U2’s Boy: The 30th anniversary

It was October 20, 1980, and four youngsters from Dublin, Ireland were being introduced to the world. That was the release date of U2’s first release, Boy. Four years earlier, Larry Mullen, Jr., Paul “Bono Vox” Hewson, Dave “The Edge” Evans, and Adam Clayton were still in high school when they unwittingly formed the future ‘Biggest Band in the World.’ In the fall of 1976, the 14-year-old Mullen placed a notice on the bulletin board at Dublin’s Mount Temple Comprehensive School and the rest is history.

None was trained – even proficient – on any instrument. Clayton seemed to be the most unprepared and played the bass guitar out of sheer default (Evans had dabbled on the guitar and Mullen started the band…he chose the drums). After forming in 1976, the foursome initially called themselves Feedback, then The Hype, and finally settled on U2.

While they practiced and perfected their craft, the band gained notice around Ireland for their passionate performances. This bought them the time they needed to attack the learning curve on playing the music. While Bono penned deep and spiritual lyrics about the trials and tribulations of childhood, The Edge painted the musical landscape to accompany them. Success was soon to follow.

When U2 finally signed that contract with Island Records, “11 0’Clock Tick-Tock” would be the first single in May 1980 (although it did not make it on the album). The second single was “I Will Follow,” which received much attention in the U.S. in unison with the Boy release in October. Recorded in Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin and produced by Steve Lillywhite, Boy brought a unique sound to the airwaves as punk evolved into new wave. To this day, Boy is considered one of the most impressive debuts by any band – before or since.

“I Will Follow” became U2’s signature song, with Edge’s spiky guitar intro, Mullen’s backbeating drums, Clayton’s prominent bass lines, and Bono’s emotive vocals – the band’s fourth instrument. Surprisingly, the group does not aim for the fences on every song. “An Cat Dubh / Into The Heart” is a beautifully mellow track that showcases all the talents of U2, “Shadows And Tall Trees” could be on any recent U2 album without a blink, and “The Ocean” is a sparse and mesmerizing tune (“Picture in grey, Dorian Gray, just me by the sea / And I felt like a star, I thought the world could go far / If they listened to what I said”).

The track listing:

I Will Follow
Twilight
An Cat Dubh / Into The Heart
Out Of Control
Stories For Boys
The Ocean
A Day Without Me
Another Time, Another Place
The Electric Co.
Shadows And Tall Trees

Boy got the remaster/special edition treatment in 2008. The repackaged double-disc box brings the listener back to 1980, when a phenomenon was in the early stages of creation. Learn more about the history of U2 at http://www.u2.com.

My Top 10 Shows of 2009

It’s been a good year for music. New bands surfaced and old bands maintained. A good mix is healthy and necessary for even the most casual concertgoer. From the staying power of U2 and the English Beat to the fresh genius of Elbow and Phoenix, 2009 offered some wonderful live experiences.

Here they are, my top ten concerts of 2009, with excerpts from each of my reviews. Keep in mind, there were thousands of great performances in Atlanta and elsewhere. I can only comment on the ones I saw. I’ve alphabetized the list, as I couldn’t choose a favorite.

Elbow
One of the more uplifting and poignant moments of the night came with the brilliant “One Day Like This.” Uplifting because of Garvey’s lyrics; poignant because the fans knew, felt, and sang all the words…and they’re great words: “What made me behave that way? / Using words I never say / I can only think it must be love / Oh anyway, it’s looking like a beautiful day.” To hear that full Center Stage crowd singing in unison, “It’s looking like a beautiful day!” was exhilarating and I hated being the newcomer.
Listen: http://www.lala.com/external/flash/SingleSongWidget.swf

Visit: http://www.elbow.co.uk/

The English Beat
Margaret Thatcher has been out of the spotlight for several years. This, however, did not spoil the vibe of hearing “Stand Down Margaret” live. It still feels relevant these days as more and more Americans have discovered they have a voice in the political process. Original English Beater Dave Wakeling kicked off the show with “Whine and Grine / Stand Down Margaret” at the cozy Loft in Atlanta. It was loud, hot, and crowded…it was Ska.
Listen: http://www.lala.com/external/flash/SingleSongWidget.swf

