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22 September 2009 @ 08:25 am
Song of the Week: #62: U2 "With or Without You" plus Gig Review  
This week’s Song of the Week is a long rambling SotW commentary as well as a review of U2’s 360 Tour in Boston, on 9/20/2009.

I hated, loathed, really really disliked With or Without You during The Joshua Tree era. Heck, I thought all the videos and singles released for that album were terrible. I loved Wide Awake in America, the iconic Red Rocks video for “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Years Day,” etc. But the return of Def Leppard was paramount for me in 1987-88 and while my brother loved The Joshua Tree, I didn’t get in that boat. I cursed MTV when WOWY beat the Lep’s “Pour Some Sugar…” for video of the year in 1988. I was seriously enraged.

I’ve mellowed since.

But, it wasn’t until Jeff B. got me psyched back up for U2 in 2000 that I paid much attention to them. His passionate response to a 2-minute sample of “Beautiful Day” and his anticipation for the album release was enough to get me back on the bandwagon. Then when I saw them for the first time on 6/2/2001, I was done. I still regret not being better prepared for that show, but within weeks the catalog was mine. An amazing tour, amazing setlist, Bono was possessed by the spirit of Lennon that week and equally possessed by Mark Chapman (see the Live in Boston DVD) as “Bullet the Blue Sky” became a centerpiece to channel that energy.

But it wasn’t until the Live in Boston DVD that “With Or Without You” truly hooked it’s teeth into me. The Director Hamish Hamilton is a genius beyond compare, but what moments that were captured under his guidance and then put together just made this song magic. And they define the power and essence of U2.

I’ve tried to explain this video before and my words won’t do it justice, you just have to watch it. You Tube will have to do, but really the DVD on a nice sized screen with a loud 5.1 mix will be even better, but start with the video on You Tube. U2 is all about passion and emotion, from day 1 in Ireland, it’s always been about that. What I love about them is their constant ability to easily cut straight through to your heartstrings and stir emotions. They are one of the biggest bands of all time, filling stadiums, but at the same time they are one of the most intimate and subtle songwriters on the planet.

The beautiful moments that happened at this show, and how Hamish Hamilton captured them in this video clip is the delicacy of this song: the yearning, the pain, both on a large scale, but also on a tiny, very intimate scale. On the 2001 tour Bono had been pulling a female onstage to slow dance to “WOWY,” but that night in Boston he pulled up a young woman and just laid next to her a the tip of the heart (a ramp that extended from the main stage out into the center of the audience) and sang next to her. She sang right along, tears slowly rolling down her face, framed so tightly it’s almost intrusive. That’s the tender, delicate, intimate side of U2….bursting into the chorus “whoooo ohhh ohhh ohhhh” section that segues into the gigantic, anthemic, massive scale U2 that moves stadiums, and then brings it back down to the intimate…this is achieved musically, vocally, through an amazing lighting design by Willie Williams, and finally by Hamilton who’s camera team captured the intimacy between Bono and the young woman beautifully.

The section that starts with him leaning on one elbow and looking at her and then end with Bono planting a kiss on her, springing more tears as her hands move to her face…THAT is the moment. THAT is why many of us are in this business – that’s the moment that started this trip for us, being so moved by a piece of music (granted laying next to Bono might have helped her along) that you’re uncontrollable. It’s not that Bono is kissing her, but it’s that U2 kissed her a long time ago – planted that emotional root that brought her to the show, that fed the fire to memorize the lyrics, leading Bono to pull her onstage. The physical kiss and tears were just a release of that amazing quality that U2 can so easily implant in us. It’s an amazing moment captured on film (if you have the DVD, check out the 2nd disc where they show the control room with Hamilton & crew during that portion – they know what they’ve captured is amazing as Hamish tells the camera team “reaching out, but not quite touching, that’s what the songs all about”).

I’m going to ramble a bit here about what makes a concert video something more than just capturing a show and some brilliant moments:
2:10 – the tight shots of the young woman and Bono – it’s magic, and great camera work, almost intrusive
3:00 – the full stage shot with the blazing heart – the pain of Bono’s vocals – agony and beauty
4:00 – an amazing moment on camera, but also listen for one of Edge’s best guitar parts ever going on right now
4:16 – the hands – what an amazing shot of Bono & the her hand held tight – who shoots that shot, of hands? That shot is amazing!
4:30 – the walk back to the stage – the slow build to the amazing final release – if you don’t show Bono walking back you lose the effect of the unit coming back together
4:42 – the arm thrust to cue the crowd – what a powerful moment as the crowd erupts in response
4:44 – catch this amazing camera pan upward from Bono and his arm – up to his hand and microphone – another brilliant camera move – brilliant! Don’t hang on Bono – follow the action – to the hand with the mic!

