Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Beautiful Day (Late) For U2 Celebrate As The Icon Formerly Known As Paul Hewson Turns 50

Bono, born Paul David Hewson in Dublin, Ireland, on May 10, 1960, is undeniably one of my favorite rock stars.

Yet there are times when I can't stand the guy.

I think he has been, and largely remains, an outstanding front man, excellent singer, occasionally brilliant songwriter and great humanitarian. But I also think he often comes off as a pompous, pretentious and even smug egomaniac.

I have been a huge U2 fan since about 1983, own every album and live DVD they have released and have seen them live 13 times dating back to 1986 (and will again on July 6 at Soldier Field). Their albums include some of my all-time favorites and others I find to be nearly complete duds. And while most concerts have been thrilling, I have found others to be quite disappointing, largely due to Bono's self-aggrandizing overreach.

I think it's unquestionable that Bono has done more to help--or at least bring attention to--poor and oppressed people around the world than almost anyone,  and for that he deserves a healthy dose of appreciation and admiration. Which of course, would only feed his admitted God-complex--What's the difference between God and the lead singer? God knows he's not the lead singer--and I also think while saving the world Bono's songwriting has suffered and he has become, at times, increasingly insufferable.

But despite a love/hate observatory relationship, at the end of the day--in this case the one following his 50th birthday--it's clear that Bono has provided me with much more enjoyment than he has taken away.

And thus I celebrate Bono at 50 with a collection of videos that correlate to how he and U2 have intertwined with my life for more than half of each of ours.

Happy Birthday Paul (after all, you weren't born Bono). From me to U2.

(Video Compilation begins below)

I don't think I was really aware of U2 upon the release of their first two albums. I think it was effusive coverage about their appearance at the US Festival in May 1983 that first brought them to my attention, and soon thereafter I heard Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year's Day off their War album. I also recall a great King Biscuit Flower Hour radio concert that I believe was recorded at the the Orpheum Theatre in Boston in 1983. 

But I'll start my video compilation with a rare clip of I Will Follow, followed by Sunday Bloody Sunday from a 1983 concert at Denver's Red Rocks, which became part of their Under A Blood Red Sky album. 

I remember first actively wanting to see U2 when they came to Chicago in March 1985 on the Unforgettable Fire tour, but a classmate who promised to get me a ticket stiffed me. But I vividly remember watching their appearance at Live Aid on July 13 of that year and being mesmerized by this performance of Bad.

I first saw U2 live on June 13, 1986 at the Rosemont Horizon as part of Amnesty International's Conspiracy of Hope tour, on a bill that included Lou Reed, Bryan Adams, Peter Gabriel and the Police, who reunited after having broken up a couple years ago. U2 played before the Police's show-closing set and basically blew them off the stage. Two days later the Amnesty concert in New Jersey was broadcast on MTV; this is an imperfect clip but is the best I could find. I love the way MLK opens into Pride (In the Name of Love).

My Freshman year of college--1986-87 at Northern Illinois University--Pride was probably the most common song heard blasting out of dorm windows throughout the year. On March 9, U2 released The Joshua Tree and I bought it instantly (on cassette as I didn't yet have a CD player) and soon thereafter, I went to Spring Break in Daytona Beach, FL with five dorm buddies. MTV announced that they would be premiering the video for With Or Without You every hour on the hour one of the days that week; we all joked that there was no way we would be in our room to see it. But we did. At least four times.

I saw my first full U2 show April 29, 1987 at the Rosemont Horizon. As a member of the Jam Ticket Club I was able to score a coveted ticket, in the 21st Row! A friend with a car at NIU happily drove us and I remember it being awesome. They opened with Where the Streets Have No Name, as they also did when I saw U2 again in October 1987, also at the Horizon. Though I love the "LA rooftop" official video, this live cut from New York on the Spring Leg brings back memories. Not sure what was wrong with Bono's arm.

I remember seeing U2's concert documentary Rattle and Hum when it was released in the fall of 1988, at a theater in DeKalb, IL. This cover of All Along the Watchtower remains a highlight of the film.

I was living in Los Angeles when Achtung Baby was released in November 1991 and really wanted to see the initial indoor leg of the Zoo TV tour when it came to the LA Sports Arena for two nights in April 1992. But I couldn't get a ticket, even after going down the the arena for one of the nights with about $100 in my pocket. This is a clip of one of my favorite underrated U2 songs from a show not long after.

On Halloween Night, 1992, at Dodger Stadium, I saw the "Outdoor Broadcast" portion of the Zoo TV tour. The opening was phenomenal, as was the concept, but I recall winding up not liking it so much as the visuals overwhelmed the music I loved so much (especially compared to the sparsely-staged but emotionally richer Joshua Tree shows). But I do love the Live from Sydney DVD they put out, from which this is a clip that best shows the whole conceit.

I felt much the same about 1997's PopMart tour--which I saw at Soldier Field in Chicago--as I did about Zoo TV. Visually stunning and a tremendous opening--as the video below depicts--but eventually surprisingly boring at points. Particularly because the Pop album was lousy.

With the advent of Ticketmaster online, and a bit more income, I started going to multiple shows per tour, and even occasionally traveling for concerts. In 2001, I went to three shows on the first leg--in Milwaukee, Chicago and New York--and another on my birthday (October 15) in Chicago, which had an additional gravitas coming shortly after 9/11. On the whole tour, their show-opening gimmick was to come onstage and start playing with the lights up, as the video depicts.

This is U2's performance of Walk On from the 9/11 benefit concert.

I saw U2 twice in 2005, in May and September, both times in Chicago. Their tour DVD was filmed in Chicago, so perhaps I was at the show seen below (although they played multiple dates on each tour stop).

With my friend Paolo, I attended--in $30 seats--both shows last September at Soldier Field. The first video below is one I shot of them playing The Unforgettable Fire, Paolo's favorite U2 song, although sadly Bono forgot the words (Night One was the first show of the tour). The following video is another performance I really liked from the shows.

I enjoy Bono guest appearances, but have only seen one in person, when he joined the Rolling Stones onstage at the Aragon in 2002 for It's Only Rock & Roll. Unfortunately no video seems to exist of it online, but a photo is below (not taken by me). 

A few good videos of Bono guest appearances or U2 live collaborations follow, including Bono with Bruce Springsteen, Bruce with U2, U2 with Green Day (at the New Orleans Saints first home game after Katrina), Bono & Edge with Pearl Jam, U2 with Axl Rose, U2 with Paul McCartney (to open Live 8 in 2005) and U2 with Pavarotti.

The above clips also show U2's involvement with big events and causes. Below is a video of them playing for (though a couple days before) Obama's Inauguration, with the song that was his campaign song.

U2 covering Instant Karma in 2005 near the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death.

Per the title of my blog post and to commemorate Bono's 50th birthday, Beautiful Day. 

Finally, the old set closer, 40. May Bono "sing this song" for quite some time.

You can also access the above videos via my U2 Playlist on YouTube

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