Visit: http://www.thebeatuk.com/Home.html

Five Eight
Throughout the evening, Mantione seemed to be creating the set list from his head. He began several songs while Horowitz and Ferguson looked at each other perplexed as to what this song was. And song after song, they figured it out and joined in seamlessly. With comparisons having been made to the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., and the Replacements, Five Eight will pull you into their own style and sound and leave you wanting more. With a new album in the works and a scheduled New Year’s Eve gig with the Modern Skirts back at Smith’s Olde Bar, these guys will get another chance to show everyone they’re still around.
Listen: http://www.lala.com/external/flash/SingleSongWidget.swf

Visit: http://www.myspace.com/fiveeight

Los Campesinos!
Gareth frequently channeled John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten), which for a punk fan may be pure gold. He does, however, delve quite successfully into really rhythmic and hooky lyrics. The band amazed the audience with such gems as “Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats,” “We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives,” and the contagious “You! Me! Dancing!” (“If there’s one thing I can never confess / It’s that I can’t dance a single step”).
Listen: http://www.lala.com/external/flash/SingleSongWidget.swf

Visit: http://loscampesinos.com/

Colin Hay
He did his fair share of jabbing at contemporaries who, let’s just say, have enjoyed a little more success. Hay expressed his true admiration of Sting’s shoulders. “I mean, he’s an incredible singer and songwriter – ‘Roxanne!’ – but have you seen those shoulders?” And fun was also made of Sting’s name. He then went on to have a run on U2’s the Edge, and how Edge’s grandmother may have reacted to hearing his new nickname (“He’s calling himself what?”). Not coincidentally, Men at Work, the Police, and U2 were all vying for record sales at the same time. So, you may say Colin is a tad bitter, but I’d like to believe that he’s just having some fun.
Listen: http://www.lala.com/external/flash/SingleSongWidget.swf

Visit:

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are enjoying that initial taste of success. Supporting their first full length, self-titled album (Slumberland Records), these shoegazers have received some critical acclaim. Commercial acclaim may soon follow. With a sound reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine, the Pains supply a wall-of-guitar sound and swift drumming accompanied by buried, sometimes unintelligible lyrics (not quite a “Murmur,” but some songs come close). All this with a sugary-sweet pop sensibility.
Listen: http://www.lala.com/external/flash/SingleSongWidget.swf

Visit: http://www.myspace.com/thepainsofbeingpureatheart

Phoenix
One encore included “Everything Is Everything,” the incredible disco sounds of “If I Ever Feel Better,” and the current hit “1901.” As it was the last song, the band seemed to want to never leave the stage. Mars descended the stairs at the Variety Playhouse and made his way into the masses. He found a ledge on which to stand, gave some more thanks, then surfed his way back to the stage on a sea of hands. All this while the band jammed on. The world shall soon discover Phoenix and their perfect pop music.
Listen: http://www.lala.com/external/flash/SingleSongWidget.swf

Visit: http://www.myspace.com/wearephoenix

Sea Wolf
Alex Brown Church is an artist on the verge of success…to the average American, that is. While your neighbor may think you’re talking about the Jack London novel of the same name, Church has quietly built a fan base and some much-deserved exposure for his band Sea Wolf. Hailing from California, Sea Wolf has a song on the soundtrack to the new film, The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Sharing the bill with such alt-rock gods as Death Cab For Cutie, Muse, and Thom Yorke, this is sure to garner Sea Wolf the respect and attention they deserve.
Listen: http://www.lala.com/external/flash/SingleSongWidget.swf

Visit: http://www.myspace.com/seawolf

U2
Music fans around the world speculate after each new U2 album and subsequent tour whether or not it will be their last. And time after time, the Dubliners return evolved with a new look and sound. This was most noticeable between the rootsy ode to America that was The Joshua Tree and the techno awesomeness of Achtung Baby. The mid nineties were iffy for the members of U2, however. Talk of a breakup persisted, especially after Zooropa and Pop failed to sell as expected. But the band managed to redefine itself once again and land on their feet.
Listen: http://www.lala.com/external/flash/SingleSongWidget.swf

Visit: http://www.u2.com/index/home/

Walkenhorst & Porter
Fast-forward to 2009 and the CD release party for No Abandon. This is not the most upbeat selection of songs, but rather an attempt by the songwriters to take a look back as well as a look forward. As most middle-agers do, the singers are evaluating and reevaluating their lives – personally and professionally. The result is a wonderful snapshot that is easily accessible to the listener. Walkenhorst’s soulful vocals paint a vivid picture while Porter’s voice is the perfect complement. Walkenhorst and Porter were joined on drums by former Rainmakers drummer Pat Tomek, along with bassist Norm Dahlor from the excellent Celtic rock band the Elders.
Listen: http://www.lala.com/external/flash/SingleSongWidget.swf

Visit: http://www.myspace.com/walkenhorstandporter

Let’s hope 2010 will be as musically rewarding. Happy New Year!

