Tag Archives: U2

senuTi evaglaS

I’m writing this post on a brand new MacBook Air, because this Spring our 10-year-old MacBook was STOLEN along with a bunch of other stuff. I’m not going to dwell on all that was taken from the lighthouse, and how that affected us psychologically. Instead I’m going to focus on what was saved.

The two most precious things lost to us on our computer were our photos and our music. They were saved on an external drive (instead of the computer), but the drive was taken too. That hard drive represented close to a decade of memories and music. My wife was more shattered by the loss of the pictures, but for me it was the music library. Sure, I could log into iTunes and download any purchased music again, but that made up a drop in the bucket in terms of the overall library. That library was made up of personal CDs that I ripped and then smugly got rid of, rare bootlegs (mostly of U2 concerts, but oddly enough it included one bootleg of the Dave Matthews Band. Maybe I was moved by his acting in Because of Winn Dixie and I wanted more? Who can say what I was thinking all those years ago? Some of were gifts from friends, and yes: some were LIBRARY COPIES, (borrowed for personal use only, you guys). I don’t think that’s against the librarian’s code. I mean, come on.

The photos held way more sentimental value for my wife, as they began back in 2008 and included our daughter’s birth and growth up to this past Spring. I can hear you muttering about “the cloud” and yes, with 20/20 hindsight, I can see the value of saving stuff on “the cloud” for easy retrieval, but I was backing stuff up on hard drives, so there were back ups, I just didn’t conceive of a break in and a major theft.

Our old MacBook was getting sluggish in its old age, and we knew we would have to replace it one of these days. It really didn’t surf the Internet very well, and I only really used it to add music to my iTunes and synch with my iPods. Even then, it was a kind of “cross your fingers and hope for the best” kind of situation every time I ripped a CD. It even changed the standard for adding stuff. I had to be really damn sure that I wanted it in my permanent collection because it was becoming more and more of a pain. For example, the new Beck album, Colours, made it on there, but I drew the line at the new Killers album. I liked it, but it didn’t reach the threshold of “iTunes worthy” in my mind. I know: that “Don’t Give Up on Me” song is really great, but does the album as a whole quality? Reader, I decided not. i regret that now.

This all sounds hopeless, but I am happy to report that ALL WAS NOT LOST. A day or two after the theft, my wife remembered that she had BACKED UP MANY MANY PHOTOS on a couple of thumb drives AND HIDDEN THEM IN A SECRET SPOT IN OUR LIGHTHOUSE and they were still there, untouched and unstolen. Now, these weren’t ALL of our photos, obviously, but a good number of the best of the best, because she spent a lot of time going through and saving only the keepers. So: all I need to do is upload those pictures into our iPhoto library and we are back in business. We took some solace in the fact that when we were kids, we only had one album each dedicated to us from birth up to early teenage years. A generous estimate would be somewhere between 150-200 photos per album. I looked at that album (and the one for my younger brother) over and over again as a kid and never once did I think, “I wish there were more pictures”. There were as many pictures as there were, and that seemed just fine. We actually have a physical album for our daughter, carefully curated by my wife and our daughter mere days before the theft, AS IF SOMEHOW THEY KNEW A BAD THING WAS ON THE HORIZON, and I’d say that album is close in size to the one I had as a kid AND I THINK I HAD A GREAT CHILDHOOD WITH THE APPROPRIATE NUMBER OF PHOTOS TO LOOK AT. My daughter took a scattered approach in her selection and placement of pictures, so it doesn’t follow chronologically, but rather it is a haphazard collection of her with different people at all ages and stages between 0-8. It makes it a bit difficult to place pictures in a particular time or place, but it makes for a more interesting viewing experience. So, our pictures are somewhat saved.

It was a different story for my music library. As mentioned, I had amassed a large collection of music over the last decade, and now it was all gone.

Well, maybe not ALL gone. I had a iPod touch and an iPod Classic, which, even though they were in plain view, neither one was taken in the theft and that was the one glimmer of hope I had in the weeks leading up to getting a new MacBook. The iPod touch was 32 GB, so although it had my most favourite albums and artists on there it was nowhere near a complete library. The iPod classic, however, boasts a storage space of 160 GB, and I was nowhere near filling that. (I think it was hovering around the 60 GB neighbourhood). And while I can’t say for sure if every song on my iTunes was also on my iPod Classic, I’d say it was so close that whatever wasn’t didn’t matter. I made a point of adding every new album to the iPod Classic and only adding some to the iPod touch. I actually had a really needlessly complicated file system for my music on my old computer. Imagine that: a librarian coming up with a new classification system. Who could have predicted that? I actually had two completely separate (but virtually identical) libraries for my Touch and Classic, and would only sync the right pod with the right library.  I know it doubled my storage space (hence the saving to external drives) but I liked having that kind of control. Another x-factor in all this was the computer itself.

MacBooks have changed quite a lot in the past ten years. For one, they don’t make the same model as our old one, but talking with an Apple employee, he was really sympathetic regarding our loss and listened to us explain exactly what we wanted to use the computer for and what we needed it to do. It helped that we had a price range in mind, thanks to our excellent insurance adjuster who has been nothing but helpful throughout the process. Shoutout to Jean, if you’re reading this! Working with our budget, we decided that a MacBook Air was the best machine for us for a number of reasons. It is considered the “workhorse” MacBook that doesn’t have the highest resolution or processor speed (although both are miles better than our old 10 year old machine) but it reliable and is the only laptop that still has regular USB ports. I wasn’t really keen on getting an adapter for these new mini USB ports that come on the other MacBook models, and it even comes with a camera memory card reader so when you are uploading photos you don’t have to plug the whole camera in. (I mean you still can if you want to, but you can also just take out the camera card and cut out the middle man). This sounded like the machine for us. And we were able to customize it by maxing out the memory on it, which was a nice feature. The one downside was that to make it so slim, Apple eliminated the disc drive, which I still use a fair amount (even though I guess the world is going wireless). It would mean I would need to attach an external drive every time I wanted to use a disc, but that wasn’t a dealbreaker.

I know Apple calls their employees “Geniuses” in the same eyerolly way that Subway refers to their employees as “Sandwich Artists”, but in this case the salesperson had a really genius solution to a problem that has dogged us for almost ten years. On our old MacBook my wife and I had separate log ins and profiles, which was great. I had all of my weird stuff on my side, and she had all of her weird stuff on her side and we weren’t in each other’s way. The problem soon came up when she wanted to add photos to the computer. At the time, I was the only one who had an Apple ID, so the photos and music were at home on my profile. Whenever my wife needed to add photos, or edit them, or print them or whatever, I had to log in as myself and let her in on my side, which was fine but a little bit of a nuisance. I tried to see if there was a way to create a “shared folder” and there probably is but I could never really figure it out and I was afraid of messing around with iPhoto in case I did a “mass erase” or some terrible thing. We just lived with it. (The music wasn’t a problem because up until last year I was the only one who had an iPod).

So, I asked this helpful salesperson about creating a shared folder for music and photos. Is it possible to do that now on the new OS? (I assumed it was). The scrunched up his face and said that there wasn’t really an easy way to share access to photos and music since the music at least is tied to a person’s Apple ID, he DID suggest (and this is the genius part) that we should just created a shared profile, along with our own personal profiles, and use that shared profile for music and photos. So simple I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself. We even created a login for our daughter, with parental controls (filtering which sites she can get on, and limiting how much computer time she can have in a day, and when her profile shuts down at night. It’s really quite great).

So, that shared profile solves the problem of my wife and I accessing the same iPhoto and iTunes libraries, but it doesn’t do anything for my music retrieval. I asked our insurance lady whether data files were covered, knowing what the answer probably already was, (and I was right. They weren’t. covered). If I had physical CDs stolen, then those would have been covered, but who uses CDs these days?

From there I turned my attention to my iPods. They were dead ducks unless I could somehow transfer the songs BACK onto a new computer. I knew iTunes wasn’t set up for that, and that iPods would normally “synch” with an iTunes library when you plugged it in, and if I plugged either of my iPods in without changing some settings, the computer would helpfully sync the iPods to an EMPTY LIBRARY ON THE COMPUTER, thus effectively erasing them. I did NOT want that outcome at any cost.

