Tuesday, July 12, 2011
War - U2
I recently saw U2 play at Anaheim Stadium as part of their 360 tour. It was a spectacular concert, I enjoyed it more than I expected. I was a big U2 fan when I was younger but over the years I lost interest in them. I went to this show because my son wanted to see it and I'm glad we went. There was a moment in the concert where I was reminded of when I started to lose interest in the group. It occurred when they performed "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Here I was in the heart of conservative Orange County surrounded by beer swilling party people bellowing out the lyrics to the song including the doofus who had been yelling at Bono to stop talking and start singing earlier in the show. The song is a heartfelt cry for peace that references the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, yet the happy drunks around me might as well have been singing "Louie, Louie." The irony of this reminded me of when I was in college. I had the first three U2 albums and they were one of my favorite bands. I deeply respected their willingness to express strong political and religious opinions in their songs, I thought of them as cutting edge artists. I was walking along Fraternity Row in Berkeley when I came across a loutish bunch of frat boys sitting on their lawn and blasting from their stereo was "New Year's Day" my very favorite U2 song. I was horrified and it was never the same after that. U2 skyrocketed in popularity and my interest in them waned accordingly. I'm embarrassed to admit that a lot of that was snobbery on my part, like many indie rock fans I don't like it when my pet bands become famous. I've gotten better about that now, I like obscure bands and famous ones as well. Also I've come to realize that perhaps U2's greatest virtue is being a massively popular band that still has something to say. A bunch of idiots in Anaheim were lectured by Bono about Aung San Suu Kyi and the civil rights situation in Burma. Even if only a few of them learned anything from what he said, it is still more than there were before the concert. Bono has been given the gift of a platform and he has consistently used it for good. Kudos to him and U2 for maintaining their integrity all these years. My favorite U2 album is this one, "War." I bought it in Berkeley and played it all the time for awhile. It is a concept album about armed aggression. It is very much a record of its pre-Glasnost era, when the world was unstable and full of conflict. With a trigger-happy cowboy in the White House and gunboat diplomacy the order of the day, the feeling of Armageddon and doom that permeates this album was definitely shared by myself and a lot of my peers. The lyrics on this album express confusion and disgust with the violence and injustice in the world and emphasize the power of uniting against oppression as well as the redemptive power of love. You can call Bono a silly romantic, but I prefer his idealism to the cynicism that is so prevalent in so much modern music. There isn't as much religion on this record as there is on the first two U2 albums, aside from "40," but it still has an evangelical flavor to it, particularly on "Drowning Man" and "Like A Song." I don't think that is a bad thing. One of the things I like best about Bono is that he is such a passionate believer in things. Musically this is an incredibly powerful record, it is far more muscular than most "New Wave" albums with their fake drums, jangly guitars and synthesizers. U2 championed traditional rock and roll values: loud guitars, heavy bass lines, big drums and powerful vocals. Unlike punk rock and heavy metal though, U2 played with grace and skill, this record is full of beautiful instrumental passages - despite the harshness of the lyrics, it is a pleasure to listen to. There is a wide variety of music offered - passionate anthems like "New Year's Day," "Like A Song" and "Two Hearts Beat As One" which soar and lift the spirit. "The Refugee," "Surrender" and "Seconds" have a funkiness to them that reminds me of the Clash. "Red Light" is soulful, it even has a trumpet solo. I can imagine someone like Otis Redding singing it. It displays Bono's chops as a vocalist as does the powerful ballad "Drowning Man." "40" is a mournful tune with a touch of gospel. The militaristic sounding "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is in a class by itself. It is such a powerful song, I think it is one of the great protest songs of its era. Listening to this record 28 years after its original release I'm impressed by how vibrant and exciting it still sounds. Let the bells ring out - long live U2, a band that still matters. Recommended for people who still believe that music can make a difference.