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Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel : U2’s PopMart tour cranks up the spectacle

lundi 23 juin 1997

Source : Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

From The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel :

High-tech to the MAX U2’s PopMart tour cranks up the spectacle

DAVE TIANEN, Journal Sentinel pop music critic

It’s part Happy Hour and Part Happy Meal, a rock ’n’ roll Big Mac servedwith a martini chaser.

U2’s PopMart tour, which rumbles into Camp Randall on Wednesday night, may be a jumbled concept, but it’s jumbo jumbled. At least that’s the prevailing impression left in my bean after attending the tour’s opening nightat Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.

Dominating center stage is a 100-foot-high bright yellow arch ribboned with neon and able to change colors faster than a chameleon on Benzedrine. Leaning against stage right is King Kong’s swizzle stick, also 100 feet long and topped with a stuffed neon olive. Perched in front of the stir stick is a 40-foot-high lemon. In the course of the show, the lemon transforms into a spinning, glowing crystal orb. Bono and the Giant Peach. Huge as they are, the lemon, the arch and the stick are the lesser props of PopMart. Dominating everything else is a gargantuan video screen, 56 feet by 170 feet. It’s actually composed of vertical aluminum strips containing 1 million light-emitting diodes. Juicing the whole thing requires three generators churning out enough voltage to power a small city. When they first lighted the sucker up during rehearsals for the April 25th Las Vegas show, area police were pepperedwith reports of UFO sightings.

These are imposing artifacts, but taken collectively what they really mean aside from very deep pockets is fuzzy.

Certainly, the first intent is to stun, even awe, a crowd.

"I think the audience expects it and they’re right to expect it," says Paul McGuinness, U2’s longtime manager. "You can’t fill a stadium with 50,000 people and expect them just to watch four musicians noodling away.

"I saw Mick Jagger in Toronto at the end of the Zoo TV tour and he told me, This stuff is getting like "Star Wars." What are we going to have to do to top this ?’ "

One thing they’re going to have to do is open the checkbook. The video screen alone is reported to have cost more than $6 million. Two complete sets have been built by a crew that includes 250 roadies, augmented by another 200 local hands. It takes 75 semi trucks, 16 buses and a 50-seat 727 jet to lug the circus from town to town.

Whether it’s all worth it is far from clear. Only a few dates on the tour have been immediate sellouts. Tickets are still available for the show in Madison, raising the question whether the whole thing has been overpriced at nearly 60 bucks a pop.

Speaking of pop, the band’s much delayed "Pop" album has hardly been the savior of the record industry that had been hoped. It opened at number one on the Billboard 200 in early March, but faded fast and dropped outof the top 10 after only five weeks.

Nonetheless, McGuinness remained upbeat before the tour opened in April.

"I think the album will start to climb in the next few weeks," he predicted."I think it’s going to have long legs. We have a long long way to go. This tour won’t end until about this time next year."

In actuality, though, the album continued to sink and has now dropped out of the top 40 altogether. It resides at 42 on the Billboard 200.

Critical reaction to the tour opening in Vegas was mixed.

The Boston Globe said the show "had a lot of dazzle, but not quite enough emotional connection." The Orange County Register asked where had all the passion gone and why did it all seem like a big put-on. The Dallas Morning News acknowledged effects that dazzled the sellout crowd, but found the show "in a state of disarray."

There were rough spots.

The boys needed two tries to get "Staring At the Sun" airborne. After the first false start, Bono apologized and explained they were just having "a little family row." Occasionally, all the toys and gizmos work against oneanother. Viewed from the side, the arch sometimes blocks images on center screen.

Still, there’s no denying that there are some eye-popping moments in PopMart.In the middle of the show, 14 huge flood lights positioned all around Sam Boyd Stadium were lighted simultaneously and arched their towering beams togetherinto the desert sky.

The screen itself looks like a Star Wars evolution of a drive-in movie.

There’s also something of a free-form fashion show. See Bono in his wrestler outfit out-hulk Hulk Hogan. See Bono as the hooded rock/monk. See the Edge as a rock ’n’ roll Palladin. See Adam Clayton’s plastic Devo outfit blownup to Kong size.

See the Edge’s guitar neck stretched out farther than the Vegas strip. See AndyWarhol’s Marilyn Monroe morph into scores of colors. See streaming corridors of light, cascading before your eyes.

Conceptually, PopMart is either a supermarket of pop art imagery or a hodgepodge of styles and notions splashed against a vast canvas. Willie Williams, who does the set design for U2, admits his set ideas often camefrom random and fragmentary notions that arose during conversations with the band.

"Sometimes you might just be sitting with them in a pub and they’ll say something that gives you a clue to what they’re eventually going to want to do," Williams recently told the Los Angeles Times.

PopMart may not be the most carefully thought out stage concept in rock history, but a multimillion dollar budget at the very least allows U2 to be incoherent with style. The deeper problem with PopMart is probably the music.

The strongest crowd reaction for the opener was by far for the older material, especially tunes from "Joshua Tree" like "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For," "Where the Streets Have No Name," and "In the Name of Love." Even a surprise, left-field insert like The Edge singing The Monkees "Daydream Believer" drew a more enthused reaction than the new stuff from "Pop."

The Zoo TV tour blended powerful video images with music from two superbU2 albums, "Zooropa" and "Achtung Baby." By contrast, there’s something cold and slightly detached about "Pop" synthetic music from a band that has always bubbled with Irish passion and volatility. Certainly, the public’s embrace of "Pop" has been far more tentative.

Even McGuinness seems to acknowledge as much.

"The effect of dance music in England hasn’t crossed over to America yet. I think it will later this year with Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers. We certainly did not set out to make a dance album though. You can dance to parts of it, but U2 is a rock band." ------------ Tickets are still available for U2’s concert Wednesday at Camp Randall. Tickets are priced at $52.50 and $37.50. They are available by phone through Ticketmaster. Call (608) 255-4646 in Madison or 276-4545 in Milwaukee. Tickets should also be available on the day of the show at the Camp Randall box office. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. ; Fun Lovin’ Criminals will open.

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