I turned first to a couple of friends who were sort of techy and sort of into Macs. My first friend was upfront about not knowing how to save the music, but kindly offered for me to come over and “replenish” my library with stuff from his own. I really appreciated his honesty regarding his ability to retrieve my music, rather than pretending to know how and ending up with nothing. Another friend had a convoluted plan to synch it to an old MacBook that he owned and then transferring it to an external drive which I could use as the restoring drive whenever I bought my new computer. I appreciated his ingenuity but I didn’t fully understand his rube goldbergesque route to restoring the music, and then somehow I would be trapped in some outdated technology loop for ever? It was unclear whether he was offering the use of his old MacBook for this purpose only, or whether he was willing to sell it to us, or even give it to us. We never got that far into the conversation before I contacted a “data recovery” service. I explained my problem, and they gave me a lot of hope. They said the songs were definitely salvageable and they generously offered to take a launch to the lighthouse and do it in person whenever I had my new computer. They even sent me a $25 off coupon. I didn’t ask how much this service cost, but if they were going to knock off $25 without me even asking, they much be charging at LEAST $100, right? Maybe $200. This was money I was willing to pay to save. library of over 12,000 songs, but I kept looking for other solutions.

This is where my buzz marketing comes in. SENUTI! (Or iTunes spelled backwards, you guys). It’s a third-party program that claims to be able to transfer songs from iPods back into iTunes. There is a free trial for up to 1000 songs, and a $18.99 license for unlimited transfers. At this point I knew I had to “go big or go home” so I bought the license without even trying the demo. What did I have to lose? Just 10 years of my musical life. No pressure, right?

Well, let me be the poster boy for the success of this excellent little program. I downloaded it, installed it, and carefully prepped my iTunes so that it would not sync automatically as soon as I plugged something in. Senuti is powerful but even IT would be stymied if you told your computer go synch up without giving it a second thought. So, with my iTunes prepped, I opened senuTi. It simply said, “Connect iPod to begin”, and while holding my breath and a saying a “here goes nothing” in my head, I connected the iPod Classic.

Nothing happened.

Which is exactly what I was hoping would happen. I must have set iTunes up correctly because instead of erasing my iPod, I saw a window open with all my music files listed. I could sort by album, artist, title, genre, you name it. The interface was easy to figure out. You just highlighted the tracks I wanted, and hit the “transfer button” and they were instantaneously transferred back into my new empty iTunes library. I had a moment of fear where an error message popped up saying seunTi couldn’t transfer the music because it couldn’t find the iTunes library folder. I fiddled a bit with the settings (meaning I can’t remember now exactly how I fixed that) but whatever I did worked because the songs showed up in iTunes. Home again! I suppose I could have done a “select all” and pushed “transfer” and walked away, but I thought this was a perfect opportunity to weed the library a little bit. A moment ago I was lamenting the loss of everything, and now here I was taking a critical eye to what I had accumulated. But just like moving house, why pack up stuff that you don’t really need anymore? There were albums and artists on there that I don’t think I even listened to once in the past ten years, or artists that I wanted to get familiar with because they were openers for a headliner I really cared about. Some of those openers I came to love and kept (Snow Patrol, for example) and some were quite forgettable (The Fray and The Arctic Monkeys to name a couple. Don’t @ me). I also had a weirdly high number of audiobooks on there that I didn’t transfer back over. Audiobooks that I never even listened to. I think I loaded up the Classic when it was looking like we were going on strike a few years ago, and I thought I could use my time on the picket line to catch up on some books I had always meant to read. No need for them now, as we are safely renewed for another 4 years, and if it comes to that again, I think I’ll rely on Overdrive for my audiobook needs.

To make sure I didn’t miss anything hiding on the Classic, I went through by artist first, then by album. I think I’ll still do a run-through on “genre” to catch oddities like “holiday” and “soundtracks” that might not fit nicely into the artist or album lists. I did the same thing with the iPod touch, and was surprised to find a handful of albums on there that WEREN’T on the Classic. I guess nobody’s perfect and I must have added the odd album directly to the Touch without syncing the Classic, which means that there are probably a few outliers that were in my iTunes but not on either my Classic or Touch, and those ones are well and truly lost. But like I said, that’s okay. I retrieved 95% to 98% of my music library, and to quote U2, “what you don’t have, you don’t need it anyway”.

The one weird little glitch or anomaly with senuTi is that only SOME of the album artwork transferred over. I could see if none of the artwork transferred. That might mean that I didn’t have one of the metadata boxes checked or something (I checked on all that), but it’s weird that SOME transferred over and others didn’t. Not a big deal in the scheme of things. I much rather have the music file without the album artwork than have the artwork without the music file. And it’s pretty easy, albeit a big time-consuming, to manually import album art myself. Maybe a project for a rainy day.

So consider this the longest Yelp! review for a piece of software. I give it full marks, or 4 stars, or 10 hearts or whatever they use on Yelp! (I’ve never been on Yelp! you guys).

And if this blog post helps even one other person who has lost their iTunes library but has an echo of it on a portable device, then it was worth me writing it.

And if the good people at senuTi read this, thank you SO MUCH again for making this thing. I will be spreading the good word. I will even wear a senuTi t-shirt or button or whatever and recommend your app to the customers I encounter on a daily basis a public librarian.

senuTi everybody! They go both ways! (New Slogan?)

p.s. I made that “Innocence and Experience” playlist that I mentioned in the last blog post, thanks to senuTi, and it’s PRETTY GOOD, although I think I’ll move Cedarwood Road to further down in the list and swallow my pride (no pun intended) and add The Showman early on just for funners.

That’s all from me. I’m off to listen to some music, y’all!

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

Secrets and Spoilers

 “Frankly, if you want to open the presents early and spoil the surprise on Christmas morning, then don’t complain to me about it afterwards.” Willie Williams, U2’s Creative Director

U2 will launch the European leg of their iNNOCENCE+eXPERIENCE tour in Turin, Italy tomorrow night. I was very fortunate enough to be at the opening night of this tour back in the middle of May in Vancouver. To be among the first people in the world to see a major tour like this was a pretty great thrill, something I don’t expect to experience again in my life. It was one of the few times that I went into something pretty much completely blind. Of course there were rumours flying around of what the setlists would look like, what the stage set up would be like, but nothing was for sure. In fact when Willie Williams was asked about his favourite moment on the tour so far in this interview, he said it was the moment when the big screen (SPOILER!) comes down about 5 songs into the concert and Bono climbs up into it. He you could hear the gasps from the audience and that would be pretty tough to beat. He went on to admit that it does get a bit frustrating to plan a big show like this, only to have details leaked via social media as they play out. “I guess secrets died out with the 20th century,” he lamented. He said it was even worse with the 360 tour, since they were playing outdoor stadiums. Every time the band would soundcheck something new, twitter would explode, which was kind of funny to him, but also a little sad.

I remember during the last tour there were some fans who took vacation time around the tour and attended 3 or 4 (or more!) nights of the concert in a row, only to express disappointment online that the setlists were exactly the same each night. It bugged me when I read these comments, because I was jealous that these fans could see my favourite band so many times. I considered myself so lucky to see them TWICE over the two-year tour (Toronto in 2009 and Winnipeg in 2011). And with an incredibly complex stage, sound, light and video set up ike the 360 tour, I can only imagine that it was like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around every time you wanted to drop or add a sequence of songs. Also, come on. They are called tour rarities because they are supposed to be rare. Adding a song here or there on a special night is what makes them special. Plus: they shows are designed to be seen once for 99% of the people in the audience. It’s a little like buying tickets for a week’s worth of shows in London to see Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet, only to be disappointed that the play ends the same way every night.

Having said that, I HAVE been following the setlists every night of this latest U2 tour (and I fully expect to do so starting tomorrow night too.) I just find it fun, and it’s cool to see the variation from between shows. The song selection is more diverse on this tour than on any other U2 tour of recent memory. That may have to do with the “residency model” they are following this time round, where they set up camp in a city for anywhere from 2 to 8 nights. I suppose in cases like this, you COULD get fans going to multiple shows. I know I’d be tempted to get tickets to more than one night in my city if the opportunity arose. The trade-off is that the band is more settled, possibly more rested, and the structure of the i+e tour allows for a lot more “wiggle room” than other tours. Sure, you’ve got your big video and stage moments that probably can’t be changed from night to night, but there are also many moments on the b-stage (or the e-stage, if you prefer: tour nerds), for improvisation and spontaneity.

Where is all this going, you wonder to yourself?

