Monday, April 25, 2005

U2

Sunday, Branded Sunday
Key Arena, Seattle, WA

U2's Bono is 100% rock star. All of his actions are huge and dramatic: the wiping of the brow, the shaking of the fist, the selecting of the girl. He knows exactly what will make the crowd freak out, when to remove articles of clothing, and when to let the crowd sing (which interestingly enough he does throughout the show - there are times when it sounds like he's only singing every 5th word because the audience is singing along anyway--a vocal efficiency, if you think about it). But the more interesting moments occur when he pauses at the end of a song and takes just a split second of time for himself to be tired, thirsty or thoughtful, rather than a humanitarian/rock money machine.

The setup is best described by pictures. Look here for a picture of the oval ramp that surrounds the stage and part of the audience - we'll call it the Ego Loop. Look here and you'll see the big beaded light curtains that unfurl from the ceiling to display animated airplanes and flags and walking dudes. Look here for the sea of happy raised white arms. The light show really is fantastic, and the Ego Loop lets people get a good look at the band, including the shtick where Bono lays down on the ramp, as he's been doing on stages for years.

Never have I seen this stadium so full. Although I suppose if one were to attend the more popular sporting events (Chip: "or Neil Diamond") one would scoff at this statement. I love crowds who not only worship the band, but have also been waiting between one and twenty years to see them. Since this audience is not all that diverse in makeup, race, or enthusiasm, my binoculars wander to the other types in attendance.

Two flavors of people stand out for me here: (1) part-time security guards who are highly impressed with the gig they've just landed, are aware that many people are staring straight at them with uncaring eyes, and that cameras will catch their every move should Bono saunter by. The result is that they try to be SUPER casual--one guy goes so far as to cross his arms and LEAN AGAINST THE EGO LOOP while the crowd goes crazy around him; (2) random privileged people who somehow get to stand in the same fenced-off area as the security guards, but who are not wearing a uniform or headset or anything. Some of these people try and look cool and low-key, others are excited and nervous to be there, and one guy faces his little section of the crowd and sort of conducts their cheering. Who ARE these people? Perhaps they all have terminal illnesses or are diplomatic envoys from developing nations.

I am pleased to see that the girl Bono plucks from the audience for a stroll around the Ego Loop is not a waifish girl in a camisole, but a normal looking girl in a baseball cap and saggy jeans. She is eventually deposited by the drum kit so that Bono can pay attention to his audience again. The girl stands there for a while, then starts feeling awkward and sits on the riser so people will stop looking at her. Bono eventually collects her and drops her back at the starting point. She probably feels special and cool, but you can tell that Bono has done this so many times that she might as well be a head of lettuce.

In all it's a great show, which Bono unsuprisingly uses as a platform for his latest political ventures. This time he implores people to get involved to end poverty in Africa, which is fine and all, but the most he can accomplish is to ask people to text their names to this number to show their support. Hundreds of lightning bug cel phones emerge, and a few minutes later you see these names flash across the screen above the audience. I just hope that they also send follow-up SMS spam so the program lasts longer than 6 minutes. I can understand why Bono wants to keep his night job: performing doesn't necessarily change the world, but committees at the World Bank don't scream when he walks in the room either.

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