree Hill at the end/or in Nashville when they played All I Want Is You with a random fan)

Mark: They're already rotated through an entire second setlist's worth of songs this tour, so more surprises are sure to come.  In fairness, the playing-with-a-fan thing is kind of like the old Springsteen gimmick where he 'takes a request' from a fan's sign but it's generally a song the band has already been rehearsing.  It's not like U2 would've randomly played, like, Red Light or something.

Ravi: Of course, but it's still pretty neat I think.  Actually, before we get on this part
one thing - I dunno how I feel about Bullet the Blue Sky being a fixture. Killer track and I love they have gone back to the original guitar part (more or less) and I get Bono changing the lyrics to "have a conversation with his old self" but ... something about 2015 U2 singing this song just seems odd

Mark: May be a tribute to McGuinness, since it's his favourite song.

Ravi: fair enough.  I am curious though if they'll be unveiling any tracks from the "albums not spoken of" - October, Pop or NLOTH (beyond a snippet)

Mark:  I could see Gloria or even Discotheque pop up in that early Act 2 set.  NLOTH is probably gone for good, except for mayyyyyybe an acoustic Breathe

Ravi: it's funny. As a fan I'd be pissed to hear it at a show, but man it'd show some "we play what we want to play" if they played Boots at a show.  Discotheque I think would be well received - though they may save it for the European leg (where Pop/Popmart was better received).

Mark: I dunno about that perception.  The Toronto crowd went nuts when they randomly busted out DIscotheque on the Vertigo tour.  U2 more or less gave up on the NLOTH songs before the 360 Tour was even over, so I'd be surprised to see any resurface.

Ravi: What about Staring at the Sun (acoustic, of course)?

Mark: This may be because it's my generation, but there seems to be some real love for those mid-late 90's U2 songs.  DIscotheque is a great 'hey, you know what song is actually really good....' hidden gem.  Fans went nuts for HMTMKMKM last tour, and I bet they'd adore a Staring At The Sun revival

Ravi: The real nerds want to hear Acrobat live - not sure if they will do it
I am curious if they'll pull out some "popular but not on the regular rotation since the tour ended" tracks - Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, Wild Honey, Kite, etc.

Mark: You touched on the idea of having each album get a 'night' for songs in the Act II early set.  This would be a cool idea for another multi-concert series in one city.

Night 1: Desire, Angel Of Harlem
Night 2: Stuck, Elevation
Night 3: Mysterious Ways, maybe even Acrobat
Night 4: Staring At The Sun, Discotheque
Then for other nights, pair Sweetest Thing (the random one) with songs like Gloria, Breathe, Stay, In God's Country, etc.

Ravi: Yeah I like that. I'd frankly replace Bullet the Blue SKy with Acrobat - it would interest fans to hear something not played live, and it features some killer guitar by Edge.

Mark: BTBS wasn't a major hit but it's certainly more well-known than Acrobat.  If U2 played that one live, about 15-20% of the crowd would so absolutely insane and the rest would be checking their phones.

Ravi: Maybe - I think it'd be a moment in the show where they'd have to work to win over the audience more than relying on a more established track.  But I can see your ideas coming to fruition in Chicago or even Montreal…they have some time between Denver and Montreal.

Mark: It's not out of the question they finally play Acrobat, but it'd be a one-off or a two-off.  I do enjoy how in this age of social media, hearing Acrobat played live has become a real movement for a lot of U2 fans

Ravi: So what are your thoughts with swapping One/ISHFWILF/occasionally 40 as closers?

Mark: Well, I remember us wondering which SOI song they'd use the concert closer since none seemed like a perfect fit.  Looks like the band sidestepped that problem entirely.  Any of those songs work as a closer...ISHFWILF is interesting since it's new in that role and has some of the same singalong appeal as 40

Ravi: I am happy they realized it's smarter to go with a hit rather than try to force in The Troubles, which doesn't work at all.  It’s better than 360, when the band would be trudging through Moment of Surrender and half the audience was sleeping and the other half was heading for the exits.  Man, I hated that song as a closer (though it was in line with U2 using a new, slow tune to end shows).