For complete reviews, click on your band of choice in the righthand column.

111. U2, 10/6/09


Venue: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Support: Muse
In the Company of: Chris & Ethan

Music fans around the world speculate after each new U2 album and subsequent tour whether or not it will be their last. And time after time, the Dubliners return evolved with a new look and sound. This was most noticeable between the rootsy ode to America that was The Joshua Tree and the techno awsomeness of Achtung Baby. The mid nineties were iffy for the members of U2, however. Talk of a breakup persisted, especially after Zooropa and Pop failed to sell as expected. But the band managed to redefine itself once again and land on their feet.

In Muse’s 45-minute set, they also performed “Undisclosed Desires” and the terrific “Starlight.” In my humble opinion, this is one of the best opening bands out there. Strike that, one of the best bands out there. Period.

U2 Set List:
Breathe
Get On Your Boots
Mysterious Ways
Beautiful Day
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
No Line On The Horizon
Magnificent
Elevation
Until The End Of The World
The Unforgettable Fire
City Of Blinding Lights
Vertigo
I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
Sunday Bloody Sunday
MLK
Walk On

Encore 1:
One
Amazing Grace
Where The Streets Have No Name

Encore 2:
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
With Or Without You
Moment Of Surrender

Review: U2’s “No Line On The Horizon”

Let’s put aside, if we can, the years of accolades this band has earned. Let’s forget about Rolling Stone Magazine’s five-star rating for this album (giving it “classic” status). Ignore the aging rock stars that have been written off more than once. And pay no attention to the sparse grey album cover that has left some fans scratching their heads.

All you need to focus on is the music. Three of the finest producers in music – all previous U2 collaborators – were involved in U2’s twelfth studio album. Danny Lanois, Brian Eno, and Steve Lillywhite all put their mark on “No Line On The Horizon.” The result is exactly what one would expect from such a convergence of talent and experience. It is both genuine U2 as well as the antithesis of anything the Dubliners have ever recorded. With a weeklong stint on Letterman under their belts and a mini-concert at Fordham University, U2 is going for major exposure.

My first exposure to the band was in 1983. College days. A friend had just picked up their third release “War” and I was informed that I must hear it. That’s where it began for me. Over the next 26 years, I would enjoy the art and creativity of this Irish band and respect their attempts to always be fresh, not fearing a new direction, regardless of record sales.

I’ve had an old tune stuck in my head the past few days. When I first saw the new album cover (a black and white photograph of the Boden Sea, Uttwil, by Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto) I could hear strains of “The Ocean,” a song on U2’s first release, 1980’s “Boy” (“A picture in grey / Dorian Gray / Just me by the sea”). The song, like the photo, is dreamy and simple.

The album kicks off with the title track, a churning piece of work perfectly placed in the leadoff position (“I know a girl who’s like the sea / I watch her changing every day for me / Oh yeah”).

“Magnificent” begins with nice synth, followed by some Yaz-like keyboards, soon building into a driving rock song. U2 has cornered the market on the rising-out-of-the-shadows-to-rock-explosion song (listen to “Where The Streets Have No Name,” among several others). Edge’s slide guitar brings back memories of the late great George Harrison on this one.

The bluesy “Moment Of Surrender” appears with techno loop and church organ that could have appeared on The Joshua Tree (if recorded in the 21st century). “We set ourselves on fire / O God do not deny her / It’s not if I believe in love / But if love believes in me,” sings Bono. And you almost believe him.

“Unknown Caller” begins with chirping birds followed suddenly by the simple magic of the Edge’s guitar pouring over you. Bono’s falsetto calling out “Sunshine, sunshine.” The French horn makes this one special.

“There’s a part of me in the chaos that’s quiet / And there’s a part of you that wants me to riot / Everybody needs to cry or needs to spit / Every sweet tooth needs just a little hit / Every beauty needs to go out with an idiot / How can you stand next to the truth and not see it?” sings Bono on “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.” This is one of the upbeat selections that is constantly bouncing around in my head.

Next up is the song everyone’s been singing for the past few weeks, “Get On Your Boots,” a hyperactive, straight ahead rock and roll song. It’s got everything U2 fans have come to expect: the fine rhythm section of bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr., the always joyful and complex guitar stylings of Dave “The Edge” Evans, and the emotion-packed, sky-high range of the band’s most important instrument, Paul “Bono” Hewson’s vocals. It’s the most ambitious song on the album and rightly chosen as the first single.