This Friday, Disney is doing this thing called #forcefriday, where they are launching their toy line for the upcoming Star Wars movie. (Ha! You thought this blog post was about U2, but it was really about Star Wars all along. But you are TOO FAR IN to stop reading now. Might as well power through, right?)

They are calling it “Force Friday” but it’s already underway. There is some live youtube channel that is jumping between 13 cities around the world where b and even c list celebrities (and some children, but mostly adults which is kind of sad) are pretty much just opening boxes of star wars toys and showing them off for the first time.

Merchandising and Star Wars is not new. In fact, Star Wars (way back in 1977) was the first movie that really tapped into this whole “toys from the movie tie-in” thing. So you can only imagine that with almost 40 years worth of experience, they’ve gotten pretty damn good at it. Through in the muscle of Disney, and I just can’t even wrap my head around it. If this were 20 years ago, I would probably be lining up at Toys R Us tomorrow when they open to be one of the first in to grab up whatever I could.

Luckily, (and I mean this sincerely), that whole “collecting gene” has pretty much gone dormant inside me. It might be because I know I don’t have the physical space to store any of it, or maybe it’s because I know that I don’t have a lot of extra money lying around my bank account these days, or maybe it’s just because I have grown up and away from that compulsion. I don’t even collect comics anymore.

Also: come on guys. Aren’t you worried about spoilers? (Refer to Willie Williams’ quote at the beginning of this post). Sure, I’m human, and I’ve clicked on a couple of the links to the new toys. Luckily I haven’t seen anything that is TOO spoilery, but it’s only a matter of time. I already know that the shit goes down on some planet called Jakka, and that Capt Phasma is a lady and she has awesome armour. And that’s all I need to know. MORE than I should know, actually. Also: looking at some of these toys, I just think of my daughter losing some of the pieces, or breaking it 5 minutes out of the box. She is 6, and probably the perfect age for most of these toys. And yet most of these toys seem like the types of things that are meant to be kept in their boxes. I feel like I’m at the stage of fandom where I can look at this toys, or NOT look at these toys and still look forward to seeing the movie in December. What I’m trying to say here people is that I’ve grown as a person and I’ve made some meaningful progress.

Admittedly, the some of the LEGO looks great, especially Poe’s LEGO X-Wing. Is it weird to want to stick a poster of Oscar Isaac as Poe up in my office somewhere? Check out the cool colours on that X-Wing! And it comes with BB-8! Does BB-8 fit in the Astromech slot? WHY CAN’T IT BE DECEMBER ALREADY???



Wait, STOP. I’m not buying any damn LEGO or sticking up any pictures of Oscar Isaac anywhere, okay? That was just a little lapse in judgment.

Believe me, I WON’T be tuning into the Star Wars toy opening stream tomorrow on #forcefriday at all. Trust me.

You know why?

I’ll be too busy looking up U2 setlists from Turin.

Not weird.

Not weird.

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

Benevolent Malware

“Somebody stepped inside your soul.” Lykke Li, The Troubles

“and there is a light, don’t let it go out.” Bono, Song for Somebody

When I left home last Tuesday, the big news on the radio (yes, I still listen to the radio sometimes, because I am elderly) was that scientists thought they found one of the ships of the doomed Franklin expedition, but by the end of the day the big discovery was that about half a billion people had access to a new U2 album. Boom! You’re welcome. (Or are you?)

Let’s look at this for a bit. There was one of those Apple product launch thingies in California, and the rumour ahead of time was that U2 would play a role in it. It’s not the first time that U2 and Apple have teamed up. You may remember way back in 2004 (when the Red Sox won the world series for the first time in 86 years) there was a series of Apple commercials for the iPod that featured silhouettes dancing around with the stark white ear-bud cables, and one the commercials featured U2 singing Vertigo. I thought that maybe this commercial was for the launch of the iPod, but a quick internet search revealed that the iPod has been around since 2001. (we like to keep things as accurate as possible here at MBM. Why speculate when you can google?) (apologies to Marc Maron).

So anyway, I was at work so I didn’t follow the product launch all that closely. Apparently there’s a new bigger iPhone that looks like a Samsung galaxy, and some kind of weird iPay thing, and a iWatch, which looks kind of like those plastic Swatches we used to wear in jr high. Is it just like an iPod nano but with a wrist band? I’m not even sure it’s called the iWatch. Maybe just Apple Watch? Sounds like a hashtag for someone about to make some backyard crabapple jelly. #applewatch2014 I suppose I could look it up, but we always say “why google when you can speculate?” around here, don’t we?

But I guess the biggest news is that U2 showed up and played a new song and there was some scripted banter where Apple CEO Tim Cook wondered aloud how they could get this new music out to the fans and the upshot was that a totally new U2 album, called Songs of Innocence was immediately made available for free to iTunes users. Apple and U2 went a step further and actually pushed the album out so it would automatically appear in people’s iTunes and on their various Apple devices. It was just sitting there, as cheeky as you’d like, amongst your Belles and Sebastians or your Death Cabs and Cuties, like some kind of benevolent malware.

Now, any friend of this blog will know that U2 is my favourite band, and has been ever since jr high, the Joshua Tree days, so I’m just delighted that there is a new album out there for us to take in, but let’s just pretend that in some weird Grey House Alternative Universe there that Tentacled Tim Cook stood up there at the product launch and brought out Billy Joel (who in this alternative timeline was SUPER POPULAR STILL) and then I got home and there was some weird new Billy Joel album on my iPod. I’d think two things at first: either my pal Lindakimbo was pranking me, or my wife finally figured out how to use iTunes. When I found out the truth, I’d feel  a little icky, I think. I mean, if they could stick Billy Joel right on there, what else could the be sticking on there, or worse, taking away without our consent? And who knows? Maybe we gave our consent already, I mean, who really has ever read any of those Apple’s (or any other tech company’s) terms of use? They can do what they want, and we are quite powerless as long as we want to continue to enjoy the convenience of their service. It’s like people who complain about Facebook or Twitter selling or using images/content for their own use. I mean, if you don’t like it, don’t use  the product, right? Is that right, or am I victim blaming here? Maybe a little, I don’t know. I’m getting a bit off topic here. This was meant to be an album review, but now I’m not so sure.

It does feel like Apple crossed a line by sticking it in people’s iTunes, doesn’t it? I mean it would be one thing to say that the album would be available to download for free. I don’t know if there would be such a “no feeling” attached to the whole thing then. Oh, and incidentally, the album is apparently free until October 14th, when it hits stores (that’s such an old-fashioned concept, huh?) with more tracks and acoustic versions of existing ones. That’s how they getcha!

As it turned out, I didn’t want to wait for the album to appear on its own, so as soon as I got home from work I fired up the computer and clicked around until I was able to get the tracks to download. The last 4 tracks downloaded twice, so I don’t know what THAT was all about: maybe a combo of me downloading and iTunes trying to give it to me? I don’t know. As circumstances had it, I found myself alone at home that night (well, not quite alone. There was a MAN (a foreigner, even) in my kitchen doing his best to install a new sink and countertop), so I was left to my own devices and I was able to listen to the album all the way through twice.

First impressions: okay, before last Tuesday, I didn’t really expect a new U2 album this year. Did you know that it’s been so long since the last one came out that our daughter wasn’t even born yet? And it seems like she’s be around forever. I got used to the idea of no new U2 music, and I was okay with it. I was beginning to think that after almost 40 years and 12 albums I’d be okay with what we already had. Sure there was that song about Nelson Mandela over the winter that sounded just like that other “inter-album” effort Electrical Storm, and of course that new one in the early spring, Invisible which I thought sounded just the way you want a U2 song to sound, but aside from that, the dust seemed to settle on the fans’ hopes for anything new.

And I was okay with that. I mean, if I was feeling introspective, I’d listen to the Unforgettable Fire album, if I was pissed off, maybe a little Boy or War would fuel my mood, if I was feeling nostalgic: definitely it was time for The Joshua Tree and if I ever had the urge to listen to the BEST ALBUM EVER RECORDED BY ANYONE ANYWHERE I always had Achtung Baby ready to go. I would visit the post Achtung Baby albums less frequently. There was a time in 1997 when I would play the Pop album non-stop, and I still think of it as being the last best total album put out by them. From 2000’s All that you can’t leave behind, through 2005’s How to dismantle an Atomic bomb to 2009’s No Line on the Horizon, two things were clear: the album title’s got weirdly longer, and the albums themselves felt less cohesive. I suppose I could act like a musical Dr. Frankenstein and go through those last three albums and make an album length mix of the best stuff off of that, a super-cut of millennial U2. Maybe that’s the topic for another post? Back in 2011 when U2 came to town, one of our friends, let’s call her Sheebs, was coming to the concert but bravely admitted that she didn’t really know U2 all that well, so a group of us devoted fans set out to each make our ultimate mix so that she could familiarize herself with them before the concert. It was really fun, and that was probably the last time I ever made a U2 exclusive play list. Damn it, I’m getting excited to do this list now. I think I’ll call it U2000s. Stay tuned.

