Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Live: U2's ZOOROPA tour in Leeds


(12th October 1993)

U2’s ‘Zooropa’ tour reaches Leeds to play to
their largest-ever audience, Leeds becomes gridlocked,
and Susan of Morley wins a book and an album

The local radio station has declared U2 Day, with outside-broadcasts direct from Roundhay Park. ‘This is another chance to be a RADIO AIRE U2 WINNER! Do YOU know what year “When Love Comes To Town” was a hit? Ring 0532-344963 and YOU can win the ‘Zooropa’ album and copies of the U2 book ‘Burning Desire’…!’ Simultaneously an ad-plane spirals overhead, zigzagging the blue sky trailering a red ‘U2 GO TO THE BIG APPLE BAR DINER, LEEDS’ streamer. Do they? Do they really?

While this ragamuffin in a beaded pixie-hood is trying to black-market tickets at me, and won’t take no for an answer. Already the IPM (Images Per Minute) count is high. It’s as though Marshall McLuhan never happened.

‘This is the largest PAYING crowd we’ve ever played to’ proclaims Bono. ‘This makes Wembley Stadium look like a Bowling Green’, while behind him it subtitles ‘ROCK ‘N’ ROLL IS ENTERTAINMENT: SERVICE CHARGE NOT INCLUDED’.

‘1988?’ suggests the first caller uncertainly, so chicken Colonel Sanders could market him.

You know this. You know they open with “Zoo Station”, Bono appearing halfway up the gantry framed by the screens. You’ve seen it, read it, done it. You know he goose-steps across the screens doing the Peter Sellers ‘Doctor Strangelove’ salute beneath the suspended autos wreathed in vapour trails of cigarette smoke. But ‘EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG’, or at least an approximation that can’t quite measure up to the REAL thing. And THIS IS (STILL) NOT A REHEARSAL.

We sit behind Gordon Strachan. Leeds United drew this season’s first match 1-1 to Manchester City. He has footballer’s immaculately false hair-styling, and he grins as he signs autographs. Behind us there’s a Vegeburger stall, official ZOOROPA merchandising, and the Amnesty International stand.

Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra’ (the ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ music) booms from the towers. A smoking hole opens up in the audience epicentre, it storms into whirlpools out of which magics a huge caricature ‘Bono’ in inflated Frank Sidebottom artificial head, waving and cavorting. He’s followed by a ludicrous monochrome ‘Edge’, ‘Clayton’ and ‘Mullen’. Roadies who look like Victor Mature in ‘Samson And Delilah’ (1949) attempt to stuff them back into the magician’s box from which they emerge, and drag them towards the stage. ‘Bono’ retreats back in last, waving royally, as if on clockwork.

 “The Fly” comes second. Dense and distorted. ‘GUILT IS NOT OF gOD’. But “Even Better Than The Real Thing” is pin-sharp and digitally balanced. Then “(She Moves In) Mysterious Ways”, and the audience smoke-hole regurgitates a harem dancer whirling bumping and grinding towards the stage, teasing and flirting as Bono sneaks an ‘ah, love to love you Baby’ into the fade. In the audience a life-size plastic sex-doll passes dumbly over people’s heads, pinkly naked. Mouth a perfect sexually-accessible ‘O’.

Bono channel-hops a visual slipstream of Euro-TV with the remote control. ‘It makes more sense when you DON’T speak the language.’ Welcome to the global village. The medium is the message, and the massage. Televisual lobotomy comes via the crystal bucket, an image saturation from the glass teat, with William Burroughs taken on as script-consultant. Fields of sunflowers. Prowls of buffalo. EGY. BIR. OKAN. ONE. UNE. NYE. “One” is dedicated to Sarajevo. Simultaneously St James Hospital one-&-three-quarter miles down the Harehills Road prepares a ward to accept the first of John Major’s ‘clutching-at-PR-straws’ OPERATION IRMA casualties (airlifting the wounded from the Sarajevo siege).

