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The connection you make with people VIA music is what matters.

I know the title of this post may appear to conflict with my recent post about taking music seriously, but in my head the two concepts go hand in hand.

The deal is this: I really don’t think music matters in a grand or cosmic sense, at least not music in itself.  The RESULTS of music, however, are incredibly important.  In my mind, the primary function (result) of music is connection with people.  The emotional influence that music has on listeners, and the resulting connection that develops between a performer and an audience – this is what I am concerned with.  Therefore I take playing music VERY seriously.

But… what I don’t take seriously is the music itself, or the idea that music is somehow sacred and important aside from its usefulness to connect with people.  In my mind this concept is very similar to the whole “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it still make a sound” idea.  My answer to that is “no,” at least with regard to the RESULTS and PURPOSES for sounds.  I realize I am taking a very human-centric viewpoint here, but I will go out on a limb and say that sounds exist to be HEARD.  If they are not heard then they do not matter.

I thought about this all night at the U2 show last weekend. That band has an incredible ability to connect with people. Whether it’s through a stereo via their albums, or in-person at their epic live shows… they always connect. They always make an impact. They always leave their audience so affected by their performance that they want to go out and DO something. “Emotional high” was a common description my friends’ Facebook status updates on the day following the show. Many people were so struck by the show that they couldn’t even describe what they were feeling.

This is fantastically interesting to me… the idea that what I do with an instrument can affect listeners so strongly that they can’t even fully process it. Knowing that music wields such a powerful sword makes me want to be very intentional with what I do. It makes me want to choose wisely what kinds of message the music I play sends, and it gives me a lot of drive to see that the performances that I give are effective.

U2 certainly did this last Saturday. I plan on digging into their music even further over these next few months in an effort to learn how they do it.

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I went to the U2 show at TCF Stadium this past weekend with my daughter Betty, and we had a GREAT time. I’ve got some blog-post-worthy thoughts about the show, but I’ll save those until tomorrow and instead just post some pictures and stuff for now. This post is simply a diary of the evening for documentation purposes, because I’m so pumped to have found so many pictures and videos online from other people!

This photo to the left is Betty and me at home getting ready to leave for the show and feeling pretty pumped about it. I found these tickets two years ago (the show was postponed from last summer) and we have been counting down the days! Thanks again to Shawn Messner and Greg Stoesz!

Betty and I in the stands. Some friends were randomly sitting just a few rows in front of us and took this photo.

A few minutes before the show actually started a bunch of balloons were released right in the middle of our section. That was an unexpected treat for Betty. We spent at least 5 minutes punching them around. A random fan on the floor caught some video…

The show started with a David Bowie tune as the band took the stage, and they opened with “Even Better Than The Real Thing.” The Edge played the guitar solo at the top of the tune over the drone and it had a tone of vibe. Betty was BLOWN AWAY by the lights as they first lit up that monstrous stage. It was super intense. Again, a fan from the floor got some great footage of the moment.

Mid-show high five...

About 4 songs in it started to rain a little, so these super space-age-looking umbrellas came out of the stage over the drums and guitar/bass rigs. The Edge’s wireless pack had a little trouble at one point, and this video shows both the technical problem and the umbrellas…

About halfway through the show it started to rain SUPER hard, so we retreated into the concourse underneath the upper deck for shelter. We grabbed a good spot where we could still see the show and stayed there until the last song before the encore break.

Betty’s favorite tune is Elevation, and she was super pumped that they played it. My personal favorite tune of the night was the first of the encore, “Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me.” Be sure to watch this whole video, because Bono swinging back and forth from the microphone at the end is so cool…

Other noteworthy show moments include Bono’s creative band introductions, K’Naan joining the band onstage, Edge and Bono dedicating a tune to Amy Winehouse, the band just rocking right through some HEAVY rains, and the low cloud cover during “With Or Without You” adding extra visual effect to the mirror ball.

I’m absolutely IN AWE of how much this band affects people through their music. The concept of really connecting with your audience is something I’ve thought a lot about recently, and seeing U2 do it so well cemented a few things for me. Like I said, I’ll post some additional thoughts about that stuff tomorrow.

Hey blog readers… I have a situation. I was planning on attending the U2 show in Chicago next week (7/5), but now I don’t think I will. I have two general admission tickets that I will sell for face value or even a little less. Anybody want them, or know someone who would want them? Post a comment here and we can get in touch.