“Stand Up Comedy” possesses the dark and brooding sounds of “Bullet The Blue Sky.” Almost. The true departure is a funk vibe throughout.

For “FEZ-Being Born,” lyrics from “Get On Your Boots” are layered under the synthesized beginnings (“Let me in the sound / Let me in the sound sound…”). Fez is a small town in Morocco where some of this album was recorded. You may recognize flavors of the region in this music.

“White As Snow,” a traditional piece, is a calming exhibit of U2’s emotional range. One would not expect a song such as this to be on the same record as “Boots,” for example. But they peacefully coexist and beautiful, it is (“Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not / Only the lamb as white as snow”).

Shifting it all back into high gear is the guitar rocker “Breathe,” another example in the long list of Bono’s super-human vocal range ability. You keep waiting for that voice to crack, but it never happens. Each member’s contribution is, in itself, the most vital…the most important piece of the puzzle. How can that be? Each donates the perfect ingredient for the song. Bono emotes, “Every day I have to find the courage / To walk out into the street / With arms out / Got a love you can’t defeat.” He introduces his heart to his sleeve nearly every time he opens his mouth. And that’s a good thing. That’s a very good thing.

The closing track “Cedars Of Lebanon” seeps into your consciousness like a cold, creamy Guinness Draught. Mullen’s drumming is reminiscent of the “Sunday Bloody Sunday” marching beat, but in a much more reserved fashion. This song is ethereal.

If reinvention is an artistic goal, U2 has achieved that goal once again. By trying new things, they remain consistent with their professional blueprint. To paraphrase Geddy Lee, they know changes aren’t permanent, but change is.

MUSIC REVIEW: R.E.M. "Accelerate"

2008, Warner Bros. Records

Legend has it that guitarist Peter Buck was working at Wuxtry Records in Athens, Georgia when Michael Stipe strolled in. They talked about music and bands. The rest is history. Twenty-eight years and fourteen albums later R.E.M. has become the little band that could. With the 1982 EP “Chronic Town” and 1983’s “Murmur,” the college radio indie sound was all but invented by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe. Back then, supporters could join the R.E.M. Fan Club for $10. Always the band to put its fans first, membership is still $10.

After a hugely successful decade in the eighties which carried over into the early nineties, R.E.M. seemed to turn introspective, writing more personal songs. This was their nearly rock-free experimental phase. Not all experiments are successful, however, and this move led to limited exposure and fewer sales. The loyal fan base was growing up, getting jobs, and starting families. Bands evolve, people evolve, and things change. So, it was only normal that a “band of the 80s” faded from the spotlight. In 1997, drummer Bill Berry left the band after suffering a brain aneurism during an earlier tour in Europe. It was a huge personal blow to the other members, but they carried on. Since then, they’ve struggled to maintain their stride musically. They have still made good music, just not life-changing music that appeals to the masses. That is until now. “Accelerate” was released on April 1, and is no joke. Buck, Mills, and Stipe have returned to the guitar-driven sound and created their best and most urgent work in years.

The opener, “Living Well Is The Best Revenge,” showcases R.E.M’s return to rock. This simple, driving song harkens back to their punk-inspired roots. It also makes the statement that R.E.M. have been living well, with or without big radio hits. Ex-Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin and second guitarist Scott McCaughey complete the vital and aggressive new R.E.M.

The sound of “Man-Sized Wreath” is reminiscent of the “Document” era. Along with the band as a whole, Peter Buck’s guitar power has been resurrected. New life has officially been breathed back into R.E.M.

Then follows the first single from “Accelerate,” “Supernatural Superserious.” The song begins unassumingly with an a Capella Stipe singing “Everybody here…comes from somewhere.” At which point Buck submits a sonic interjection with his weapon, and listeners hear one of the most rocking and vital songs of 2008. With first-class instrumentation, intelligent lyrics, and terrific vocals (including the ever-present backing vocals of Mills), look for this one to grab a Grammy.

Track four begins with a melancholy piano and Stipe singing, “I’ve been lost inside my head / echoes fall off me / I took the prize last night for complicatedness / for saying things I didn’t mean and don’t believe.” “Hollow Man” then soars with guitar and drums and if your foot doesn’t tap, your heart isn’t beating. Stipe sings, “Believe in me, believe in nothing…” Towards the end of the song, a familiar guitar riff brings back memories of “Pretty Persuasion” from 1984’s “Reckoning.” Other straight-ahead rockers include “Accelerate,” “Horse To Water,” and “I’m Gonna DJ.”