‘1990?’ queries the next caller tentatively. The outside broadcasts break for a traffic update. There’s gridlock clear through Leeds backing up on the M1 beyond Exit 46. The ‘T’-shirts say ‘Brian May’, ‘ZOOROPA’, ‘Big Country’, ‘ZOOROPA’, ‘R.E.M.’, ZOOROPA’, ‘Barbara Cartland’ (!) and ‘STOP SELLAFIELD: U2’. Adam Clayton is in all-over blue. The Edge in an orange jacket. We are trapped in the United States Of Unconsciousness where Central America means Kansas.

Bono does “Unchained Melody”. A nuclear strike of missiles launch from Cold War silos. As he gets to ‘speed your love to me’ they detonate in a holocaust of exploding cars from every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie at once. “Until The End Of The World”, and Bono moves out along a platform into the audience, wetly and open-mouthed kissing the video camera so his incredibly magnified lips near-devour us all from the screens. The sun goes down like a slow Hiroshima in reverse. A blitz of lights strobe up. “New Year’s Day” gets the night’s first mass roar of approval, green and red lights turn the scaffolding into an industrial oil refinery. Lighters spark held high in constellations across the crushed human undulations.

‘80,000 people and counting’ says Radio Aire. £22 a ticket. That’s £1,760,000. There’s a specially-constructed viewing platform to take sixty wheelchairs. A girl from Morley called Susan wins the album and the Sam Goodman book for correctly identifying April 1989 as the date when “When Loves Comes To Town” (with BB King) got to no.6 on the chart.

ZOOROPA is stunning. But spectacle on this scale ain’t as innovatory as the overkill postmodernists-on-legs claim. BELIEVE THE HYPE. Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals’ (1977) tour had flotillas of helium pigs and Spitfire fly-pasts over the stadia. Even Jefferson Airplane had big movie backdrops at the Fillmore’s which explains the dialogue from the 1933 ‘King Kong’ (‘it was beauty that killed the beast’) that closes their ‘Bless Its Pointed Little Head’ (1969) live album. TV’s and on-stage fast-cut SEGA-MEGA-TV type home videos ain’t new either. Every early eighties industrial-dance Club outfit studded their set with synchronised screens of sub-Warhol handhelds or pseudo-Godard cut-ups. So Leonardo Da Vinci designed the parachute three centuries before the first aircraft? He also blueprinted the helicopter principle. It’s said he went on to invent Betamax – hell, no-one’s perfect. Not even genius. Where U2 DO innovate – and it’s a breathtaking conceptual osmosis, is to autowreck it all together. Electrifying the tired old corpse of ‘y’all right!!!’ Stadium Rock with mainline techno upgrading. Despite its spectacular incandescence ZOOROPA reduces down to human dimensions. The event never eclipses the players. U2 never lose the focal point. Yet despite the sound-and-vision accuracy, it’s a mass experience. Images overlap into each other, an animated sensory wrap-around of frantic speeded-up activity and solarised slo-mo video prattle that traps the retina as the sound hits the ear.

I’ve seen nothing like it. It’s still tattooed indelibly into the back of my head. It’s as if we’ve been given the magic cinema ticket and step into the ‘Close Encounters’ (1977) end-game as the alien Mothership descends through waves of ethereal light into all that sublime Spielbergian spine-shivering transfiguration.

‘…old stuff’s been repeated too many times’ drones the speakers.

“Numb” is covered up by ZOOROPA static. Machines and Soldiers. The Edge’s voice so flat Pizza-hut could cover it with red peppers and black olives and stick it in the plastic menu-holders.

For “Baby Face” Bono writhes on his back while a girl from the audience operates the camera. ‘Never pick on a Liverpool girl’ he gasps, chastened by her ardour. Then enquires ‘these new songs OK?’

They traipse into the audience for a skiffle session. The ‘Elvis 1968 TV Special’ jam. “Stay”, “Angel Of Harlem”. “When Love Comes To Town” (as a nudge to Radio Aire listeners?). “Satellite Of Love” is a three-way duet, Bono, the Edge, and the giant magisterial Lou Reed on the screens, the vocals glop together supernaturally. And Bono is singing ‘…if I could, you know I would…’ ZOOROPA: forget the theory, feel the beat.

