U2's Crass World of Commercialization — That You Just Can't Miss

At the final New York show, Lady Gaga added a great version of 'Ordinary Love.' And don’t forget the huge multimedia cage.

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Bono on tour with U2 at Inglewood, California, May 26, 2015.
Bono on tour with U2 at Inglewood, California, May 26, 2015. Credit: Rich Fury/Invision/AP
Haim Handwerker
Haim Handwerker

On Friday night, U2 filled Madison Square Garden for the eighth time this summer — the experience can only be described as stunning. With these 50-somethings from Dublin, the splendor overcomes the commercialization.

Along with classics such as “Beautiful Day,” “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “With or Without You,” the band kept the number of new songs at a reasonable dosage. Anyone looking for nuances had to forget it  — you got full volume. And who looks for nuances at a concert like this?

Bono, who has just recovered from a November cycling accident, inserted novel elements into the show. One was a song dedicated to his mother, who died when he was 14, while one was a song on the conflict in Northern Ireland.

The Troubles ended with a peace agreement, but the wounds haven’t exactly healed. Many innocent people lost their lives and no one paid the price.

At the Garden, photos of victims were shown on the giant screens. Bono called for reconciliation, but he also wanted to remember the dead, expose the truth and bring justice to those responsible.

In one of the evening’s most beautiful moments a strange person appeared onstage. It was Lady Gaga in her huge blond mane, black bikini and enormous high heels. She sang a great version of U2’s “Ordinary Love” with Bono chiming in. Bill Clinton was in the audience – Hillary wasn’t.

The pyrotechnics were also great; the whole Garden became a stage. Usually one side of the arena hosts the stage, behind which tickets aren’t sold.

But U2 created stages at each end of the floor with a long track connecting them. Above it hung a huge cage — Bono and the boys stepped into this thing that served as a stage, video screen and lighting extravaganza at the same time. No, you don’t see anything like that anywhere else.

The band has toured 15 times or so. The current tour is made up of 70 concerts in 11 countries in North America and Europe. The previous tour lasted three years and covered 110 concerts in 30 countries. The group’s revenues for that effort reached $350 million; the numbers this time should be similar.

Still, the band has undergone a steady process of commercialization. Ticket prices at the Garden ranged from $35 to $280 — considered reasonable. Other bands like the Rolling Stones are better at squeezing their admirers’ pockets.

But U2 has commercial links to Apple, directly or indirectly pocketing tens of millions of dollars. The band managed to irk many users of iTunes, who received the latest U2 album directly in their digital jukeboxes whether they wanted it or not. Reactions were so harsh the band had to apologize.

At the Garden, a U2 shirt cost you $40. If you pay enough — sometimes thousands of dollars — you can join a VIP list and get free albums and memorabilia such as printed autographs, details on the band’s guitars, small strips of Larry Mullen Jr.’s drums and a tiny chunk of the stage décor.

This notion started with baseball memorabilia; kids and their parents pay big bucks for a strip of a player’s jersey. So why not in pop music?

In the end, despite the commercialization, I’m glad I attended the concert. For the boys it’s now on to Europe. If they perform at a city you’re visiting (they’re not visiting Israel) don’t miss it. The thing is, all the shows are sold out.

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