And as for Songs of Innocence? To paraphrase Stephen King: you’ve read this far, so why not read a little further? I think, early on, that it is a good album, maybe even a great album. Maybe even the best album since 1997’s Pop. Here’s my early review, track by track: one sentence per track.

  • The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) This song is growing on me, and I think it would make a kick ass opener to any live concert THAT I PLAN ON ATTENDING NEXT YEAR.
  • Every Breaking Wave My 2nd favourite off this album. It feels like one of those effortless songs like “So Cruel” that just seems to write itself. It was left off of “No Line on the Horizon” so I’m glad it finally gets its release here.
  • California Kinda goofy opening, but listenable. U2 channels and plays homage to the Beach Boys? It doesn’t really work, does it?
  • Song for Someone My favourite off of here. I know its sentimental and cheesy to talk about one’s belief in God, but this song sounds to me like the sound of someone reconnecting with his faith and it’s just lovely. So take that, haterz!
  • Iris (Hold me Close) A loving tribute to Bono’s mom. A counterpoint to Pop’s MOFO (which happens to be my favourite off of THAT album if you’re keeping score, and would have been my baseball walk up music if it wasn’t for the infamous groin pull of 1995).
  • Volcano It’s pretty much Vertigo style straight ahead rock and roll, tapping back into their Boy/War roots, and I’m down with it.
  • Raised by Wolves A bit of weird barking or coughing amps the cheese level in this otherwise earnest and sincere look at a series of bombings in Dublin when the band were teens. Probably my least favourite on this album, but it may grow on me.
  • Cedarwood Road Despite what I said about track 3 above, I generally like songs that reference geographical places, and this one is named after the street on which Bono grew up. A lovely answer to the b-side “North and South of the River”. Deep cuts!
  • Sleep Like a Baby Tonight Is it crazy to think that this one sounds a little like the Black Keys? I think it does, and I’m OKAY WITH THAT. Also reminds me of that other famous b-side that no one ever talks about, Holy Joe. Whatever happened to Holy Joe after they played it in that K-Mart back in 1997? Nobody knows.
  • This is where you can reach me now They say that Danger Mouse of Broken Bells fame produced some of this record, and of all the tracks on here, this one sounds the most Broken Bellsy of them all. Did I tell you guys I saw Broken Bells in concert last month? At least I think I did. I was so overcome with heat exhaustion I may have just imagined it. It was really great, in a feverish dream kind of way. I was sure glad I wore the seer-suck that night.
  • The Troubles U2 went all the way to Sweden and forced Lykke Li onto a plane and brought her AGAINST HER WILL back to Dublin to record parts on this song, and I’m sure glad U2 committed such a brazen act of international kidnapping because this song is a perfect way to end things off. With a song called “The Troubles” you  think it will be political, but SPOILER it seems to be about a relationship. When Lykke Li sings “Somebody stepped inside your soul” it sends shivers up my spine. But maybe they should have written “Somebody stepped inside your iTunes” amirite, everyone?

Gotta go work on my u2000s mixtape now! See ya suckers!

Did anyone else think this looked like a condom package? No? Just me? Really. Come on now.

Did anyone else think this looked like a condom package? No? Just me? Really? Come on now.


1 Comment

Filed under blogposts

The Sound of Twelve Bands Chopping Down The Joshua Tree

A few months ago, I blogged about seeing a couple of movie trailers back to back, both featuring U2 songs not sung by U2. I talked a little bit about this super rare recording commissioned by Q magazine back in 2011, where, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Achtung Baby, they got 12 bands together, getting each one of them to record a track from the album, and then including the CD in their Dec 2011 publication.

I put a challenge out to the loyal fanbase to see if they could find me a copy of this CD, and left it at that. Months passed, and I thought the trail had gone cold. But to my surprise, a few days ago, I received a card for my birthday, and inside that card was a CD simply titled in Sharpie, “U2 Covered”. I couldn’t believe it. There is was: just waiting for someone to listen to it.

“How did you ever get this?” I asked in amazement.

“It’s on iTunes you know. I checked it immediately after I read your post and then I thought, well I have a few months until his birthday. I’ll give it to him then.” She added cheekily: “Maybe I should be a librarian?”

Now, reader, you must believe me when I say that of course I checked iTunes for this album, but could not find it. How could I have missed it? As you will recall, I even had someone on the ground in England when the magazine was to be released, but no luck. I’m as dumbfounded as you are as to how this oversight could have happened. When I got home, I dialled up iTunes and sho’ nuff, there was the album, plain as day. Am I losing my touch as I approach my twilight years?

But I shan’t dwell on it. What’s the point of that? Instead I thought I might as well review the album, track by track, partly as a “thank you” to the person who found it, and partly as a way to organize my thoughts around it.

Before I say anything, let me just say that “Achtung Baby” is one of my personally favourite albums of all time. It is the best U2 album of all time, and I still remember it coming out in the fall of 1991. My Dad had died suddenly at the beginning of that summer, I was going into Grade 12, it felt like everything that was safe and familiar was gone and I was adrift in life. One night, my friend Ed and I were hanging out in my basement and we had MuchMusic on in the background (this was back when they actually showed music videos) and the video for “The Fly” came on and we both stopped and just stared at the TV. We missed the intro so we were just watching this video with amazement. Ed spoke first: “I think that’s U2”. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing or hearing. It certainly didn’t sound like U2, at least not like the U2 of “Still haven’t found what I’m looking for” or “With or Without You”. And yet, was that Bono? Bono with the dyed jet-black hair and crazy huge shades and leather pants? By the end of the video, we had seen and heard enough to know that it was, in fact, U2. I just smirked and thought to myself. “Makes sense. Nothing else in my life right now seems real or reliable. My favourite band having an identity crisis seems like the right thing to happen right now, doesn’t it?” Yet despite the unfamiliar images and sound, there was something about those images and sound that called to me. It sort of gave the finger to the world and said “I don’t have to look or sound the way society and culture says I should look.” It was a break with the past and an uncertain leap to the future, and what did I have to lose? Like the lyrics to Zoo Station say, “Time is a train, makes the future the past. Leaves you standing in the station, with your face pressed up against the glass”. I wasn’t about to be left in the station.

I’m rambling, I know. Let me just sum up by saying that this album came out at a time when I was particularly sensitive to outside influences and that almost immediately it became a part of my DNA. In my car, I had a basket of cassettes. They were all U2. Achtung Baby got the most play, but I also had a number of bootleg live concerts that were in heavy rotation. This pretty much was my car listening repertoire for almost a decade. When I took the digital leap in 2008, Achtung Baby was one of the first albums to get added to my iPod, and it’s never left. So I’m not going to compare this cover album to the original. It just wouldn’t make sense. It would be like asking 12 artists to paint something in honour of the Mona Lisa. Nothing that gets painted will diminish the beauty and perfection of the original, but it is certainly fun to see what people have come up with. Bono famously called the sound of Achtung Baby as “the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree”.

So after 840 words of preamble, let’s start this blog post, shall we? Let’s hear what 12 bands chopping down the Joshua Tree sounds like, or in this case, the sounds of 12 different axes, chainsaws and beavers. In honour of my “decade of U2” in the car, I’m playing this CD in the car exclusively for the next little while to get a real good feel from it. Here are my thoughts so far:

Zoo Station-(Nine Inch Nails) Interesting choice to start things off. Way mellower than the original (see I said I wasn’t going to compare to the original but I can’t help it!), but it has a cool, almost, throbbing quality to the sound. Much more restrained than what I thought Trent Reznor would come up with, and it points out to me how much Adam and Larry bring to the table. Sure, Bono and the Edge get all the glory, but in this song, the bass and drums drive it relentlessly. I never thought NIN could have a “lounge” sound, but I guess this is the closest one will get to that. I always thought that Bono’s repeated “It’s all right….” in the middle of the song is meant for the skeptical fans who haven’t quite got on board with the new sound. I like the fact  that NIN leaves that part off, as I always thought it felt improvised.

