Talk about luck! There I was in my freshman year at UCLA, desperately trying to get tickets for U2 by phone. The Internet wasn’t quite what it is today, even in one of the birthplaces of the world wide electronic network. I did get through, scoring nosebleed tickets at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, for the first of two nights of this stop on their ZOO TV tour in support of Achtung Baby. Even now, the album is considered second only to The Joshua Tree, considering it might still be too early to judge the merits of their most recent two albums. The Pixies opened up, making the show even more special, but the lucky part hadn’t even happened yet. The show was even more amazing than I could have imagined it, an overload of the senses with huge video screens and a measure of showmanship not seen since early Rolling Stones or Jimi Hendrix. The next afternoon, walking to class, I was approached by a friend who had two tickets for the second night, telling me that the extra ticket was mine if I gave him a ride. What I saw on that second night astounded me even more than on the first night. I realized that not only does U2 have the same amount of energy every night, but also that each show is not exactly the same. All of the incredible energy, theatrics, flash, over-the-top technology mixed with heartfelt and important music is there on ZOO TV: Live from Sydney, the DVD re-release of the 1994 home video.
The tour was meant to emphasize the ridiculousness of rock and roll excesses, but some probably took it as U2 actually falling to the traps of success, which is exactly what they wanted. The stage was set with massive video screens, hanging German Trabant cars, and even a satellite dish to transmit and pick up signals from all over the world. In one of the bonus interviews with Kurt Loder on the second disc, drummer Larry Mullen sums up the ridiculousness by saying, `kids get to go to a rock show and watch TV. What could be better?’ It would be four more years until U2 would reach even further over-the-top with their Pop Mart tour. At times the screens show off that rock excess as Bono displays his face and crotch repeatedly. At other times, they can convey important messages, as they do during “The Fly,” messages like `Religion is a club’ and `Believe,’ with the first and last two letters disappearing to reveal `Lie.’ “Mysterious Ways” features a bellydancer trying to seduce Bono, a dancer who ironically ended up married to the Edge. After the Edge performs one of his few lead vocals in the monotone “Numb,” the band makes the show a little more intimate with a few songs in the center of the arena on a stage that is microscopic compared to the mainstage. “Angel of Harlem,” “Stay (Faraway, So Close),” “Satellite of Love” (complete with via satellite guest appearance of Lou Reed) and “Dirty Day” make up the mini-set, with Bono tricking the audience by introducing their newest song, “Stay” with the now infamous opening to their cover of “Helter Skelter,” `Charles Manson stole this song from the Beatles, we’re stealing it back.‘ You see, when I saw U2 at the L.A. Sports Arena in April of 1992, Zooropa didn’t exist yet. By the time the tour hit Australia, the amazing fifth leg of said tour, Zooropa had been out for a while. People tend to forget that the tour eventually encompassed two complete albums.
“Bullet the Blue Sky” is exactly how I remembered it, huge fiery crosses appearing on the screens surrounding the stage and the Edge’s effects-laden guitars at their best. And the famously `somewhat religious’ U2 even proves their own points about religious extremism by showing that flaming cross morphing into a flaming swastika. Bono turns the spoken word piece at the end into a true evangelical moment. That song leads into not only my favorite moment of the tour, but also my favorite U2 song of all time, “Running to Stand Still.” U2 fans everywhere know how powerful this song becomes on stage with Bono’s performance taking it to another level. The Irish band then recaptures the magic from their Rattle & Hum concert film by turning the screens red to introduce the opening organ and guitar strains of “Where the Streets Have No Name.” “Pride (In the Name of Love)” merely cements their status as one of the biggest and most important bands in the world today. At the time, the song was nearly ten years older and still potent, and here we are now, twenty years after the song’s debut, no change. U2 returns after this closer with an encore featuring Bono taking on the persona of MacPhisto as the rest of the band dons matching blue jumpsuits. “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car” really bathes in the excess as lights shine off the hanging Trabants, money drops from the rafters, and MacPhisto hams it up appropriately, mugging and posing. After nearly two years of calling the President and various other heads of state, MacPhisto merely tries to call a cab, leading into the disco-fied “Lemon,” somewhat of a precursor to Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place.” Then the true encore comes as Bono sings the only song that could compete with “One” as the best song in U2’s history, “With or Without You.” “Love is Blindness” served as the ultimate and later penultimate closer for every leg of the tour, finding Bono pulling someone from the audience to slow dance with him as constellations spun on the screens behind them. During the third leg of the tour they added a spare version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” as the final song.
Every U2 tour and show is something to behold. My wife saw them on the Pop Mart tour in Koln, Germany and claimed it as one of the best shows she’s ever seen. I’m sure attendees of nearly every U2 show might be able to say the same thing. Other than possibly their recorded show at Slane Castle, this Sydney show might be one of the best U2 concerts on video and now it’s finally available on DVD. The second disc features bonus interviews, excerpts from a video confessional booth they put in stadium concourses for fans to share their secrets, and a few mini documentaries, including a very interesting one on the Trabant cars they used in the show and in the videos and photo shoots for Achtung Baby. (By the way, they were Anton Corbijn’s idea). This year marks the 30th anniversary for the birth of the band (they formed in 1976, though their first album wasn’t released until 1980) and the re-release of ZOO TV: Live in Sydney is a hell of a way to kick off the party.
U2- U2 Go Home: Live from Slane Castle
David Bowie- Serious Moonlight