Tagged: U2

Why U2 Were Right & Coldplay Were Wrong

It seems that along with talking about the weather, and wondering when the British man will get knocked out of Wimbledon, discussing the headliners for Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage has become an annual summer tradition. A few years ago Jay Z really got  the ball rolling, before knocking it out of the park, making the Eavis family look like geniuses, and Noel Gallagher look very silly. This year all the fuss was about U2′s slot, but I think the shouters should have been complaining about Coldplay.

U2 may have a rather hypocritical relationship with tax collecters considering the fact that their lead singer constantly hectors governments to give more in aid (I wonder where he thinks they get the money that becomes aid?), but they defined rock music for the better part of a decade, and have maintained a pretty consistent level of output ever since, as well as defining just how far stadium rock can go, in terms of spectacle.

One is pretty much the new Imagine now, in terms of its ubiquity, even though its not their best slow track, whilst their light-show and sheer chutzpah when it comes to what they pull off at their own gigs has left millions breathless (me included, and I’d never put myself as a serious fan of theirs). And, of course, they had never headlined the show – it was an omission as glaring as the one that saw Paul McCartney bring the house down a few years back.

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Coldplay on the other hand haven’t released a new album since 2008 (U2′s was 2009), and the quality of their output has been on the wane since their debut: my friend Mark Hadfield once drew a lovely little diagram* showing how quality of output often drops off as a band’s success increases – think Oasis from Definitely Maybe to Be Here Now, or, obviously, Coldplay from Parachutes to Viva La Vida. Coldplay haven’t defined anything for years, other than a trend for overblown, piano-led indie-lite, that saw a rash of shit coat-tail bands blighting the mid-noughties. If Hallmark made music…

On top of that, they’ve already headlined twice before, and if memory serves, the last one was a bit of a damp-squib, as they tried to force new tracks on an audience that just wanted to sing Yellow & The Scientist. Now, by all accounts, last night’s show was a storming success, possibly more successful than U2 (if anything U2 should have piled the spectacle on more – whilst the message from the space station, with a subtle David Bowie lyric, brought a tear to my eye, it couldn’t compete with Coldplay’s pulsating pyramid).

And many people would undoubtedly say that 100,000 people can’t be wrong, though the circulation figures of many daily papers highlight how false that assumption is. But there were two other bands how gave rabble-rousing sets last night, and either would have been more worthy headliners.

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Elbow are a band who have worked their way up. Besides Jay Z, they stole the show in 2008, went on to win the Mercury, and have since (recently, unlike Coldplay) released another amazing record. They are a true Glastonbury band; warm, infectious and utterly without pretence. Putting them as headliners on the Pyramid would have been a lovely nod to what they’ve achieved, rather than just making it look like Chris Martin only has to ring the Eavis household to get another booking.

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Equally Pulp would have been a nice touch. They showed back in 1995, when they took the headline slot a disbanded Stone Roses couldn’t fill, that you don’t have to be the biggest band in the world/Britain™ to steal a show. They have a back-catalogue that millions would recognise, and in Jarvis Cocker, one of the best frontmen of the last 20 years. Both Elbow and Pulp did play last night, and played very well, but neither in the slot that could, and really should, have belonged to one of them.

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But so what right? Tonight it’s Beyoncé and she’s bound to blow the roof off? Well, by my calculations, she has about 5 or 6 decent solo songs (i.e. ones the audience will know, that won’t send them to sleep) as well as a handful from Destiny’s Child days – the rest is pretty much standard R&B schmaltz. If the organisers wanted to take a risk, like they used to when they booked the likes of Orbital, or indeed Jay Z, they could have gone for the artist that Beyonce must wish she could be, Janelle Monae. Her performance last night was nigh-on incredible, something I hope, but doubt, Beyoncé’s will be.

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*I’m not for a second suggesting Coldplay ever did drugs, unlike Oasis, but the inverse relationship of their music quality to their fame, is the same.

Wrong is right by Joel Bez on flickr


#shfl11: U2 – Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own

If there were an official list of bands that it’s cool to hate, U2 would surely be #1 (possibly tied with Coldplay). They may be the biggest band in the world™, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no surer way of proving your indie cred than by dissing the boys from Clontarf. They’re overblown; too religious; are hypocritical (their attempts to get governments to stump up aid-money whilst depriving their own government of funds is a particularly ugly example of this); only follow, rather than set-trends; they’re responsible for global warming. Obviously one of those is untrue, but they’ve probably been accused of all of them.