Even Better than the Real Thing-(u2) When I started listening to this one I thought, “Wow, whoever this is, he sure sounds a lot like Bono.” Well, friends, guess what? It IS Bono. Yep, for some reason, this song was not a cover, but actually a remix of the original (which I guess SORT OF counts) by the band themselves. What? Coldplay and/or Arcade Fire were too busy? EBTTRT has always been my least favourite song of the album, so I was happy to hear this new version. The Edge’s opening guitar riff always kind of grated on my nerves, so I’m pleased to report it has been excised from this remix, and what remains is actually quite a listenable version. Would I go as far to say that this version of “Even Better Than The Real Thing” is actually even better than the real thing? I just might.  U2 began its final North American leg of the 360 tour with a pumped up version of this song which I really liked, and am happy to have a couple of bootlegs of that version too.

One-(Damien Rice)I don’t know anything about this Damien Rice fellow, but he does a fine  job with an well-worn song. His version was also recently used in the trailer for the emotionally charged “The Impossible“. It’s fun to hear such a well-known song done on a different instrument. This time, it is piano. It’s sort of what I imagine Royal Wood sounding like if he misplaced the anti-depressants, or maybe if Elliot Smith sat down at a Casio. It’s probably what my brain would hear if I had just witnessed a tsunami, so good choice, movie producers! Still, when it comes to covers of “One” Michael Stipe’s version still “takes the cake” if you ask me. (You take that cake, Michael. Take it! #cake)

Until the End of the World-(Patti Smith) I must also wave the “flag of ignorance” when it comes to Patti Smith. Yes, I can hear monocles dropping and stage-whispered-gasping all over fanbasedom with this confession, but it’s true. A quick peak at her Wikipedia page gives me the sense that I probably should know who she is. Would it be gauche to call her “the female Leonard Cohen”? Or how about “the female Lou Reed”? Or maybe if Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed decided to rent an apartment together but then realized that they needed to sublet it because they both would be away for a few months and they put an ad up asking for people to rent it, and Patti Smith would be the person who would eventually end up subletting it? But we’re not judging her on her past achievements here. We are just looking at her contribution to this cover album. Well, I have to say that Patti Smith drew the short straw when she was assigned this song. UTEOTW is just one of those songs that you don’t fuck with, okay? It is perfect in its original form and without those “air raid” guitar sirens (TM The Edge) it’s just not the same. Still you have to give her credit for trying to turn this iconic anthem into a folk song, but could someone please lend Ms. Smith a metronome? Please? Seriously.

Who’s gonna ride your wild horses?-(Garbage)I have a soft spot for Ms. Shirley Manson and her Garbage, so I was delighted to see that Garbage contributed a song to this CD too. A few weeks ago, Garbage was playing on David Letterman and I jumped up to my CD collection and proudly produced a couple of mid 90’s Garbage discs to prove, in fact, that I am not a “Johnny Come Lately” to this band. My wife and our friend did not seem as excited as me, but I considered it a shining moment. In fact, if we were friends in the mid 90s and I liked you and I made you a mixtape, there would have been an excellent chance that “I’m only happy when it rains” would appear on there. I really love Garbage’s version of “Wild Horses”. On the original album, this song always struck me as one of the least “produced” of the songs, in a good way, and I had the great fortune to hear U2 perform it acoustically as a surprise encore in Milwaukee in 2005. Shirley Manson turns this into a torch song, and she smolders her way through it as if it were a Bond theme. The song kicks into high gear for the choruses but returns to slow-jam smoulder mode for the verses. She really makes it her own and it may be my favourite cover on this album.

So Cruel-(Depeche Mode) I wonder if Depeche Mode and U2 are friends? They both were formed around the same time, in similar conditions. Both have stood the test of time, and although Depeche Mode may have not reached the same heights of super-stardom as their Irish counterparts, they have a loyal following and are not content to rest of the laurels of their huge 1980’s hits. They have the misfortune of being assigned “So Cruel” which has been scientifically proven to have been perfectly recorded by U2 the first time. So there isn’t really much they can do about that. It doesn’t seem to bother them, as they gamely went ahead and made a quality recording anyway, which is JUST FINE and the best you could hope for considering the circumstances. While nothing compares to the Edge’s guitar over the “You don’t know if it’s fear or desire” line, Depeche Mode’s rumbling bass keeps the rhythm going. To get the best out of this version, you have to play it LOUD.

The Fly-(Gavin Friday) Really great that they got Gavin Friday to do “The Fly” as Gavin Friday was Bono’s alter ego growing up in Dublin, and in many ways perhaps an influence for “The Fly” character. When Achtung Baby came out, more people were buying it on cassette and vinyl than on CD. I still think of the album as having two sides, with “The Fly” being the first song on side 2. Both sides of this album are mirrors of one another. They both start defiantly (Zoo Station and The Fly, respectively) and both sides move their way through love and loss. Where side 1 ends with heartache (So Cruel), side 2 ends with blind acceptance, a “falling to the knees” kind of surrendering in “Love is Blindness”. All I know is that when Love is Blindness would end, I would flip the cassette over eagerly to hear the opening blasts of “Zoo Station” once again.

Mysterious Ways-(Snow Patrol) This song, and the next three, are all covered by bands that have opened for U2 at one time or another. I like Snow Patrol, and Gavin Lightbody turns on his delicate Ulster charm for “Mysterious Ways”. This is a dance song. You can help but move and flop around when you hear the original’s Edge’s guitar bursts at the beginning. In fact, I remember in high school arriving one day and my girlfriend at the time told me she heard a new U2 song on the radio that morning. “Oh yeah? What did it sound like?” I asked. “It was weird. It didn’t sound like U2 at all,” was her response. This was probably just a few weeks after Ed and I saw “The Fly” video in my basement. I eventually heard “the new song” later on that week, and it was “Mysterious Ways”. Yep, not like U2 at all, but I was learning to accept that “New U2” was nothing like “Old U2” and I was starting to be okay with that. There was enough of the same DNA in there that I was willing to go along for the ride. But back to Snow Patrol’s version: Snow Patrol strips away all the dance qualities that make this song what it is, and you wouldn’t be wrong to call this one the “Weaksauce Remix”. I know it’s impossible, but I would love to hear “The Postal Service” do this song. Can you just imagine Ben Gibbard’s mournful tenor soaring above some energetic beats from that other dude whenever he stops playing “Angry Birds”? I don’t know what it would sound like, but at least it would give the song much needed “pep”. Can we get a “kickstarter” started for this somewhere?

Tryin’ to Throw your Arms around the World-(The Fray) I’ve always thought of this song as the story of someone trying to make up with their girlfriend after being a bit of an ass. Someone’s done something stupid and they are trying to use charm and humour to get back “in the good books”. I can relate. I sure many of us can. The song strikes a playful tone and their live versions of this during “ZOO TV” take it up another level, with champagne toasts and concert-goers being dragged on-stage to videotape the band, etc. The Fray sing this one like a straight power ballad, and it loses a lot of its playfulness. If I didn’t know it was “The Fray” I would have guessed that it was “Mouse Rat“, which would have been awesome.

Ultraviolet (Light my Way)-(The Killers) The opening of this song is all quiet and introspective, and my first thought was, “Holy cow! They got Billy Joel covering Ultraviolet???” But as soon as the main part of the song kicks in, you recognize that the Billy Joel doppelgänger is actually Brandon Flowers of The Killers, and this song provides a wonderful platform for Flowers to show off his range and can do some pretty convincing “Bono wails” on the “I remember…” verse.

Acrobat-(Glasvegas)Woah. I know nothing about Glasvegas, but they give it their all on this track. It’s as if they are sitting across from a table of producers at an audition and one of the producers says, “Impress us”. They leave it all up there on the recording and I almost had to pull the car over and climb under the seats until it was safe to come out. I’d like to get to know this Glasvegas band a bit better. Will I end up using my $15 iTunes gift card to download an album, or will I use it to upgrade to Scrabble HD for my iPad mini? Stay tuned!