He begins “All I Want Is You” starkly acoustic. One verse in and it erupts blindingly into “Bullet The Blue Sky”. Raging guitar solo. Everything burns loop-brained red. Blazing crosses ascend. Then they twist themselves into swastikas. ‘Don’t let it happen again.’ The sequence is awe-inspiring on all levels, visually, sonically and politically.

‘Gary Graham is due for execution by poison injection on a Texas death row. DON’T LET HIM DIE.’ They name-check it to Amnesty International. You can join at the stand behind us. This is an information-station with pinko liberal tendencies. The continuity of conscience is impressive (although, despite it all, Gary Graham – ‘Shaka Sankofa’ is executed by lethal injection at 08:49, Thursday 22 June 2000).

After “Running To A Standstill” Bono is swallowed by dry-ice clouds, emerging crouched playing harmonica. “Where The Streets Have No Name”. Gordon Strachan dances like a footballer dances. Slightly off the beat.

But despite the acceleration into modernity that shoves U2 head hands and feet above every other arena band on the planet, already the nostalgia quotient is at work. The older songs – “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”, get the most intimidatingly spontaneous responses. The charismatic Martin Luther King presiding above immaculately choreographed audience handclaps like a regimented Queen video.

Intermission. Tropical fish drift across giant screens. Access Zoo TV: faces sampled from the audience flash up to confess or proclaim. ‘I had a shit on the roof of my neighbour’s car.’ ‘Well, I didn’t vote for them, so who the fuck did?’ A skinny girl in a body-stocking says ‘I just want to get something off my chest,’ and she flips out a pretty nipple. This is ZOOROPA À LA MODE. As an encore device it’s unnecessary, but acts as a bridge to Ego MacPhisto – Bono in gold lamé and horns persona. AKKERS. DRACHMA. DOLLARS. SPONDULÉ. “Desire” is lascivious with greed and lust, drenched in explosions of cash. And “Moon River”, ‘I love that one. Do you love that one?’ he smarms. ‘I love the people of the north, too. You’re so… generous. They send you the nuclear waste of the world. And you accept it all. How very generous of you. I think I should ‘phone Environment Secretary John Selwyn Gummer to express our gratitude.’ He counts out the ex-Directory number as he punches the buttons so everyone can hear.

Gummer, predictably, is not home. ‘I’m afraid he’s not in at the moment.’

‘You’re sure he’s not asleep?’ No, he’s not asleep. Just unavailable.

‘So can I leave a message…?’ And MacPhisto leads the community singing of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You”.

Then ‘Ultra-Violet Light “My Way”’. “Love Is Blindness”.

And “Can’t Help Falling In Love” – waltzing in close with a girl from the audience. A falsetto so high it threatens to leave the range of human senses altogether, to become audible only to dogs. Until Elvis himself, from the ‘Blue Hawaii’ (1961) soundtrack, takes over.

Lights extinguish. ‘Thank you and Goodbye,’ with a final announcement that ‘ELVIS IS STILL IN THE BUILDING’. Which, in a sense, he is.

‘Radio Aire’ continues its bulletins into Sunday’s early hours as gridlocks unravel slowly through Leeds and beyond. U2 catch the last flight south from Leeds/Bradford airport, and Gordon Strachan returns to the reality of the new season’s struggle in Premier Division football.

Full ZOOROPA Set List:

(1) “Zoo Station”, (2) “The Fly”, (3) “Even Better Than The Real Thing”, (4) “Mysterious Ways”, (5) “One” with snippet of “Unchained Melody”, (6) “Until The End Of The World”, (7) “New Year’s Day”, (8) “Numb”, (9) “Baby Face”, (10) “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)”, (11) “Angel Of Harlem”, (12) “When Love Comes To Town”, (13) “Satellite Of Love”, (14) “Bad” with snippets of “Fool To Cry” and “All I Want Is You”, (15) “Bullet The Blue Sky”, (16) “Running To Stand Still” with excerpt of “The End”, (17) “Where The Streets Have No Name”, (18) “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” – Then Encores (19) “Desire” with snippets from “You Make Me Feel So Young”, “Solid Gold Easy Action” and “My Way”, (20) “Love Is Blindness”, (21) “Can’t Help Falling In Love”


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