Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The U2 liturgical plot

Having taught last night in preaching class on Eugene Lowry's "homiletical plot,"

1) Oops!--conflict--upsetting the equilibrium;
2) Ugh!--complication--analysing the discrepancy;
3) Aha!--sudden shift--disclosing the clue to resolution;
4) Whee!--good news--experiencing the gospel; (this is climax, not #5)
5) Yeah!--unfolding--anticipating the consequences. (coda)

and looking forward to Beth's presentation on "U2 Live: Where Leitourgia Has No Name,"

Neil McCormick's inside scoop from Bono about the flow of the current show/liturgy was intriguing. It tracks with Lowry's suggested flow of the sermon. It helps us grasp ythe point of two of teh most baffling placements in the set list: the liturgical sense of the "sudden shift" of the "Crazy Remix" (maybe plays the part of the album's midpoint ("Fez-Being Born'); and the choice of "Surrender" as concert closer/downbeat coda:
...Bono revealed that he carries a two act structure in his mind which guides his performance (which he readily admitted would not be apparent to anyone else). The first half of the show features “more personal songs” (which usually features Breathe, No Line On The Horizon, Get On Your Boots, Magnificent, Beautiful Day, New Year’s Day, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Unknown Caller, Unforgettable Fire, City Of Blinding Lights and Vertigo plus a changing selection of back catalogue classics) in which Bono envisages himself as a young man, struggling to find his feet in life and in search of some kind of personal epiphany. The turning point of the set is a mind-blasting techno remix version of the new song ‘I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight’, with the Claw on full acid house lighting effect turning the stadium into a spinning mirrorball. Given that the audience is not particularly familiar with the song (let alone a dance remix), it is actually intended to create a moment of disorientation and discomfort, ending with Bono on his knees, repeatedly singing the coda “It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain”. If I’ve got this right (it was 3 am when we were having this conversation, and many Marguerites had been consumed) from that point on his protagonist has been taken out of himself, and the second act begins in which he moves from the personal to the political, wrestling with the problems of the wider world in a string of songs that includes Sunday Bloody Sunday (recast to acknowledge the protesters of Iran), Pride, Walk On and Where The Streets Have No Name. There is then a coda (not a third act) which represents U2 at their most raw and vulnerable, stripped to the metaphorical bone, when we have all been exhausted by the outpouring of collective emotion and ready just to get down to the dirty truth. This is a hugely effective if counter-intuitive downbeat encore trilogy from the underbelly of love, featuring ‘Ultraviolet’, ‘With Or Without You’ and ‘Moment Of Surrender’.
So now you know. But whether that makes sense to anyone else or not is not really the point (it is really a performance tool). Stadium gigs are not about subtle pleasures, it is not for laser pin point music and understated expression. It is rarely about the subtext. It’s about big ideas and broad emotions, and it suits band with epic sounds and massive choruses. It is made to be heard and felt by tens of thousands, and unite them in one moment of mass togetherness. Every fan brings something of themselves to the music, and embarks on their own personal journey but (on a good night, with a band we already love, and songs that already mean something to us) we can be taken outside of ourselves, so that we suddenly find ourselves united with a mass of humanity, singing together, all on the same hymn sheet, even if the hymn is a pop song, and the chorus reminds us “we are one, but we’re not the same.” U2 remain the absolute masters of stadium dynamics. Sometimes, size really does matter.
-Neil McCormick, link

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!