Tag Archives: Achtung Baby

My Mother’s First Rock Concert: U2 in Baltimore

 

Over the years, I’ve gone to see U2 a total of four times.  Each show was special for different reasons.   In 2001, I saw them for the first time after years of trying.  Four years later when I saw them perform in Washington DC, they busted out the rarely played “Out of Control”.

I knew U2’s show in Baltimore would be a special one, too.  As a Christmas present, my older brother and I bought my mother a ticket. Not only would this be her first time seeing U2, it would also be her first rock concert.  After years of watching her sons go to the band’s concerts without her, my mother would finally get to see Bono and company in the flesh.

She’s listened to U2 for almost 25 years, mostly because my older siblings exposed her to them.   She’s always enjoyed The Joshua Tree; though it took her fifteen years to declare Achtung Baby is “one of their best”.  It’s hard to listen to “Bad” without thinking back to Friday afternoons when she made pizza in the kitchen.

When the day of the show finally came, my mother was nervous about the large crowds and the stage show.  She became concerned about the band’s moving catwalks after hearing about them on the radio.  I was a bit apprehensive about going to a concert with my mother.   After all, this was a new experience for me, too.

Naturally, I wondered if it would be too loud for her.  Maybe the giant video screen and flashing lights would be a bit much for her.  Bono’s politicizing is sometimes off-putting for even faithful fans of U2.  What would she think if he gave the audience a lecture on Africa?

On our way to the concert, my fears began to subside.  As we made our way into the stadium, my mother seemed less nervous and more excited.  She had even brought a pair of earplugs, on my friend’s suggestion.  “What’s the name of the song about Bono’s father?” She asked as we weaved our way around the hundreds of people inside the stadium.   “I like that one.”

“Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” I said.  “Though I don’t think they play that one on this tour.”

After walking half way around the stadium and climbing to the upper-deck, we finally made it to our seats.  U2’s elaborate stage with its massive spider-like claws stretching into the air, circular video screen, and giant antenna took up much of the field.  “It’s crazy isn’t it?” my brother asked.  “It’s wonderful,” she replied in awe.  She might have been referring to the stage, but it was also much more significant.  She had finally made it, and enjoying the company of her two sons.

When U2 appeared on stage – Bono appearing last – my mother let out an enthusiastic whoop.   The earplugs were no where to be found.  From the very beginning, it was clear that I had no need to worry.  After every single song – even the ones she didn’t know – she cheered so loudly that it put the audience members around us to shame.

She was amazed at how The Edge could play so well, as the catwalk beneath his feet moved over heads of the audience.  Bono kept his political talk to a minimum, and instead offered kind words and praises of thanks.  “It’s nice to hear him have such a positive view of the world,” She said after the show.

The set-list was divided between greatest hits and deep-cuts.  While I prefer the latter, I could have dealt with an entire nights of worth of well-known songs for the look on my mother’s face when “Pride”, “One” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” were played.

U2 is the biggest band in the world not because they put on great shows.  Their songs speak universal truths and offer hope in a world full of confusion.  Songs even my mother, who is almost 20 years older than Bono, can relate to.

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Songs and Memories: U2 – “Until The End of The World”

Without a doubt, Achtung Baby is my favorite U2 album.  I was 9 when it came out, and had grown up listening to The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum through my older siblings.  At the age of 5 or 6, I could point the different members of the band on my older brother’s Unforgettable Fire poster that hung on his wall.

I was too young to remember the backlash U2 received with Rattle and Hum.   It always seemed like a good record to me.  In fact, it was the first album I ever heard on CD.

Still, the sheer sound of Achtung Baby was a shock to my young ears.  The opening chords of “Zoo Station” roared like a monster that had been caged for too long.   “I’m ready,” Bono declared after a minute of weird sounds and rhythms.  Except, this didn’t sound like Bono.  His voice was distant and cold.  Could this be the same guy who declared he would always been with his love on New Year’s Day?

Achtung Baby was a life-changing album for me.  It was my first real introduction to music that was wild and mind-bending.   Every single song is a masterpiece in obsession, post-modernism and lost love.  I’ve probably listened to Achtung Baby more than any other album (and that’s saying a lot considering how many times I’ve listened to Bringing It All Back Home and Astral Weeks.)

In an album full of great track, (besides the obligatory “One”), the true standout is “Until The End of the World”  – one of U2’s fiercest rockers.   The main riff is the closest The Edge gets to playing straight rock an roll, while his solo is one of the most intricate pieces he’s ever developed.  The rhythm section drives the song, hitting home the song’s theme of betrayal.  Lyrically, the song is among Bono’s best.  It’s filled with tension – as a party is taking place, yet there’s chaos underneath.   As a kid, I just assumed it was about a couple’s break-up – “I kissed your lips and broke your heart.”  It wasn’t until later that I discovered the song is actually song from the perspective of Judas.

