I accidentally invited bleeding-edge tech journalist Robert Scoble to a private Kyte party. How it unfolded is a little embarrassing, but suffice it to say that the moral of the story is, don’t be Twittering first thing in the morning when you should be busy getting some work done anyway.
After drinks and deep-fried snacks at Johnny Foley’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, the Kyte team, along with Scoble and his Fast Company podcast producer Rocky Barbanica (a disarmingly affable fellow, despite looking like someone who drives a Harley and could be menacing in a dark alley), headed over to the Metreon to see U2 3D in the IMAX movie theatre.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, and, to be honest, I probably would have been more excited at the outset by a presentation of Aliens of the Deep or Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon. With a movie of a U2 concert, I assumed I’d get bored and space out, wishing I could be Twittering from my mobile phone without being rude to my fellow attendees who’d prefer to sit in pitch-darkness. (I was wrong about the movie; read on.)
It’s not that I dislike U2. In fact, in the ’80s I used to listen incessantly to War on vinyl, lifting the needle at the end of "Seconds" and setting it down at the beginning of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" over and over again, sometimes taking a break from this two-set to listen to "Drowning Man" or "40." When I lived in "Oblique House," a small temporary co-op in Oberlin, Ohio during the summer of 1989, a friend who was a studio musician tuned his guitar to The Joshua Tree and played impeccable renditions of "Where the Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For," and "In God’s Country." He emulated The Edge’s signature textural style (although neither of us remembers if he’d used delay taps to mimic the "shimmer" effect). Better even than listening to the album on a top-of-the-line sound system, it sounded like a private U2 concert in our house. Later, when I traveled through the southwest, I couldn’t look at any of the ubiquitous Joshua trees without thinking of the eponymous album. Tangentially, Boo owns an original Negativland’s U2 EP (rereleased under another title), purchased just before U2’s former label Island Records sued Negativland, a controversial lawsuit that the U2 members themselves thought was "very heavy."
But I stopped buying albums after Achtung Baby and years later realized that I’d quit listening to U2’s newer stuff altogether — with the possible exception of "Beautiful Day" from All That You Can’t Leave Behind (simply because it was unavoidable in the media and the public sphere). It wasn’t intentional on my part; perhaps it was because the anger and intensity of War (still my favorite U2 album) appealed to me more than the sweeter, feel-good material of later years. (It’s analogous to — though not as extreme as — my erstwhile enthrallment with Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy in the early ’90s before Michael Franti turned into a hippie peacenik; his sound mellowed out and got boring, at least compared to his previous musical incarnations. If I wanted tepid, unchallenging music, I’d listen to smooth jazz.)
Nevertheless, it’s fairly easy to get in the mood for a U2 concert, virtual or live. U2 is like The Beatles, comprising a solid, talented quartet of British Isles musicians with names memorized by millions around the globe, known for their iconic radio hits as much as for their social activism. At this point, U2 is classic — and one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t like their music.
U2 3D is a masterful cinematographic tour de force — the first of its kind in the realm of music concert films — combining cutting-edge 3D video recording technology with clever, larger-than-life post-production graphics. We, the movie audience, have a far better perspective of the concert than anyone in the actual live audience, as we omnisciently fly through the arena like a ghost with perfect hearing, hovering above and around the musicians, following them as they strut onto curved catwalks extended from the main stage. We suddenly find ourselves amid the concert audience, hands in front of us thrusting high into the air as we, too, yearn to throw our hands skyward, would that we weren’t in a movie theatre. I’ve never been to an actual U2 concert, and I was convinced that this experience must be even superior — but Kyte founder and CEO Daniel Graf (a hardcore U2 fan who’s attended five concerts and seen U2 3D twice) later assured me that there still was "no comparison" to seeing U2 live and in person, even if occupying just one small spot in the audience.
The state-of-the-art video equipment coupled with the IMAX theatre brought the images so close and clear that we could see every wrinkle in Bono’s face, every strand of hair on The Edge’s arms (these dudes are hairy), the wedding bands on their ring fingers, every pockmark on the surfaces of Larry Mullen Jr.’s rack and floor toms, the coiled cords of their musician’s ear plugs, the scuff marks on the stage, glimpses of video captured on mobile phones from the audience. I found myself becoming obsessed with spotting quotidian details, trying to sneak a peak at the set list taped to the stage, recognizing the major chords Bono was playing during one of his few guitar performances: Hey, that’s a C! And a D! Wow, he plays a G like that? He’s got big hands. The more access they gave us, the more I wanted to know. (Boo was instead busy paying attention to the actual musicianship, The Edge’s sublime arpeggios and harmonics and Mullen’s comfortable triple-stroke rolls.)