Love is Blindness-(Jack White) Perhaps the strongest, most unique track on the whole album? This last track has always had a prayerful quality to it for me. It’s the aftermath of the violence in “Ultraviolet” and the hurt and betrayal in “Acrobat”. Love wins because Love is Blindness. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, it’s the “Whimper” to Zoo Station’s “Bang”. Jack White takes a different approach, with some muscular guitar sounds and trademark distortion. It was also used in “The Great Gatsby” trailers and soundtrack to great effect. It probably ties with Garbage’s “Wild Horses” as my favourite interpretations on this album.

Well, there you have it. 12 bands (11 if you don’t  count the U2 Remix), each one taking on a different track from a landmark album. I love this idea,and would love to see it done with another U2 album. It’s the 20th anniversary of Zooropa this year, guys. Think about it! Is THIS where we could get a “Postal Service” version of “Lemon”? How about a ukulele version of “Stay”? I can already hear “The Decemberists” singing “Some Days are Better than Others” in my head…..(and so on, and so on….)

1 Comment

Filed under blogposts

A secret mission for the fanbase…

Sometimes the best part of going to the movies is watching the trailers ahead of time. Often when a friend comes back from the movies, I’ll ask him or her about the trailers before I ask about the feature. Trailer editing is a special art unto itself, and I’ve seen many amazing trailers of mediocre movies.

This is not going to be a blog post about amazing trailers of mediocre movies, but that would be a good topic some time down the road.

I had a great time at the movies the other night, and it had all to do with the trailers. We saw two back-to-back that I’d like to talk about.

The first one was for “The Impossible”. It stars Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts who play husband and wife on vacation. The first part of the trailer is them swimming and eating at resorts and whatnot, and I turned to my wife and said I could watch a whole movie of Ewan McGregor eating buffet and going for swims. I really could. But then the damn tsunami hits and everything goes to hell. But this is where the movie trailer gets awesome, because they use a cover version of U2’s “One”. I didn’t recognize the version or the artist, but I loved it in this context. It made me want to see the movie, which I guess is the job of the trailer. I don’t know if the song appears in the movie or not, and it doesn’t really matter, but that trailer did its job.

The next trailer was for the new version of  “The Great Gatsby” starring Leo. I have mixed feelings about this movie, but until this trailer I had not seen one of bit of it. It is going to be in 3D, which is a bit weird, but it’s done by Baz Luhrmann, for whom I have a secret affection. It looks the way you’d think a Baz Luhrmann movie set in the 1920’s would look, visually stunning and all that. Do the characters sing in it? Is it a musical? Can’t really tell from the trailer, but I CAN tell you that there is a hauntingly beautiful cover version of ANOTHER U2 song. This time it’s “Love is Blindness”. Again, bravo to the trailer editors, “The Great Gatsby” has just gone on my list of movies to see this Spring. Maybe it’ll be out in time for my birthday in May?

When I got home, I googled the artists and was surprised to find out that both covers were taken from Q’s Achtung Baby cover album in 2011. Q magazine commissioned a special CD of other artist’s doing Achtung Baby in celebration of that album’s 20th anniversary. Being my favourite U2 album BY FAR,  and maybe being my favourite album PERIOD, I was determined to get the issue that included this disc.

I was soon disappointed to find out that it was only shipping with UK editions of the magazine, and I’d have to special order, no guarantees, etc etc. Maybe the magazine appeared in North American at some later point, but I never saw it. As luck would have it, a coworker of mine was heading to London in December and promised to look for it when she was there! This was my best chance, but as it turned out she was a week late. The next issue was already on the stands and no one seemed to have any old issues lying around.

I eventually did find a streaming feed of the album online. I don’t know if it was sour grapes because I couldn’t find it, but I was pretty underwhelmed with the final product. Listening to it just made me want to go get U2’s original and listen to that again. Why try to recreate perfection?

But now that I’ve heard Damien Rice’s “One” and Jack White’s “Love is Blindness” in new contexts with fresh ears, I love them to bits. I’m willing to give Depeche Mode’s “So Cruel” another go and Snow Patrol’s “Mysterious Ways” another listen, IF ONLY I COULD GET MY HANDS ON THAT DAMN ALBUM.

So fanbase: there’s the challenge. Find and burn me a CD of this album (I don’t need to know your methods) and I will reward you with a special mix tape of U2 covers and rarities carefully curated by me (I haven’t made this disc yet, but I will UPON SUCCESSFUL COMPLETION OF YOUR TASK).

As you were.


Filed under blogposts

We just lost the moon.

Looking back on it, it seemed doomed from the start. U2 in Minneapolis. The exact moment that I was awaiting credit card confirmation from Ticketmaster, our then 6 month old daughter rolled over and cut her head open on the bottom of her dresser. Marla was downstairs looking after laundry and I was supposedly “looking after” Audrey. It was a horrible looking gash, and I immediately felt sick to my stomach. Luckily, babies have some kind of amazing healing ability, not unlike Wolverine, and within a couple of days, there was only a little red mark, and a week or so later there was no sign of it at all. Little did I know that this was only the first step in a roller-coaster saga that would last almost two years.

Let me back up a little. The only reason I wanted to see U2 in Minneapolis is because we had just seen U2 in Toronto the month before. We had flown there, baby in tow, with the main goal of going to the concert and to have some visiting time with my wife’s relatives in September 2009. Although the concert itself was wonderful, our seats were the pits. We were about as high as you could be, and although it was fun to watch the CN Tower’s lights in sync with what was going on down below on stage, I felt that I didn’t have any advantage over the people on their condo balconies seeing and hearing the show for free. Sure, we heard a rare playing of “Your Blue Room”, but cold comfort. I didn’t want this to be my last impression of a U2 concert experience, and more importantly, I wanted Marla to experience a U2 concert “up close” the way I did in 1997 in Vancouver, when I was up against the rail of the B Stage and where during the encores I caught Adam’s attention and shouted “Adam, I LOVE you!” and he smiled back at me.

Not the best seats in the world for 360 in Toronto, 2009.

I sort of had Marla convinced that if I was able to get GA tickets to Minneapolis, then somehow we would go, but if all I could get where in the stands, then forget it. Sure enough, I hit the jackpot with a couple of GA’s, and somehow completed the transaction with an injured baby in my arms. The date was set: June 27, 2010.

Or so we thought.

All winter, Marla fretted over leaving our daughter with my Mom or her parents. “She’ll only be just over a year”. We sat up one night and ran literally dozens of combinations of getting us to the concert. We could bring my Mom with us and she could stay with our daughter during the concert. We could just drive down and come back in the same night. Some of the scenarios didn’t even involve Marla, the main reason why I wanted to go. “You could just go down with one of your friends, or maybe meet one of your friends who live in Minneapolis”, she said. “But, but, what about you?” I stammered. We left it undecided with the idea that a solution would present itself in due course.

And it did, in the form of Bono’s unexpected back surgery. The Claw was already being set up in Salt Lake City for the first North American date in 2010 when we all got the news that Bono underwent emergency back surgery in Germany, resulting in the postponement of all the North American dates until some future time. During this period, I was having a recurring dream. Marla and I were parked in our Corolla on the edge of a cornfield on a beautiful, cloudless summer day at dusk. Audrey was fast asleep in her car seat in the back. Not too far away, the Claw could be seen clearly, apparently set up in the middle of this field. Before too long, we heard the opening notes of “Space Oddity” and we were treated to what seemed to be an exclusive night of the 360 tour. There may have been people up close, in fact I could hear the cheering, but sitting on the hood of our car, with the sound of crickets, the smell of earth and the unmistakable sound of the ALBUM version of “I’ll go crazy if I don’t go crazy tonight” being played live, this could only be an exquisite dream, a dream that would replay in my dreams over and over again. Subconsciously, this is how I hoped U2 in Minneapolis would be, as strange as that sounds.

In the fall of 2010, the new dates were scheduled, with Minneapolis getting July 23, 2011. Perfect! We thought we’d leave Audrey with my Mom and head down for the weekend. A little shopping, restaurants, U2 show, possibly a Twins game. This was shaping up nicely. Then out of the blue, a Winnipeg date was added. Unbelievable! We had heard rumours that our stadium was too small to host the 360 stage, and indeed Winnipeg was one of the smallest venues on the entire tour. Our experiences at that show were detailed here.

Our final decision was that we’d take my Mom down to Minneapolis with us and she’d look after our daughter during the concert.