Mark: That long a song may not have been a great choice, though I love that track and even thought it was good live.

Ravi: It sounded good and it is a good track but esp in a stadium setting didn't work as a closer, I don't think.  So here comes the biggie - assuming Songs Of Experience comes out during the tour - where in the world does that fit in?  They can't do THREE setlists in a show - and I doubt they tinker with the first half much (if at all).

Mark: Hard to say until we hear the songs.  Could they do three sets of nine songs each?

Ravi: Maybe 8 songs (keeps them at 24 songs/night, which is already a lot).  But I've been wondering what they're going to do - presuming they intend to release SOE at some point during the tour.

Mark: If you end Act 1 on RBW, that's nine songs.  They can drum up a new 'experience' setlist for Act 2 with some of the new tracks and some of the older songs.  Then Act 3 can basically be an extended encore with a bunch of megahits.

Ravi: That makes sense.  The natural time to do that, incorporating rehearsal time would be the European leg.

Mark: Yeah, it could literally be like Zooropa, when they release it between tour legs and then slowly debut new songs as the next leg goes on.

Ravi: Do you see them coming back to NA?

Mark: Oh yeah.  They'll be touring again in 2016.  If the album comes out in January, they could literally run the same type of setlists they're doing now except with the 'experience' songs in place of the SOI tunes.

Ravi: Then they can save the "Ascent" tour for 2017.  I think Experience will be good actually. I have no basis for saying that but I have a good feeling.  The band sounds good, they seem motivated, they're not writing musicals, and they've been slightly humbled by the iTunes reaction (whether they want to admit it publicly or not)

Mark: Three straight years of touring, with six months on/off each year....that's doable.  SOI gives me a great vibe about what the next album will be like.  Writing around a set theme really aided the songwriting, in my view.  (Though 'experience' is broader than 'innocence')

Ravi: I also wonder how SOE will be released ...I think they'll do something different, though not a conventional release either. Fitting that the release Experience will (likely) be different than Innocence

Mark: Interesting that 'innocence' got the totally modern release format and 'experience' will be more conventional.  Vinyl only!  The release date WON'T be announced, they'll just show up in stores!

Ravi: I think the band is focused though - perhaps more so than in a long time. Bono seems to have dialed back his other endeavours, perhaps out of necessity post accident

Mark: The fact that they delivered their fourth-best album (in my opinion) this deep in their careers is a sign they have a lot more great music in the tank.

Ravi: I am certainly excited again by what I've seen by the tour.  They're not phoning it in

Mark: Yeah, it seems like they've taken a bit of the innocence gimmick to heart and are approaching this tour like a young band with something to prove.

Ravi: Yip. Haven't gone into "Full Stones mode" yet.

Mark: I saw the Stones in 2003 and to their credit, they still put on a great show.  But as an ongoing, musically-vibrant entity, they've been over for a while.  (Though I liked their 1997 record, Bridges To Babylon)

Ravi: Great show for sure.

Mark: Did you see this article?  The writer has a clear 'U2 are not relevant and the last album stunk' bias but it also asks the question if a rock band in their 50s can be relevant.

Ravi: I just think U2 never wanted to do another 360 tour again where essentially the entire show was oldies.  I thought the Grantland piece was well done. I may not agree with it all, but to be honest the majority of concert reviews are 100% kiss-ups.  I thought he gave his share of credit to the band, and I respect a piece that isn't a total homage.

Mark: The good news is that I don't think anyone could see an I&E tour show and think "yeah, this band is washed up."  Remember, U2's tours usually start slowly, too....this one already seems off to a peak start

Ravi: Yeah. And I am usually quite critical. Very pleased so far.  Also, to end on something truly kickass, U2 playing ‘The Electric Co’ in 1983

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