Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Why U2, Four Irishmen, Might Be America's Greatest Band Ever

Image may contain: 2 people, crowd and concert
15 May - Los Angeles, CA, USA / The Forum

The choice for best British band ever is pretty easy. Most will go with the Beatles. A few will argue for Led Zeppelin or Rolling Stones, but the Beatles are the consensus choice. However, best American band is a much harder debate. There are arguments for Aerosmith, Beach Boys, Grateful Dead, Velvet Underground (probably the most influential), the Ramones or some might make a case for Nirvana or Pearl Jam.

Here’s a thought, what if America’s greatest band of all time isn’t actually from America? What if it is four Irish guys who fell in love with America and have celebrated that ardor through songs for nearly four decades?

Watching U2’s masterful, nearly flawless two and a half hour performance at the first of two sold-out nights at Los Angeles’ Forum Tuesday, May 15 -- where they again paid tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, as has been the case for 34 years, during the spine-tingling, goose bump-inducing “Pride (In The Name Of Love),” where they invoked the spirit of L.A. icon Jim Morrison, throwing in a snippet of “Alabama Song (Last Whisky Bar)” during a dazzling “Until The End Of The World” -- one thing that came through repeatedly throughout the night is their passion and belief in America still burns as deeply as their fervor for music, both awe-inspiring after nearly 40 years.

Certainly you’d be hard pressed to find any band that has championed or believes in the spirit and culture of America more than U2. Their most successful album, The Joshua Tree, is named after a desert in California, they reference jazz giant John Coltrane in “Angel Of Harlem,” a song named after the New York city, they have a song called “Elvis Presley And America,” they were nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe for the 2003 song “The Hands That Built America,” from Martin Scorese’s Gangs Of New York.

In the song, Bono sings, “Oh my love/It’s a long way we’ve come/From the freckled hills/To the steel and glass canyons/...These are the hands that built America.”

What is clear from their music and their show at the Forum, where Bono repeatedly reminded fans, “This is America,” they fell in love with the American dream as Irish kids and still, even in these times where many born here are jaded and divided, they feel it is true. At one point, he powerfully spoke of how it is easier to be divided than united while encouraging us to have open eyes and open minds, “even if not open arms,” to those that stand in our way.

Of course without the songs to backup their ideals it means nothing. And this tour finds U2 at their musical best, exploring deeper cuts like “Until The End Of The World,” a stunning rendition of “Acrobat,” and a sublime acoustic “Staring At The Sun,” from what Bono called “The band’s psychedelic phase in the ‘90s.” What was also remarkable was how vital and potent early, early U2 songs “I Will Follow” and “Gloria” were. “Gloria” was a definite high point on a night filled with many of them.

Of the more recent songs, 2014’s “Iris (Hold Me Close),” a song Bono detailed being about his mother, was especially poignant. And Songs Of Experience’s lead single, “You’re The Best Thing About Me” was gorgeous and sweet done acoustically. Other standouts included a spectacular “One,” which began with Bono encouraging “Women Of The World To Take Over,” via a snippet of the Jim O’Rourke song, “Cedarwood Road” and “Love Is All We Have Left.”

Also particularly powerful in the new songs was “American Soul,” in which Bono declares, “It’s not a place to me/This country is, to me, a thought/That offers grace/For every welcome that is sought.” That U2 still feel that is possible and believe that in their musical soul 40 years after they first came here is why U2 could easily be America’s greatest band ever.

In U2’s America, the America we should all still believe in, the one that is open and welcoming, an America built on immigrants, there is not a damn reason in the world why four Irishmen who came here and love this country and believe in it couldn't be the best band we have to offer. It makes perfect sense in their America.

Steve Baltin

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

U2's Guitar Tech Dallas Schoo on the Band's Songwriting Process

Dallas Schoo has been the guitar technician for U2 and The Edge for more than three decades now. Enamored as a young person not with the rock stars themselves but with those in charge of setting up and maintaining their gear, Schoo got his start while at college in Colorado.

Once he started working with bands, he steadily built his reputation as a dedicated and focused technician, and the jobs kept coming. Before meeting U2 in 1982, his resume already included work with Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Stephen Stills, and Pure Prairie League. Today, Schoo is widely recognized as one of the most talented guitar technicians in the business.

We recently had a chance sit down with Schoo to talk more about working with U2 and The Edge and his favorite parts of their collaboration. Surprisingly, though, his favorite part of working with the band isn't going along on tour—rather, Schoo loves to be a part of the band's creative process in the studio.

 "They don't write at home," Schoo tells us, clarifying that most of U2's entire creative process takes place in the studio. "For me, to be a part of that magic from the foundation up, that's [the best part]."

Thursday, May 3, 2018

U2 are back on the road again with a new tour, eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE, which opened last night at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Bono  was raging. From the Unforgettable Fire album all the way back in 1984, Pride (In The Name Of Love) was a defining moment of the night. U2 had the courage to use images of braindead white nationalists with their tiki torches lighting up Charlottesville last August, their faces burning with hatred; as well as other images of equally brain-expired neo-nazis and KKK supporters fighting on the streets of America. U2's message was clear: hate is wrong, love is better. Later U2 used slogans in a similar way to the Zoo TV Tour of the early 1990s – this time the mantras on the big screen rang true in a post Harvey Weinstein, Me-Too era in America and beyond...

Empowered Women.

Empower Women.

Women of the world take over.

We can make history. Herstory.

Brothers and Sisters — stand up for each-other.

Respect resistance, or expect resistance.

None of us is equal until all of us are equal.

AIDS is sexist.

Racism is not Patriotism.

Refugees welcome.

It takes 20 cents to save a life.

Last night in Oklahoma, Bono hopefully taught some of the redneck Trump followers in the crowd how to work an unused organ: their brains.