But then, in the past month, our daughter entered a funny stage. Kids have stages! Who knew? She’s become very, very active. She can’t sit still for more than a minute at a time, car rides longer than a half hour usually turn into a screamfest, and malls are met by a chorus of “No way, no way, no way, no way!” It kind of dawned on me all of a sudden. As G. M. Hopkins would say, “What the heart knew, ghost guessed.” Let’s recap what this weekend was going to be all about: a long car drive, restaurants, and shopping. None of these things are very pleasant at the moment with Audrey. We thought briefly about our original plan of leaving Audrey with my Mom, but there was still a reluctance on Marla’s part, “She’s only two!” and knowing how exhausted two people in their mid-30s are with her, it didn’t seem all that fair to saddle a 70-year-old with her for 4 whole days.

It was actually me who brought up the idea of not going to Marla. I felt like Tom Hanks’ character in Apollo 13 when the mission began to go sideways.

"We just lost the moon."

I wasn’t expecting the reaction I got to my proposal, but in retrospect I should have guessed. “I’m so relieved”, said Marla. “I didn’t know how we were going to do it.” My Mom’s response? “Great! I can use those vacation days this fall when I drive to Sault Ste. Marie to pick out a puppy!”. They were both just wanting it to work for me, and it took me to finally come to the realization that the whole reason to go to this concert was satisfied by our experiences at the Winnipeg show. It doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed. No self-respecting U2 fan would willingly give up a chance to see them live. Live is where they live, after all. It’s as much a U2 fan’s duty to see them live as it is a Christian’s to take communion. Seriously. But I somehow feel less bad than I thought I would. I feel even better now that I know Carol and Joanna are able to use the tickets themselves. They were down in Minneapolis just in May on a quick turnaround to see Paul Simon, so I know they will have a great time. I know they will take lots of pics and I’m sure Joanna may even shoot a little video. I hope they play “The Fly” for Joanna, and “Magnificent” for Carol. They just better not play the album version of “I’ll go crazy if I don’t go crazy tonight”. And for me? I have my cornfield dreams, my memories of six amazing concerts over the years, each one special in its own way, (I’m counting Minneapolis as a 7th with an asterisk!) And like every other U2 fan out there, I’m counting the days to the next single, the next album, the next tour. Each time we meet is a sort of homecoming. And Audrey? It’s just a moment, it too shall pass.

Get on your Boots!


Filed under blogposts

Here’s where we gotta be: Love and Community

Our U2 Weekend

Let me in the Sound

My ears have stopped ringing, but I’ll never forget this amazing past weekend. We all knew U2 was coming to Winnipeg since last October, but none of us knew then how exactly it would all play out. I remember the morning the concert was announced, and a co-worker called me at home to tell me the news. She’s a nice lady in her 50’s, very prim and proper, but she knew my love of the band. When she told me, I blurted without thinking, “Holy Fucking Shit!” and then spent the rest of the morning apologizing to her for my language.

Grace finds Beauty in Everything

The excitement began for me a whole week before the concert when I drove by the stadium and saw the 100+ trucks in the parking lot, loaded down with bits and pieces of the U2360 stage. It all became real for me at that moment, and the rest of week dragged out. I was fighting off a cold and actually stayed home from work on Wednesday to sleep and try to get over it in time for the concert. I listened to a live feed of the Salt Lake City show that night, even though I told myself I’d stay away from setlists and spoilers, but as the lyric goes “You tell yourself that you’ll stay in, but its down to Alphaville”. I heard the thrilling revamped version of “Even Better than the Real Thing” and even though that song is probably my least favourite off of Achtung Baby!, it took on a whole new meaning and urgency on this leg of the tour. “Give me one more chance, and you’ll be satisfied”. It was as if Bono was trying to win back audience support that stuck with him and the band as every North American date was  postponed last summer due to Bono’s unexpected back surgery and recovery. I loved this version and thought it was the PERFECT opener.

The next day, word spread that as “The Claw” was being assembled at the stadium, a bunch of U2 stenciled equipment was being loaded into the downtown Burton Cummings (formerly the Walker) theatre. Speculation abounded. Were they going to shoot a video? Rehearse for the tour? No one really knew.

Still no sign of the band.

Then on Friday I read this and was so happy for Sonya a.k.a. @honey_child. She’s as big a fan as anyone, even travelling to Australia this past winter to see U2 twice in Sydney. I know what it feels like to meet your hero. For me, meeting Bono outside the Saddledome in Calgary a decade ago remains a cherished moment in my life.

In addition to the happiness I felt for Sonya was this simple fact: The band was in town. My town.

A Sort of Homecoming

Shortly after this, Twitter lit up with the news that the band was at the downtown theatre. This was all I needed to hear. My wife and daughter were tired and were off to bed early. I was in the car and driving downtown on a cold and misty night. Irish weather.

When I got to the theatre, two things struck me. First, There were only about a dozen fans standing outside the rear entrance. Stasa and Joanna were there; they had tweeted about a half hour before that they were heading down. Secondly, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. One of the alley doors was left slightly ajar, and this amazing sound wafted out into the cool night air. It was unmistakably The Edge playing the guitar solo to “The Fly”. I couldn’t believe I was standing outside this ancient theatre listening to my favourite band in the whole world play. We were pressed up against the brick wall, literally like “a fly on the wall” listening to “The Fly”. It’s the 20th anniversary of Achtung Baby!, and we learned that U2 were recording a documentary to mark the occasion. As the night wore on, we heard “The Fly” many more times, and other songs off of Achtung Baby!, including the blisteringly reworked “Even Better than the Real Thing” I had heard for the first time online two nights before from Salt Lake City. As long as the band was playing, I wasn’t going anywhere (except across the street to use the washroom in the Yellow Dog Pub). I bumped into an old friend, Chris, whom I hadn’t seen in about 10 years. We were at university together and instantly bonded over our love of U2 even then. We hugged and he asked “How’s Marla?” I thought it was sweet that he remembered my wife’s name after all that time. I told him we had a little 2-year-old daughter now, and he told me he spends ALL of his free time devoted to following U2. “What time are you planning on lining up?” he asked me. “About 2 pm”. He looked at me with real concern in his eyes. “Ohh. I think you’re gonna need to line up earlier than that. I’m starting the line up tomorrow.” Tomorrow? As in the day before the concert? There’s no way I had the stamina for that. I didn’t really care if I got up close. I would have enjoyed the show from the parking lot if I had to, but I didn’t say that to Chris. I just enjoyed seeing his spirit and determination in action. I also met this guy from Northern Ireland, Cathal McCarron,(@me_and_u2) who is following the band across their entire tour. He’s written a book called “Me and U2” and he writes a blog about his experiences. “I’m not even that big of a fan,” he deadpanned. “I didn’t even think to try to see them out of the UK. It never occurred to me until this tour that I could do that”. I also got to meet Stasa and Joanna’s cousins as well. Love and Community. The crowd slowly grew to about 50 by the time U2 as done for the night.

Obviously tired from their flight and their night’s work, the band did not interact with the crowd the same way as they did when they entered the theatre, but we did see them get into their vehicles and head off into the night. We got a good glimpse of Adam, as he was the only one without an SUV and the only one without tinted windows.

Our first view of “The Claw” fully built. Saturday afternoon.

Part of the next day, Saturday, was spent at the stadium. Tour merchandise was being sold a day early. My wife got a cool khaki cap and I a maroon shirt called “Buddhist Punk”. I also got a chance to check out the GA line. Sure enough, there was Chris and Cathal on the sidewalk of St. Matthews across from the Toys R Us. Although security didn’t allow tents, they were turning a blind eye to the makeshift tarp and air mattresses. There were already 29 people in line. U2 GA lines can last for as much as a week in some cities, and in central and latin america it really becomes a part of the concert experience. The remarkable thing is that they are fan regulated. Once you get your name on the list and a number written on your hand, you must “maintain a presence” in the line in some way and be present for periodic “roll calls”.  As our friend John quipped “There are probably a couple of sociology PhD theses that could be written about this phenomenon.” You can read more about U2 GA etiquette here.

Cathal in the front of the GA Line, Saturday afternoon.