I peered inside the vertical receptacle for Mullen’s spare drum sticks and stared at the big box of tissues he kept within easy reach of the drum set (did he have a cold? wouldn’t a towel work better for sweat management?) and the large glass of pale yellow liquid (ginger ale? Orangina? Gatorade?) in ice. I looked for the camera operators: at one point it became obvious that the movie was spliced together from footage of different concerts, as in one moment we’re hovering above and behind Mullen and in the next, we’re in front of him at drum set level, but — poof! — the camera from the last cutaway was nowhere to be seen. (I should mention, though, that the editing was so competent that it was almost impossible to distinguish audio breaks within or between songs.)
The proximity became intense as Bono looked directly into the camera — into our own eyes — so closely that we could see the reflection of his pale hand in his trademark sunglasses, and the irises of his eyes behind them, as he reached out to us, gently singing Wipe your tears away in "Sunday Bloody Sunday."
Here are some other tidbits you might like to know about Bono’s performance, if you’ve never attended a concert, or if you were stuck in the nosebleed section: he dances like a stripper, alternately running a hand through his greasy hair (Mullen’s hair was greasy, too — what’s up with that?) and sliding it down his slowly gyrating hip. He vogues a lot, tilting his head back and singing into the microphone à la Roger Daltrey, conjuring the iconic silhouettes of iPod ads. He also changes jackets often — donning a Sergeant Pepperesque getup later in the show — as well as sunglasses (apparently he has more than one pair). At one point, he gently caressed Adam Clayton’s face and then, obviously confident in his heterosexuality, gave him a European-style man-kiss, almost on the mouth. After that, Clayton was visibly happy, smiling broadly and bouncing around with renewed energy. (Does Clayton, too, have a crush on Bono, as the rest of the world seems to?)
In addition, U2 integrates messages of various social causes into the music and the graphics on the giant backdrop, so be prepared to be
preached at inspi(red). During "Yahweh," Bono donned the Coexist bandanna and chanted, "Jesus, Jew, Mohammed, it’s true: all sons of Abraham." Well, that’s nice — something I’ve known and agreed with for years — but, as a writer, I’m bothered by unparallel list of religious terms. Jesus and Mohammed were both prophets, but a Jew is someone who belongs to the religion of Judaism or the Jewish ethnicity/heritage. There is no prophet named "Jew." The father of the Jews was Abraham, but I realize it would be recursive to say "Jesus, Abraham, Mohammed, it’s true: all sons of Abraham," because Abraham can’t be his own son. Would it have been that difficult to recite the name of another Jewish prophet? There are many to choose from. Moses, despite his fascist tendencies in his later years, was revered for leading the Jews out of slavery. David won a fight, became a king, lived in some fine real estate and, like Bono, was a respected poet and musician. I suppose, however, that Bono was trying to maintain a simple rhythm as well as to rhyme something with true; I concede that it works musically, even if it doesn’t logically.
Overall, it’s hard to decide whether I was more impressed by the tight performance of these seasoned musicians (with nary a backup musician in sight) or the spectacle of the concert itself, with its bright visuals continually projected onto the huge screen behind the stage. Or perhaps it was the concert audience(s), as our perspective panned over and glided through teeming fans jumping in unison, occasionally just a bit out of synch with each other, so that they formed the surface of a giant human ocean, three dimensional waves rippling randomly through the arena. I was mesmerized by the galaxy of lights (glowing blue from mobile phones, golden from old-school lighters), and stirred by the ecstatic exhilaration of tan young women in cotton tanks and bikini tops perched atop the shoulders of strong young men, waving arms to and fro, mobile phones in hands, swaying to the rhythms of "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "One" and singing along with the crowd’s roar of melodic white noise.
After the final encore, as intense white lights shone in our eyes, Mullen whispered something in Bono’s ear. It was one private moment we didn’t have access to, and I was dying to know what he said. Here are some possibilities of what it might have been:
- "This movie is gonna rock!"
- "I have to pee. Let’s go."
- "I’m a little tired of some of these songs; aren’t you?"
- "Do you think Kleenex will pay us for product placement?"
- "Why don’t you ever kiss me, for a change?"
- "Aren’t you glad you answered my ad in high school?"
After the virtual concert, in the lobby of the movie theatre, I asked Scoble what he thought. "It was f**kin’ awesome!" he gushed. Assuming he must be a devoted U2 fan, I asked, "Have you ever been to an actual U2 concert?"
"No, but I met Bono last week," he quipped, drawing laughter from the Kyte team. "I shook his hand! You can see me recording him in the corner of the video from Davos." We pretended to be nonchalant, but I think we were all in awe. For the evening, Robert Scoble was the rock star among us.
If concert movies of classic rock bands are your thing, mark your calendar for April 4, 2008, when the Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light, featuring The Rolling Stones, is released in the U.S.