Thursday, January 31, 2008

Four Irish Guys in 3D

My flatmate David and I went to see the new U2 movie, U23D last night. Filmed across a series of different gigs in South America--noticeable only rarely, such as when Edge goes from having sleeves to not having sleeves and when the crowd (previously identified as Argentine) goes crazy for the Brazilian flag--the movie had its star-studded premiere at Sundance and has been described by the New York Times as "the first Imax movie that deserves to be called a work of art."

My first caveat is that 3-D effects tend not to work for me. Although this movie uses the new polarized 3-D glasses rather than the old, red-white-and-blue ones, I only very rarely felt like I was seeing more than I would be seeing at a regular movie. Now I think that the problem is with my eyes and not with the movie, although when I queried David about the 3-D effects, he said, "I have a headache," so I'm not sure what he saw and didn't see. I have to say that the one time the 3-D effects worked for me, they really did work: I was like, "What is that idiot doing standing up in the theatre and waving their hands." But that idiot was, of course, a fan in the film.

So leaving aside the fact that I was probably missing out on the best parts of the movies, what did I think? Hmmm... It was no Rattle and Hum?

Now the caveat here is that the Rattle and Hum album was my first U2 album, so it has a special place in my heart. I spent a lot of afternoons flipping those four sides of vinyl--yes, really--and probably had heard the album a hundred times before I even saw the movie. But the Rattle and Hum movie is so much more than a concert film: it has silly interviews with the band; it has the band in the recording studio; it has the band going to Graceland. The action in the movie rises and falls, and you get little breaks from the constant onslaught of the band performing in huge arenas and stadiums. U23D is just performance, and it is edited to look like just one performance, although it is taken from maybe three, seven or nine (depending on who you ask). So it's not trying to be Rattle and Hum, and the critics generally disliked Rattle and Hum anyways because they saw it as too egotistical (which led U2 to take things over the top with the ZooTV tour around Achtung Babay). But I still would have liked just a quick snippet of the band backstage--like when Adam thanks the assistant for the tissue or the band figuring out the best key for "All Along the Watchtower" in Rattle and Hum--so that we could maybe get something that we don't already have from our (my?) live U2 concert experiences and live CDs and so on.

The more correct comparison is perhaps the 1993 pay-per-view event (which apparently subsequently was released as a video) of U2 live from Sydney. (Famously, Adam Clayton had missed the rehearsal show the night before the television broadcast. That concert is the only U2 concert where one of the four members of the band did not play. These guys have been touring internationally since 1980. Think about it.) The Sydney concert was just a concert, and it had all of the bells and whistles of the ZooTV/Zoomerang tour concerts. And somehow I think it will continue to stand out in my mind much more than U23D.

Now, part of that is age. I was more impressionable and less jaded when I was a junior high-schooler getting to watch a pay-per-view special with my favorite band (which they still are). By now, I have seen U2 live a couple of times and listened to numerous live recordings from across the years and seen Rattle and Hum, so maybe it takes a lot more to impress me. But I think that the bigger issue is song selection.

First off, the overlap between U23D and Rattle and Hum is simply striking. The Joshua Tree favorites are all over both of them, despite the fact that they are 20 years distant. In both movies, we get "Where the Streets Have No Name," "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "With or Without You." Both movies also include "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday." It's not unusual to hear any of these songs at a U2 concert--these are the classic U2 hits--but two films separated by 20 years have this much overlap? Hands down, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in Rattle and Hum is superior--mostly because Bono goes on a total rant--and I would be willing to make a case for some of the other ones, too.

Most of those songs also appear in the 1993 Sydney concert: "Where the Streets Have No Name", "Pride," "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "With or Without You." Those are the hits, right? (Other overlap between the Sydney show and U23D includes "One," "New Year's Day" and "The Fly.") But now let's look at what else the Sydney show included: the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" and Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love," and then less-heard U2 songs like "Dirty Day," "Running to Stand Still" and "Love is Blindness." Whoa! That is knock your socks off material! The performance of "Satellite of Love" from that concert has stuck with me forever. A live performance of "Love is Blindness" is golden! Those are the types of things that you want to immortalize on film. We know that the band can play "Sunday Bloody Sunday" because we've seen it not only in Rattle and Hum but also on Under a Blood Red Sky, which was filmed 25 years ago! Give us some rarities. Give us some gems.

Maybe the casual U2 fan doesn't have these complaints, and don't think for a second that I didn't get swept up in these songs--these are powerful songs that never fail to move me. But there is no way that this film can go down in history as a great concert film if the material is that easy to find elsewhere. Hearing the same songs again mostly made me feel bad for the band the way I do when I encounter any group that plays the same material night after night--doesn't "With or Without You" get a bit boring after 20 years of playing it? Instead of getting "The Hands That Built America" (from The Gangs of New York film), we get one line of it. And whereas Rattle and Hum hit us with "Helter Skelter" and "All Along the Watchtower" kicking off sides one and two of the two-LP set--vinyl, I told you--in U23D we get "Miss Sarajevo" as the closest thing to a cover. But maybe that and "Love and Peace or Else" qualify as the types of rarities that I'm looking for. And the second encore of "Yahweh" with Edge on acoustic guitar is pretty solid.

Now for a few snarky comments:

  • Why exactly does Edge have to change guitars after every single song? They really do not sound that different, and I have trouble believing that he is knocking them out of tune in three minutes. David alleges that Adam does the same thing with his basses and claims that it is even more egregious since they are all different colored versions of the same model Fender bass. I didn't notice that, but if it's true, then yeah, why? This just seems like conspicuous consumption to me.

  • Poor Larry Mullen Jr. Does everyone remember when he was the cute one? These days, he distinctly seems to be competing for the "Band Member Most Likely to Have Served Time in Prison" contest. The change is just dramatic. I've seen photos of the band where I ask myself, "Did they get a new drummer?" This is mean stuff to say--we can't all age as gracefully as The Edge--but it really is striking. I compare it to Steve "The Colonel" Cropper from Booker T. and the MGs. When he was the house guitarist at Stax Records in the mid-1960s, he was this skinny little guy with a skinny tie; a mere 15 years later, when we get to the Blues Brothers movie, he is a changed man. He still plays sweet guitar either way, but wow, some people really do change.

1 comment:

larryrocksandedgeisbaldafterall said...

poor larry mullen my arse! he's aged very well and ok the slick back was hard to take but by the time vertigo wound its way down under, the rockabilly do was gone and happily forgotten.

and besides he rocks....