Leftover thoughts on immigration, women's history, staging and more from Thursday night's U2 show at the Superdome.
After I posted my review of Thursday night’s U2 concert, I had a few stray thoughts that didn’t fit. Those stray thoughts multiplied, and some of them felt meaningful. With that in mind, here are a few more takes, some of which would have been in my review had they come to me sooner.
- How differently did the U2 of The Joshua Tree relate to the U2 of the one that played the Superdome last night? In 1987, they were an Irish rock band in love with the idea of America. Throughout the night though, Bono framed U2’s story as an immigrant’s story, identifying America as the band's second home. They proclaimed the Irish--and by extension, themselves--as the “original dreamers,” and the gesture made the show more relevant than a simple recreation of 30-year-old album would. If nothing else, it might be the only way that a band as big as U2 gets any underdog cred.
That identification, linked to The Joshua Tree, added a valuable thought to the current DACA and immigration conversation. The narrative routinely frames America as the place where people from Mexico and Central America go to get money that they send home, and in that narrative, America is simply a place to financially exploit. U2 ended its video screen presentation with a giant American flag behind the band, and from the Dutch Anton Corbijn’s videos lovingly capturing America at its most idiosyncratic to the band’s buy-in on its promises, U2 made the passion the immigrant can have for America tangible. (For another, very different presentation of this thought, listen to the interview with Dream/DACA activist Elizabeth Perez on the podcast Politically Reactive with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu.)
- When I posted my review, I linked to a concert video of “Ultra-Violet” because I wanted to let readers see Women’s Hall of Fame that ran on the screen behind the band while it performed. The list of important women was worldwide in scope, so while the inclusion of Leah Chase and Ruby Bridges earned pops of recognition in the Superdome, many didn’t. The list wasn’t simply there to flatter; it was an implicit call to do your homework. Who was Wangari Maathai? (A Kenyan political activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Who was Edith Margaret Garrud? (One of the first western women to teach martial arts) Who were Sari Squad? (Women in England in the early ‘80s who defended multicultural clubs and gatherings, by force if necessary)
I was glad to see the list include Sylvia Robinson, Poly Styrene and Grace Jones because although controversial, hip-hop’s recorded history would be very different without Robinson’s Sugar Hill Records. Poly Styrene’s voice even more than the band and the lyrics made X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” one of the defining singles from British punk, and Grace Jones’ saw where dance music would go before most, merging disco, funk, reggae and punk in a way that genuinely reached dance floors, all with jet set style. Her glamor makes it hard to see her as a revolutionary, but she unquestionably made a difference.
(If you don’t want to do the Google legwork, the good people at U2Songs.com have put together a complete list with brief explanations of who the people are. The piece also credits Herstory, which helped to develop the list and visuals.)
- One byproduct of being a front man for more than 30 years is that Bono knows how to be one. When I reviewed photographer Steph Catsoulis’ shots from the show, one problem I did not face was picking ones where Bono looked compelling. Even at seeming rest, there’s an alertness in his body. That thought helped make one of Bono’s comments make sense as the band set up to perform “You’re the Best Thing About Me”—“I can stand here.” At this point in the band’s career, how a song will be staged is as important as getting the chords, notes and words right.
By the way, did anybody else hear the first held chord of the song and think of "Hard Day's Night"? The recorded version doesn't start the same way, so you remember it or you don't. "You're the Best Thing About Me" is such a pop song that it makes sense that The Beatles would be in it's DNA.
- Although Donald Trump’s presidency was clearly a subtext for Thursday night’s show, Bono never said his name. It was only mentioned by an actor from an old western on the video screen, and even then it was talking about a wall. Doug MacCash of Nola.com found the video:
- In the “Let Others Do My Legwork” department, also credit to Keith Spera at The New Orleans Advocate for finding a clip of “The Saints are Coming” on U2’s Instagram feed.