Opening night of U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour in Tulsa. PIC Danny North

This was followed up with another track from that era, The Ocean, also from the Boy album. U2 then moved to the ultra emotional territory of Iris, from 2014's Songs Of Innocence album, with Bono singing his pain, singing about the mother he lost when he was 14: "The ache in my heart is so much a part of who I am." Up on the giant floating screen that ran down the middle of the in-door hockey stadium we were treated to Iris’s wedding day home movie. We also saw a home movie of Bono as a kid running about on the beach. Cedarwood Road came next and was just as autobiographical, with young Bono on his bed playing his guitar and talking about giving guitar lessons to a young girl called Alison (“the charge would be the rest of her life”) with images of Guggi on horseback and Ziggy Stardust waving at us flashing across the screen. Introducing the song Bono talked about fond memories of seeing his mother in the ocean swimming. This was followed by Song For Someone. After three tracks in a row from Songs Of Innocence, U2 then went into one of their true timeless classics, Sunday Bloody Sunday from 1983's War album.

"I can't believe the news today," sang Bono as 19,000 fans were once again up on their feet singing the words about a country far away and a time long ago. "Oh, I can't close my eyes. And make it go away. How long? How long must we sing this song?" sang Bono who has been singing this song for over three decades now. Then it was back to 2014's Songs Of Innocence again with Raised By Wolves. They then jumped back over decades to The End Of The World from U2's 1991 album Achtung Baby and then Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me from 1995. Elevation, from 2000's All You Can't Leave Behind, Vertigo from 2004's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and Desire from Rattle and Hum all the way back to 1988 then follow.

Bono brilliantly revisited the horned character of MacPhisto with a chilling speech on the nature of evil, before going into Acrobat from Achtung Baby, complete with Bono singing: “If you just close your eyes/You can feel the enemy."

Then we were transported back to You're The Best Thing - which was performed acoustically - from Songs Of Experience before we got an acoustic Staring At The Sun from 1997, followed by the aforesaid white supremacist-nailing Pride (In The Name Of Love.)

Four fellas from the Northside of Dublin - with one of the greatest back-catalogues of songs from any band in the world - held middle America in thrall for almost three hours last night. In the darkness of the vast arena Bono was their - our - personal Jesus.

Get Out Of Your Own Way, from Songs Of Experience, was next alongside a blistering version of American Soul from the same album, before this part of U2's set closed with a dazzling rendition of How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb's City Of Blinding Lights.

And yet Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry Mullen junior (who was expressionless throughout as the rest of the group were full of facial energy) were not done yet. There was still the encore to come. The crowd lost their minds when the opening chords of Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses (from Achtung Baby) spilled out of the sound system. Then the spiritual beauty of One (also from Achtung Baby) rang out across the ice skate venue, and Bono asked the song's famous question: "Is it getting better?" U2 are getting better with age. The version of One comes very close to Bono seeming in a place of rapture.

Next up it is Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way (from Songs Of Experience) with the lead singer of U2 singing:

"The door is open to go through

If I could I would come, too

But the path is made by you

As you're walking start singing and stop talking."

The night finished - though 19,000 people and even U2, after a gruelling set, don't want it to - with one of most emotive and moving songs from Songs Of Experience: There Is A Light.

When Bono sings the words, the ghost of William Blake (who inspired the titles, and the work perhaps, of the last two U2 albums) would have been happy with he heard...

“If there is a light

We can't always see

If there is a world

We can't always be

If there is a dark

Now we shouldn't doubt

And there is a light

Don't let it go out.”

When the song ended, Bono simply strolled down the giant walkway to the other small stage at the end of the venue and was gone.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bono Awarded George W. Bush Medal for Distinguished Leadership for AIDS Work

Bono was awarded the inaugural George W. Bush Medal for Distinguished Leadership Thursday, with the former president honoring the U2 singer for his work in combatting the HIV/AIDS crisis and poverty in Africa.

In 2002, during a visit to the White House, Bono lobbied the president to lend financial support to a series to humanitarian organizations that would provide financial assistance and help stem the AIDS crisis in poor countries.
"It's a huge honor to [win] this award, and I'm here to honor your leadership on the greatest health intervention in the history of medicine," Bono told Bush Thursday in a conversation that was live-streamed from the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

"That's what I'm not sure people understand: 13 million from PEPFAR [President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief], and if you add the Global Relief Fund, it's probably been 21 million lives have been saved by this work that you began and led and I'm here to honor that."

Bush responded, "The truth of the matter is, [PEPFAR] never would have made it out of Congress had you not been engaged. The first time I met you, you knew more statistics, like you were coming right out of the CIA."

Bush added, "Here's the thing about Bono that people got to understand: I like to say he's a real deal. This is a guy who has got a huge heart, obviously a talent, but cares so much about the human condition that he spends an enormous amount of time and capital on saving lives."

Bono also praised the ONE campaign and the American taxpayers for their help. However, the singer expressed concern about whether the Trump White House will continue the fight.

"Tackling a virus like this, if you're not as fast or faster than the virus, it's outrunning you. So all the progress that we made over the years can be undone," Bono warned.

"This was a moonshot, and [Bush] started something that was kind of 'put America on the Moon' in this regard, and I feel like we're just about to land on the Moon, and right now with this administration, we have some problems because they're talking about turning back. And I think we've got to be very hardheaded but making the argument for saving lives. It would be a very un-American thing to get all the way to the Moon and not put an American flag on it."

Bono joked that he was worried he would be fired from U2 over the honor, since his band mates were in Montreal rehearsing for their upcoming tour while the singer was accepting awards from the former president. "I kind of snuck out the back window," Bono told Bush. The singer also expressed his condolences to the Bush family following the death of Barbara Bush earlier this week.