However, what the nay-sayers ignore is that U2 have been making great rock music for the best part of 35 years: they’ve experimented, they’ve not been scared of ridiculing themselves, and their live shows are truly something to behold. After releasing, The Joshua Tree, one of the biggest albums of the 80s, they then released Rattle & Hum, an ode to Memphis blues, that saw many writing them off. Their response? Achtung Baby, an album influenced by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Manchester baggy sound. This sort of thing deserves kudos, not sneering.

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Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own is taken from the album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and is an incredibly moving song about Bono’s relationship with his dying father. It has all the hallmarks of a great U2 track, many of which would be listed by doubters as the hallmarks of a terrible U2 track:, the trademark Joshua Tree guitar sound, a hair-raising crescendo, and a slightly disconcerting falsetto from Bono.

If you hate U2, listening to it won’t change your mind, but if you’re able to put aside preconceptions and just appreciate a great track, then this is one you should be glad to find on shuffle.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.


U2 360° Tour: Croke Park, July 2009

So last Saturday I went to see U2 at Croke Park, in their home town of Dublin.

Whilst they didn’t play Stay (Faraway, So Close) they did put on quite a show, including a recorded message from the International Space Station; very apt coming so soon after the 40th anniversary of the moon-landings.

Being the rock & roll heroes they are, U2 were sponsored by a very apt brand: Blackberry.

They also played a song or two, a few of which you might recognise.

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If you even remotely like any of their stuff, and get the chance, go see them. Seriously.

UPDATE: It seems the boys must have read my post because they decided to play Stay on Monday, the gig after the one I went to. Bastards.

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U2 – Stay (Faraway, So Close)

Well, after a hellish few hours at Gatwick Airport and not enough sleep, I’m in Dublin. And following a fun day at Lovebox last weekend, which made me decide I need to see more live music, tonight I’m heading off to see Dublin’s most famous sons, U2, at the city’s biggest stadium, Croke Park.

The tickets are a very nice freebie and mean that I can tick off a band many claim are the best live act in the business, without having to cough up the better part of a ton to do so. It also means that I won’t be directly funding a band who’s frontman spends most of his spare time telling governments to give more in foreign aid whilst at the same time being depressingly ‘rock & roll’ and becoming ‘tax-efficient’, i.e. moving the band’s base to a country where they can avoid paying tax, thereby depriving his own country of the sort of funds that go towards aid budgets. The irony of this apparently is lost on a man who thought it ironic to mix the live links to people caught up in the Yugoslavian civil war with a rock concert.

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It will also mean, I hope, that I get to see them play Stay (Faraway, So Close) which is, I think, their finest ever track. You can see it being played live in the video above – the reason I’ve not used the official video is that U2′s record company have disabled embedding and so for the same reason I won’t link to anywhere that sells the track – I’m guessing that most of you are clever buggers who can find it somewhere without having to get your credit cards out: it’s not as if it would go towards funding foreign aid anyway. However I digress…

Of course Stay (Faraway, So Close) isn’t their most famous song: that’s probably something like With Or Without You or Where The Streets Have No Name which, fine songs though they are, are perhaps a tad overblown. Or it might be One which is, along with Imagine, one of the most over-rated songs of all time: a load of fortune-cookie philosophy strung along to a catchy tune – undoubtedly good, but hardy a work of genius.

Stay (Faraway, So Close) however is quite possibly a sign that the boys from the Northside really have been touched by genius: it comes from one of their most interesting periods and is restrained, intelligent and utterly beautiful. The lyrics are some of old Bonio’s best, with my particular favourite being the two lines which are somehow both funny and tragic:

You used to stay in to watch the adverts
You could lip synch to the talk shows

Apparently inspired by Sinatra it was recorded in Berlin during the Achtung Baby sessions (probably the best baggy album after Happy Mondays’ Pills ‘n’ Thrils and Bellyaches). It’s also apparently one of Bono’s favourite tracks and one which he thinks is underrated. He’s right.

Trabant by Leandro’s World Tour on flickr