UPDATE: The tickets are spoken for. That was fast! High fives all around…

Not to be a jerk, but Adam Clayton (bassist for U2… i.e. guy with the easiest job in the world) has a serious clam in the U2 Rose Bowl Youtube broadcast. Check out 17:30 on the video. Bummer man. Right after his huge rock star pose too (17:20). Apparently playing the main bass line in the CHORUS of a song you play every night while walking across a stage bridge is too difficult even for Adam Clayton.

Seriously though, the rest of the show is great.  The broadcast was live this past Sunday night, but the video (all 2.5 hours of it) is still up on U2’s youtube channel.  Well worth the time, and I don’t know how long it will be there, being that the “normal” youtube video is 9 minutes max.

Been thinking this week about how, historically speaking, artists are normally slightly ahead of their audiences. In this way the artists themselves are always the ones responsible for the “progress” in the medium. Technology is driven by the market, Sports are driven by the competition, Politics are driven by the culture… but Art is driven by the artists, often to the dismay of the market/competition/culture. In this way Art plays a huge role in forming/influencing the future.

Sorry for being overly deep. I’m just really impressed with artists that take chances and intentionally move away from the comfort zone that brought them their success – pushing themselves into new areas that don’t necessarily promise the same results. Case in point: this cool interview with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois about the making of U2’s The Unforgettable Fire.

10/25/09 UPDATE: I’m watching the Youtube live broadcast of U2’s Rose Bowl show.  I am really struck right now with how HUGE this band’s footprint is on music/culture.  It’s hard to believe one band can accomplish so much.

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Some wise words from Bono in a recent Pitchfork interview.

U2 beginning their week-long stand on Letterman…

and… check out Jimmy Fallon and the Roots slow-jamming the news.

This week it’s all about Pop. As in, the band U2 and their 1997 release, Pop. This record remains U2’s largest side step from their initial sound (Joshua Tree, Rattle and Hum, etc)… but is one of my favorite albums nonetheless.

All great artists evolve over time. You can’t sit in the same creative pool for too long or things get stagnant. The Beatles, Zeppelin, the Police, Radiohead… these bands all followed an artistic road that has, at times, taken them far far away from the music that brought them into the public eye. (For instance, the other day I heard a DJ on a hard rock station how Radiohead hasn’t done anything significant since their 1992 single, “Creep”… a laughable statement.) I would cite Pop as exhibit A in the argument for U2’s status as a truly artistic and creative band, on par with the other bands I listed.

Pop was the official U2 release that followed up on an unofficial and widely unknown experimental record called Original Soundtracks 1 (released under the pseudonym “The Passengers”). Both albums rely heavily on electronica elements characteristic of the late 90’s, such as tape loops and sequencing. Pop was obviously the more commercially targeted of the two recordings, although the sales were down sharply from other U2 records and the album produced no hit singles or Grammys.

The first three tracks of this record pump me up so much. Really hard hitting electronica/dance/pop with great melodies and lyrical hooks, but not without some signature Edge guitar. Most of the bass tracks sound synthesized, and this fits well with the dance vibe. The drumming on the record is strange, but that’s how I feel about most Larry Mullen performances. His feel is just so unusual. It’s solid, but totally unassertive… almost timid sounding. Most of the songs don’t strike me as timid, so it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the way the drums fit in the whole picture, but it works. Especially noteworthy is the snare drum tone on most of the tracks. It’s really thin sounding, but somehow retains a full presence – it reminds me of hot rods or something. Maybe they’re samples? I don’t know.

Lyrically, the record revolves around concepts similar to the early 90’s releases Achtung Baby and Zooropa. U2 was preoccupied at this time with marketing and pop culture, and the ideas of celebrity and stardom. The “rockstar” imagery is all meant to be sarcastic, and this is especially evident in the over-the-top antics in their live shows from the 90’s (see video below).

It should be noted that the band has expressed disappointment in how the record turned out. Rumor has it that they had to hurry to complete the project due to the Popmart tour, which had been booked ahead of time. Bono has said that he wants to have the record remixed so that it would sound “like it was originally intended.” Even so, I love the music on this record, and I love the vulnerable position that U2 takes in producing a record so far outside their 80’s wheelhouse.

You can preview the record here, or go buy it here. And meanwhile, check out this video from the Popmart tour, on of the biggest rock and roll productions in history…

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