The serious “Houston” traces the Hurricane Katrina story and how America failed the victims (“If the storm doesn’t kill me the government will.”). Another song with a social conscience is “Until The Day Is Done.” It was featured in the CNN special “Planet In Peril” which served as a wake-up call for the people of earth to save an environment in need.

“Accelerate” is a solid and effective effort by R.E.M., and a blueprint on how to revive a career nearly lost. U2 is a great example of how, after several great albums, a band can evolve and try new things just to remain fresh and relevant. Unfortunately, fans do not always travel down that road with their band. U2 then returned to the basics with 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” and the result was nothing short of stellar. “Accelerate” is R.E.M.’s return. Let’s hope this revival is permanent.

MOVIE REVIEW: U23D

Location: Mall of Georgia IMAX Theater
With: Ethan

Turn It Up Loud, Captain!

What could possibly be considered innovative for the band that’s done it all? A 3D IMAX film? Yes, that would do it. Since their first album, Boy, was released in 1980, Irish rock group and BBITW (Biggest Band In The World) U2 has pushed the limits of celebrity, musical experimentation, and how to look at the world.

With Bono (born Paul Hewson) at the helm, anything seems possible. It has been said that U2 release albums in series of threes: Boy (1980), October (1981), and War (1983) were all straight-ahead rockers with enough hooks to catch a school of piranha; Then came The Unforgettable Fire (1984), The Joshua Tree (1987), and Rattle and Hum (1988) all possessing themes from their newly adopted home, America; followed by Achtung, Baby (1991), Zooropa (1993), and Pop (1997), considered their experimental period; and finally All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000) and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004), a return to what they did best: great rock (fans anxiously await the third installment in that last series).

One theme consistent throughout all of U2’s releases is a sense of spirituality not attempted by most bands. With Bono, who was raised Irish Catholic in the war-torn streets of Dublin, Ireland, no one can miss the connection with God. Even while many do not consider that to be a cool thing to do, U2 stay close to their religious roots. With this history, Bono and the boys showcase their views on non-violence and human rights through sound and vision. Before “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” – an ode to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – was played, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html scrolled up a screen in Spanish while being read in English. Very powerful.

And so it goes, U23D seemed like a religious experience for the throngs of fans viewing it on that big screen. Culled from several shows in South America from U2’s 2005 Vertigo tour supporting the album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, the opening scene shows a female concertgoer running through the corridor as you overhear the crowd cheering and music beginning. Missing the opening of a U2 concert rivals the college-years nightmare of oversleeping through a big final exam.

“Unos, Dos, Tres, Catorce!” …the opening of “Vertigo” and a power guitar riff now known to millions. The concert/movie was a visual explosion. Bono reached towards the camera several times as viewers in the IMAX theater reached back in an attempt to touch his hand. At one point he was playing a guitar and it seemed as if one could reach out and tune it for him. Not only was the visual show astonishing, but of course, the music was captivating. Playing some of their greatest songs, this could have gone twice the length of its 85 minutes and not bored the crowd.

All four members had their moments in the spotlight. The Edge (born Dave Evans) made music with his guitar that experts still can’t figure out, while bassist Adam Clayton kept the rhythm on the down low. On “Love And Peace Or Else,” drummer and U2 founder Larry Mullen, Jr. stood isolated on the walkway that extended out into the crowd. His instrument was a single drum that he pounded throughout the song. When he made his way back to the drum kit on stage, Bono took over pounding that drum in what must be one of the most dramatic moments of the show. The singer wears his heart on his sleeve and never shies away from showing it. The only possible complaint about U23D would be that the movie did not have the volume of a true U2 concert. Turn it up loud, captain!

Fans of U2 will love this thing. Those somewhat familiar with the band may become the newest fans. And those who couldn’t care less will – at the very least – say “not bad.” In 1984, Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense did wondrous things for the rock concert film as a true art form. U23D has raised the stakes in 2008.

U2 closed out the show with a beautiful acoustic version of “Yahweh.” Back to their spiritual roots and hopefully, back to the studio to, once again, reinvent themselves as well as rock music.

Here’s the set list:
Vertigo
Beautiful Day
New Year’s Day
Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
Love And Peace
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet The Blue Sky
Miss Sarajevo
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Where The Streets Have No Name
One
The Fly
With Or Without You
Yahweh