12 March 2001
Back To The Future
U2 talk about Elevation 2001 - which starts next week - in a tour preview story in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.
"I told the people who came to our club gig at the Astoria in London last week that we were re-applying for the job," Bono says, during a break from rehearsals for U2's upcoming tour. "There were shouts of, 'What job?' And I said, 'Waddya mean, what job? THE job.' And people shouted, 'What job?' And I said, 'The job of the best band in the word!'
"Oasis were there, and Radiohead and Mick Jagger, so I said, 'There are a lot of people in the room who can qualify for this - on their night. But this is our night.' It was fun - but it was also true. We've got a lot to prove. It's not a given. We have to prove it on a night-by-night basis over the next six months."
So begins Anthony DeCurtis's 'Forward to Basics' feature in Rolling Stone, extracts from which we carry below. Visit Rolling Stone for more U2 news at rollingstone.com
Take Bono at his word. The sense of a new beginning that infused the making of All That You Can't Leave Behind, U2's most recent album, has also gripped preparations for their tour. Set to launch in Miami on March 24th and cover forty-nine dates in North America through the end of June - with some thirty additional shows for the rest of the world - Elevation Tour 2001, as the outing has come to be called, is easily the year's most anticipated roadshow.
But new beginnings bring new challenges. U2 are aware that the scale and complexity of their 1997 PopMart stadium tour confounded fans and overwhelmed the band's music. While U2 played before nearly 4 million people in total on PopMart, and in 1997 grossed more than 125$ million, many shows failed to sell out. The band had built its reputation on the shoulders of its outsize ambition, but it seemed that U2 might finally have gone too far over the top. This time out, U2 are riding the momentum of an album that, at double platinum and counting, has already proved more than twice as successful as Pop. And for Elevation 2001, U2 will not be playing stadiums but will be returning to smaller arenas for the first time in almost ten years.
The relatively stripped down sound of ATYCLB has triggered speculation that the tour will be a similarly bare-bones affair. Club dates in New York and London reinforced that thinking. But while the tour's production values will be a far cry from the visual extravaganzas of ZooTV and PopMart, U2 insist that the shows will take advantage of all the enhancements that technology can provide.
"The impulse was to start from someplace very straightforward, very simple," says the Edge. "But, inevitably, we're going to end up with something that fulfills both the demand for U2 in the raw and also the next move forward in terms of our interest in original ways of playing live."
"The music is going to be the centerpiece," he continues. "As a live band, we're always looking for a magic that occurs when we play with our audience present. That's why people come back to U2 shows time and again. We want to get out of the way of the music on this tour. Let it just be, and speak, and connect with the audience."
The man primarily responsible for making sure that the staging and lighting of Elevation 2001 realizes the vision U2 has set forth is show designer Willie Williams, who has worked with the band since 1982. "What now?" is how he wryly describes the question facing the group that has made mind-boggling spectacle one of its in-concert signatures.
"I'm calling it 'forward to basics,'" Williams says of his conception for the show. "Clearly, what they're doing is not a retreat. But they are using a lot of basic principles of rock performance. It's been very clear that, more than anything, this show is about the relationship between the band and the audience. My job has been to work out how best to utilize that relationship but also make the show satisfying for a generation that is utterly saturated and over-loaded with visual imagery."
The most controversial way U2 has devised to heighten the fan-band relationship is clearing the arena floor of seats. While bands like NIN, the Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers have done this for years - and U2 have done it extensively in Europe - recent fatalities that resulted from Pearl Jam and Limp Biskit shows have made some industry watchers nervous. However, Gary Bongiovanni, of the music-business magazine Pollstar, notes that U2's older audience makes the risk of injuries unlikely. "I would certainly expect to see some energy down there," he says of the open arena, "but I don't think you're going to see a Limp Bizkit-style mosh pit in front of a U2 stage."
"We're confident that the risks are absolutely minimal," the Edge says bluntly. "We've been doing this in Europe for years, and we've got a very good track record."
...... Beyond the open floor, Williams says that the "simplest things" about the show will be the "most crucial." Initially, for example, Williams wanted no video screens at all, but sheer practicalities forced him to back off that a bit. "These people in the back need to see," he allows, "but I was determined to find a way of doing it without falling into the trap of thinking that you have to make an HBO special on either side of the stage. The problem is that people feel that if they're not looking at the screen, they're going to miss something. I wanted to remove thatobstacle between the band and the audience." He pauses, pondering whether to reveal more. Then he laughs: "You'll have to come and see how we did it."
....... And in discussing U2's plans, the Edge continually returns to the band's music. "Right now, we're in a small space, just playing together, a minimum of fuss, a minimum of distractions," he says of U2's rehearsals. "A lot of songs are sounding good from previous records. So the show is not going to be the new record, plus one of two older ones." The group, he says, is working up a repertoire of about 35 songs and plans to do about two dozen each night.
"Yeah, there's something going off here," Bono says about the surge the band is feeling toward getting on the road. "I can't wait."
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