23 November 2010
'Claw in the Flan'Auckland. Production rehearsals.
The ploughing of a furrow between my bed and the stadium is now well under way. As is customary as this juncture of a tour, my life consists entirely of plate-spinning the many and various show elements for which I am responsible, with periodic pauses for sleep. The weather€™s gone to hell, which is a monumental pain in the arse. There are many great and positive aspects to playing outdoors without a roof €“ even the odd rain-soaked gig is OK and lends a certain special atmosphere to a show (viz., Zurich 2, etc) €“ but one major claw in the flan is that bad weather of an afternoon will annihilate sound check and rehearsal opportunities.
U2 will rehearse in the rain, huddled under the stage umbrellas, but it certainly takes the fun out of proceedings and greatly slows everything down. However, even under these rather uncomfortable circumstances the band came in and rehearsed One Tree Hill and Boy Falls From the Sky, until the damp and cold forced us into caving in to the lure of a nice cup of tea in the dressing room.
Those two songs sounded great, so we began a discussion about what we might shuffle in the set list. There is universal agreement that the shows on the last leg were consistently barn-storming affairs, so we don€™t want to change things just for the sake of it but we do need to keep it interesting. One Tree Hill is a must for New Zealand at least and Boy Falls is very promising (it sounds so huge in the stadium). We sought local advice on what sort of moment might be appropriate for the miners, given that everything is so uncertain there.
Finally I braced it and suggested that they might consider debuting Scarlet, a 30-year-old instrumental album track, a suggestion that produced the most interesting range of facial expressions I think I€™ve ever seen from these guys. Given that the piece is largely a bass solo, I left it to Adam to make the call as to whether this was too much to take on, or if it was worth pursuing at all. After they had recovered composure, I was surprised and delighted that Adam immediately picked up an acoustic bass guitar and started to pick out the hook phrase of the song. Out on stage (the rain having subsided to a mere drizzle) the phrase grew into the whole piece and, through the giant 360 sound system, it sounded absolutely wonderful, €œRejoi-oi-oice€¦.!€ They played on, and the thing built into something quite dizzying, like time-travel. It€™s a little astonishing to imagine a group of nineteen-year-olds writing a song like that, but such is the mystery of U2. Bono began rapping over the spaces in the music and I could guess what was in his mind €“ something very clever. I love these U2 ambient pieces€¦ The Ocean, Into the Heart, Scarlet, 4th of July. Perhaps we should look at putting Fez into the show whilst we€™re at it.
It€™s always fun to monitor Twitter at a time like this and within three minutes there was a wildly excited post, announcing to the blogosphere that €œeither Rejoice or Scarlet is being performed, but either way €“ holy shit!€ then a minute later €œwe can confirm that it€™s Scarlet€¦€ No secrets in the 21st century.
We did a run of Miss Sarajevo into In a Little While to get the new €œboy Frank€ video footage worked out and then called it a day. Back in the dressing room Bono revealed his plot to have Jay-Z join them to rap over Scarlet, making it ancient and modern in the same breath. There had been talk of Jay-Z joining U2 for Sunday Bloody Sunda,y as he did at the Brandenburg Gate, and given that Scarlet is the following song in the show it€™s a slam dunk for the set list. It might just be a one-off for the first show of the tour or he might do it from time to time, we€™ll see.
Jay-Z has some time on the stage tomorrow morning to rehearse, sound check and get used to the rather specific challenges of playing on the 360 stage. U2 aren€™t due in til mid afternoon, so Bono asked me if I could come in in the morning, get with Jay-Z, play him Scarlet and talk to him about what kind of rap he might do. As the director of the show, this naturally falls within my remit but the idea of me, probably the least hip-hop individual on the tour (and possibly on the planet) discussing a rap with Jay-Z, the master of the form, conjures up mental pictures of, say, Susan Boyle in creative dialogue with Laurie Anderson, or Dan Brown collaborating with Shakespeare. Where€™s the documentary crew when you need them?