Random Play by Graham Reid

5

Even Better than the Real Thing?

Last night after watching the taping of a fascinating and eloquent discussion of political spin on Russell’s Media 7 programme (TVNZ 7, 9.30pm tonight) we went to the opening night of U23D at the Imax in Auckland.

I’ve actually seen U2 in 3D quite often -- I consider seeing them live in Sydney, Auckland three times and Phoenix counts as three dimensional -- but this movie was something else: this was the band right there on that huge screen and seemingly so close you could touch them. Believe me, U2 in 3D is astonishing 3D.

Yes, we wore plastic glasses the size of those things Elton used to sport (and sat through 80s hits by the likes of Foreigner beforehand for some reason) but there we all were: Famous Rock Musicians; people from the glamorous worlds of television, radio and PR; record shop owners and reviewers; and some civilians just to keep everybody honest.

Freeloading freelancers like me too, which somewhat lowered the tone I thought.

I’ve seen quite a few 3D movies in the past -- not the least that Michael Jackson/Frances Ford Coppola thing Captain Eo which screened at Disneyland back in the mid 80s. And one based on Shrek at Universal Studios where the Eddie Murphy donkey on screen sneezed and we were splashed with some gunk from the seat in front. Erk!

But U23D -- which screens at three theatres in Auckland and one in Wellington I understand -- is very different. You are as close to the band as it is possible to get without actually being on stage and standing right beside them.

Let me first say this about U2. I didn’t like much of their early stuff and by the time they got to Rattle and Hum I thought they were just bombastic and embarrassing. I know a lot of people enjoyed all that early stuff but I recoiled from Bono’s messianic posturing and how they shamelessly hitched themselves by association to the greats of the past by going to Sun Studios for the Elvis connection, recording in Harlem, covering Lennon, hanging on to Bob Dylan and BB King and so on.

Then they actually got interesting: I loved Achtung Baby and Zooropa, and Pop less so.

It seemed to me that here was a band that had achieved the success they had always wanted and now were going to flex some musical muscle, aim for inventiveness, and be ironic, ambitious and humorous. (And my God did they need to lighten up.)

For my money their Zoo TV stage production -- which I saw twice in a couple of days and would happily have sat in on a week straight -- redefined the potential and parameters of stadium rock. It was magisterial and questioning, ambiguous and cynical, played with the notion of television, messages and mass media -- and fired random epigrams like a less pretentious Jenny Holzer on speed. The music was also much more interesting.

At the time U2 had the money, the ambition and the vision -- and they were the only band in the world that could pull it off. They lost money on most shows, but had it to lose. I admired that about them.

I thought on the Pop Mart tour which I saw in the States and didn’t come to New Zealand that they pulled back a bit (out came the old familiar stadium-shakers and lighters-aloft moments) and frankly, much as I have listened to their last couple of albums, they have disappointed me a bit. So that’s where I come from as regards this live show in 3D.

I did however thoroughly enjoy them at Ericsson and was stunned that Bono could sing the Pavarotti part in Miss Sarajevo. (I assumed the Big pav would appear on a screen as Lou Reed had done on the ZooTV shows).

So U23D? Technically it is astounding. All those cliches about feeling you could touch the band are true, and even when you had adjusted to it there were moments when it hit you again that this was a 360 degree visual experience. You hover over Laughing Larry’s drum kit, are alongside the Edge as he peels off solos, circle Bono, and feel like you could lean on Adam’s shoulder.

Astonishing.

But . . .

Maybe it was just me -- Megan disagrees, she loved it and so did the huge crowd in Buenos Aires and the cinema audience as far as I could tell -- but there was a joylessness about the performance. Larry always looks like this is the day job and proper fun happens elsewhere (Jeez man, Charlie Watts manages a smile) and the other two are pretty leaden also. If it weren’t for Bono’s commanding stage presence -- and sometimes he looks huge, then at others is lost as this small man in a massive stadium -- there wouldn‘t be much to consider.

And for this gig Bono seemed to be back to all that earnest posing, the crumpled in a heap thing, the crucifix pose, the reaching out to heal the crowd -- and the set really favours the anthemic side of the band (New Year’s Day, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bullet the Blue Sky, Pride, Where the Streets Have No Name, One). Yes, they do Miss Sarajevo (not quite as good as the Auckland show) and then roar back with The Fly as an encore. (The best bit for me other than those three songs at the beginning where you brain and eyes are going, “Wow!)

The importance of this film I think is -- like ZooTV -- that it is ambitious and shows a possible path for others to follow. The technology will become cheaper and I can think of many artists or bands right now I’d love to see up this close: Bjork doing what she did at the Big Day Out, the Flaming Lips in full circus mode, Iggy and the Stooges . . .

Of course there is Martin Scorsese’s Stones movie coming soon too -- but I’ve seen Keith’s ravaged and crumpled visage projected four storeys high that is scary enough. To be even closer might be too much.

My reservations aside, even if you aren’t a U2 fan the quality of this technological innovation is pretty damn unbelievable. It really is worth seeing.

In other news: tomorrow we go to the “controversial” Divine Performing Arts Chinese Spectacular at the Aotea Centre (I shall faithfully report back, we went last year too).

Add in The Quick and the Dead at Whammy Bar Friday, and An Emerald City at the Ambassador in Point Chev on Saturday it will be quite a musical week.

And all of it in living colour 3D.

Footnote: A new hilarious Conchords track is posted at Elsewhere

Final Footnote: Tonight I appear as the guest on Media Wank on ALT.TV at 8.30. I am being interviewed about being a music writer and critic, and my “brilliant career“.
The sole piece of good news for you in this is that I only appear in 2D.

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