An industry vet told me that they were moved to tears during Sunday nights show in Boston at Gillette Stadium during “Walk On.” Sure a lot of other bands can do the same thing, but arguably, U2 does it better than anyone else.

Even though you’ve heard “With Or Without You” a million times – watch this video – feel this video. If you don’t have chills, check your pulse.

With or Without You live in Boston 2001.

Gillette Stadium, Boston
September 20, 2009

This is already book-length, so I’m going to skip the parking nightmares and reasons why I’d never go to this venue again and focus on the show itself.

The 360-degree set is frickin’ amazingly, incredibly huge (or “pogg” if you’re English and follow the rules of the British Beer Company). The LCD screens, the tower up the center, the arms, the moving ramps that connect the stage with the outside circle, etc. Having said that though, I think they let the enormity of the stage take over at times when there were opportunities for simple light cues to provide more drama to the setting (LOL, I’ve always got to nit-pick lighting cues, it’s what I do). But it was gigantic and cool.

Breathe – U2 in a stadium! Chills. Amazing! Larry comes out via ramp from the back and starts things off. The other three emerge from below.
No Line On The Horizon
Get On Your Boots – I liked this song initially as the single, now I’m not so keen on it – but it killed live. Brilliant energy and it was a stormer. The ramps moved from the back to the front of the stage.
Magnificent – it was. Although not as powerful in a couple spots as I was expecting, it was my favorite of the new cuts
Mysterious Ways – one of my least favorite songs, Clayton had a cool looking Les Paul-like gold bass, but was never shown on screen so I didn’t get a good look at it.
Irish Boy - Beautiful Day – Blackbird – definitely one of the highlights! Revolving LCD screen during the chorus – very cool effect. Edge’s solo was screaming – loved it. Bono changed the lyrics at the start of the breakdown section to ‘see Larry Mullen Jr right in front of you.” Chills.
Elevation – killer live song – lots of pogo-sticking. Needed more drama at the kick back-in, but still brilliant.
I Still Haven't Found… - Stand By Me – again, not a favorite, but the crowd sang most of the 1st verse & chorus and that sounded amazing. The crowd also sang Stand by Me.
Unknown Caller – killer Edge solo (cream Les Paul), rest of the song kind of ho-hum, but worth it for the solo. Karaoke words on screen for chorus.
New Year's Day – highlight of the night! Started with a Boston sno-globe on screen. Edge’s solo is one of the best ever – EVER! So psyched to see this. Clayton is the man on bass. Chills.
Stuck In A Moment – acoustic Edge & Bono only. Edge’s falsetto brought down the house.
The Unforgettable Fire – LCD screen separates and expands top to bottom. Nice to hear this old school gem.
City of Blinding Lights – amazing song live – LCD based lighting was brilliant. Bono brought a young girl onstage.
Vertigo – another stormer – brilliant live. The LCD slowly came back together as the song progressed and stayed just above the stage, very low.
I'll Go Crazy... (remix) – Larry walks the circle with a hand drum, back to the kit at the very end – the remix is terrible and they butchered an otherwise excellent song.
Sunday Bloody Sunday – dedicated to the people of Iran – powerful. Mixed in some of The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah.”
MLK – “an Irish lullaby” dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi.
Walk On – included volunteers who held Aung San Suu Kyi faces on sticks. Amazing song, but not as visually stunning as on Elevation Tour.
One - Amazing Grace – video intro by Desmond Tutu, great song, but I don’t need to hear it anymore.
Where the Streets… - favorite song of the night. Amazing live song. Chills.

Ultraviolet – great to hear although I was thinking it was going to be better. Bono used an old school round radio type mic (like a boat wheel) that was hanging from the rigging.
With or Without You – this is a special song for me now, see above, it embodies U2. Amazing to be there to help sing the “whooo oooooh ooooooh” choruses. Bliss.
Moment of Surrender – 3 mellow songs in a row for the encore – it dragged. Good track, but not as good live, and a little anti-climactic. They have so many stormers, why not put one here in the encore?

What more can I say? I’m thankful that I was able to see them again. Definitely one band that I wish I’d started following earlier and had travelled around the north east to see – especially on Elevation and Vertigo tours. Strangely enough Mark H. and I both thought the crowd was going to be more insane considering Boston is U2’s home away from U2, but it was a bit more mellow than we thought (almost like an Albany crowd, but not that bad). All in all it was another amazing U2 experience as only they can deliver.

Here’s some Boston footage:
New Years Day
City of Blinding Light
With or Without You
Sunday Bloody Sunday (behind the stage)