For lack of a better term, this was a revelation.  Having grown up Catholic, religious imagery was not something that I wanted in rock music.  As a teenager, songs are sex are much more appealing than songs about God. (Even though U2 did have the Gospel inspired “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, I found it trite and boring.)  “Until The End of The World” was using Biblical imagery as a tool – there was no preaching here.  The Bible was a source of inspiration for the drama in the song, and Judas’ betrayal fit in perfectly with the themes of Achtung Baby.   U2 themselves have recognize the power of this song, keeping it as set-list regular, and releasing it on their second Best Of Compilation even though it was never a single.

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Reflections on Bono at 50

Hard to believe that today, U2’s lead singer turns 50.  Without a doubt, Bono is one of the best (if not the best) frontmen to ever grace a stage.  Unlike a lot of other rock stars, Bono somehow manages the impossible feat of making the universal feel intimate.  He tries to connect with every single person in the stadium and arenas that he commands.  U2 has always aimed for every in large scales.  And Bono is the key to U2’s success, because just like Bruce Springteen, Bono believes in the power of rock and roll.  Unlike Springsteen who views rock and roll as a means to escape a pedestrian life, Bono sees and roll as a secular salvation.  In “Thunder Road”, Springsteen sings, “Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk.”  Contrast that with Bono ad-libbing during a performance of “All Along The Watchtower” – “All I got is a red guitar.  Three chords, and the truth” and you catch my drift.

If you’ve ever seen any video of U2 performing live, you probably know that he will do absolutely anything to get every single person’s attention.  There’s the infamous Live Aid performance of “Bad” where in front of some 20,000 people (and millions watching) he jumped off stage, grabbing a girl from the audience and began dancing with her leaving the rest of the band wondered what the hell just happened to their lead singer.  Then there’s U2’s performance on Saturday Night Live in 2001.  During “Elevation” (which is either a great rock song or just plain dumb depending on your point of view) Bono made a normal performance into an event by again jumping off the stage, shoving his face in the camera, wandered around the sets, and demanded the crowds attention.  I haven’t seen that many Saturday Night Live performances, but from what I’ve seen most artists just play their songs and hang it up.  What other artist would bring Salman Rushdie up on stage during the height of the Satanic Verses controversy?  Who else but Bono would bring the mothers of children who had been taken by Death Squads in El Salvador on stage?  By doing this, Bono doesn’t try to connect with everybody when he’s on stage – he’s also trying to make a global connection as well.  You can argue that sometimes his speeches about Africa before “One” go on for a while, but he’s taking a risk, and it’s a risk worth taking.

My favorite U2 album is Achtung Baby, and it contains some of Bono’s best singing and lyrics.  Throughout the album he looks to the future for inspiration (“Zoo Station”), agonizes over being torn apart (“One”), moonlights as Judas talking to God (“Until the End of the World”), and evens questions his validity as a rock star with his faith (“Acrobat”).

Of course, rock and roll isn’t always about salvation – sometimes you can just be a fan as well.  Bono’s essays on Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and Frank Sinatra rank up with some of the best writing about other musicians by a musician.  He’s constantly slipping in lines of his favorite songs into U2 performances.

But above anything else, Bono also wrote this song:

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Spin Names “Achtung Baby” Best Album of the Past 25 Years

Spin recently named U2’s Achtung Baby as the number one album of the past 25 years.  As a big fan of U2, a few years ago, I probably would have listed Achtung Baby as such.  (But I have to say, Rain Dogs, Rum Sodomy & The Lash, and The Queen is Dead – among a few that come to mind – have more meaning to me than Achtung Baby currently does.)

Most casual listeners refer to The Joshua Tree as U2’s masterpiece, but Achtung Baby truly does belong in the pantheon of great albums.  Stripping away the worldview of their 80’s albums, Bono turned his lyrics inward creating U2’s most personal album.  At the same time, the music was turned up inspired by the industrial movement and also David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy”.  The Edge already known for his excessive use of guitar pedals, ditched his trademark echo for a wall of distortion. Achtung Baby is the 90’s version of “Sergeant Pepper” and “Highway 61 Revisited” – the sound of a band taking a giant risk musically while at the same time challenging its fans to fantastic results.  (Unlike Radiohead, with Achtung Baby U2  created an experimental record that is actually listenable.  Kid A I’m referring to you.)

Unlike a lot of other great albums, Achtung Baby’s emotional core is actually at the end of the album.  The last three songs might be among the most emotional and sad songs U2 ever recorded.  (And that’s saying something considering this U2 we’re talking about.)  “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” shows a man at the end of his rope clinging on for dear life.  (When singing this song on last year’s 360 tour, Bono would try to personify this by singing and swinging from a suspended microphone.)  “Acrobat” deals with the conflicts of being a rock star, being spiritual but not religious.  “Yeah I’d break bread and wine if there was a church I could receive in,” Bono sings.  “Love is Blindness” ends the album on a slow note with the Edge producing perhaps the best guitar-solo he’s ever recorded.  Depending on your point of view, the song is either about an IRA bomb, or leaving his home behind and sleeping with a prostitute.  (I’m going with the prostitute theory.)

I don’t listen to Achtung Baby as much as I used to.  But it still remains one of my favorite albums.  And it’s also an album that U2 knows is among their best – they regularly play songs from it while on tour.  And 19 years later, they’re still trying to recreate the magic of the album with last year’s disappointing No Line on the Horizon.

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