After the stadium stop, (where we also bumped into Sheila, Carol, John, Mike, Lisa and my Mom!) we headed back down to the Burton Cummings theatre. Joanna and Stasa had texted to say that they actually got their picture with Larry as he went back into the theatre for more filming. I wanted my wife and daughter to experience some of the same awesomeness that I did the night before. There were more people outside this time, and security seemed better prepared to deal with us. We heard “Mysterious Ways” and Bono rehearsing a segue-way between “Will you still love me tomorrow?” and “Where the Streets have no Name” a few times. Marla said “I bet he’ll sing this tomorrow”. Audrey was more interested in collecting pebbles in the parking lot, but when she’s older I can tell her she heard U2 live! It was soon supper and bedtime for Audrey, so we headed home for the night. I knew I needed to get a good night’s sleep if I was going to enjoy Sunday to the fullest. No air mattresses in the Toys R Us parking lot for me!

Marla and Audrey outside the Burton Cummings Theatre, Saturday afternoon

That night, I found out that Joanna hit the jackpot. She went back to the Theatre Saturday night and was rewarded by seeing the entire band come out. She got pictures and even autographs from everyone!

The Edge by Joanna

Walk On

A little background on the group that saw U2: John holds the distinction of being the only one of us to see a ZOO TV show live. This is his first time seeing the 360 tour. Marla has become a fan through osmosis by virtue of being married to me. “Before I met you, I just remember dancing to Sunday Bloody Sunday at Jr High school dances”. Carol is a recent convert to U2 fandom. The St. Paul of U2 fans, if you will. Her bright light on the road to Damascus was “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”. Sheila describes herself as a “casual fan” who “wanted to see what all the fuss was about”. And me? I probably could write an entirely separate blog about what U2 means to me. Let’s just say U2 is the first band I ever truly fell in love with when I was 13 years old, and I have never fallen out of love. I’m now 37. We walked over to the stadium around 2:30 in the afternoon. We could hear “Zooropa” being sound-checked, and it sounded other-worldly bouncing off the buildings surrounding the stadium. We joined the GA line and soon found out were in the 570’s. (I was #572). This was great news for us. If the rumours were true, the inner circle could accommodate 2000 people, but I never like counting my chickens, especially before they’re hatched. We heard portions of “Magnificent” and “Streets”, and a tantalizingly small snippet of “Bad” before the sound check ended. I came prepared with water bottles, trail-mix and M&Ms. I even lined my fleece with granola bars. We ate lunch at about 1:30, and lord only knows when we’d eat again. Our friend Jackie and her boyfriend were working for the “U2 Green Team” and were collecting recycling from the GA line and around the stadium grounds. For their efforts, they were given passes for the inner circle, not to mention a cool souvenir t-shirt. Another group of our friends had lined up since the morning and were in the mid 300’s. This group included Stasa, Joanna and their arsenal of “Clappers”, with whom I spent Friday evening and Saturday afternoon outside the theatre.

A quick side-note on “The Clapper”. I’m not entire sure how the saga of “The Clap” began. Perhaps someone in the comments field below can enlighten us. Suffice to say, a mission of Joanna and Stasa was to “give” certain people “The Clap”. It was tried at the Arcade Fire show in September, but Win Butler escaped Clap free. Would Bono be so lucky? Read on.

It had rained a bit the night before, so the ground wasn’t suitable for sitting, but the time passed fairly well. The weather was cool and overcast, and was probably the best case scenario for standing in the GA line. By the time we were let into the stadium, the line had grown to fill all the barricades and snaked the entire length of St. Matthews and all the way down St. James street as far as I could see. At the gates, I was relieved of my trail mix and M&Ms, but I was able to keep Carol’s bag and even more importantly they didn’t find my granola bars! We walked the length of the football field and entered a second set of turnstiles. It wasn’t until we were through that it dawned on me that we were in the inner circle. I high-fived Sheila to celebrate our good fortune. We kept winding our way under the walkways until we stopped in front of the drum kit. We were centre stage, about 6 people back! The perfect location! Stasa and Joanna were up at the rail and so was Chris. I looked over my shoulder and saw Cathal making camp on Edge’s side. Jackie and her boyfriend made their way over to us. Sonya was probably in the Red Zone by now. It was as if everyone I met and spent time with this weekend was gathering together. I knew even my Mom was probably making her way to her seats behind the stage with her “concert buddy” Marlene. The stage literally was set. Love and Community.

What time is it in the world? It’s SHOWTIME.

Quiet time before the show. Courtesy of Sheila.

After The Fray finished up, there was about 45 minutes before 3 snow birds flew over and around the stadium. I was conserving my energy at this point. Any fatigue slipped away when the opening notes of “Space Oddity” began. I knew the band was in the wings waiting for the line “And may God’s love be with you” before they took their short walk to the stage. Space Oddity gave way to the recorded opening loop from “Even Better than the Real Thing” as each band member took their place. Larry made a face to the crowd indicating that it was much colder than he thought,  The Edge was stoic, Adam looked like he was having fun, and Bono was…..Bono. Charming, sharp, fired up, passionate, and every inch the rock star. The band took us through the blistering opening I had only heard on Youtube and through the walls of the theatre up to this point. I won’t go through a song by song review, but I’ll mention a couple of highlights. At times you got a sense of the 52,000 people in the crowd, but for the most part it really felt like the band was played to the few hundred in the inner circle and Red Zones. I rarely looked up at the screen. Why would I? The real thing was never more than a few feet in front of me. For the enormity of the production, it still just came down to four guys, a drum-kit, a couple of microphone stands, and a keyboard. It was most intimate stadium show I had ever seen. “Get on your Boots” sounded better than I had ever heard it before, and I couldn’t stop jumping. “Elevation” really got all of us going, and did I hear him say something about “Cool People” before the song, or was it my imagination? My geek dream of hearing “Stay (Faraway so Close!)” sung with “Winnipeg” added to the series of cities at the end finally came true! It was a lovely moment. My energy began to lag towards the end of “Beautiful Day” and I missed the “Heart of Gold” snippet altogether. I managed to sing the chorus of “Pride” and was grateful for the slower “Miss Sarajevo” so that I could catch my breath. The nightmarish “Zooropa” with the full screen down in “prison cage” mode was a highlight for John and Joanna, but that song has never sat well with me, and seeing it in its full-blown version confirmed it. I was overwhelmed.

The ridiculous voices of Zooropa. Courtesy of Sheila

The weirdest and most unbelievable moment of the night came two songs later during Vertigo. The band was in full swing and well, maybe you just need to see it yourself here. That’s right. The Clapper! Joanna somehow got Bono’s attention and she threw the damn thing up on stage and Bono put it into full effect. It could be said that it sparkled as the boys played rock ‘n roll. (credit to Stasa for that one!) At the end of Vertigo, Bono sang “You ain’t seen NOTHING yet” and he was right!

Mission Impossible? Mission Accomplished!

A beautiful version of “Scarlet” celebrated the release of Ann San Suu Kyi and an incredible rendition of “Walk On” (my personal favourite song of the night) ended with a toast to the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International. A new video from Suu Kyi debuted next and then we were on the home stretch. “One” was followed by “Will you still love me tomorrow?” where Marla turned and gave me a “Told ya so” look as the opening chords of “Streets” were played by the Edge. Carol and I had discussed whether we’d see the swinging microphone shenanigans we’d witnessed in Toronto two years earlier, and we were rewarded with a highly energized “Hold Me,Thrill Me, Kiss Kill Me”, microphone, smoke machine and all. I thought I detected a hint of MacPhisto in Bono’s voice during this song. Am I the only one? The band had one last surprise for us. As they were running into curfew deadline issues, the last song of the night actually was “With or Without You” and not the scheduled “Moment of Surrender”. This is only the second time on the entire 360 tour that “Moment of Surrender” wasn’t the final encore. In some ways, I’m sorry we didn’t get to hear it, but we had an extra treat with the Amnesty International tribute and Ann San Suu Kyi video. Either way, I’d have to agree with Bono that it was a “wonderful, wonderful, wonderful night”.

“Here’s where we gotta be:

Love and Community.

Laughter is eternity if the joy is real”.

Get on Your Boots. Words: Bono, Music: U2


Filed under blogposts

Did Juno there was an awards show last night?

Well the Junos happened last night. Congratulations to Arcade Fire, who won 3 awards last night and one the night before. A much different reception up here in Canada than at this year’s Grammy awards. This tumblr account has done a great job gathering up the various negative and ignorant backlash responses to this band’s unexpected Grammy win. I think they were going in as the favourite last night, but it was still nice to see them recognized. I could probably write an entirely separate post about how I came to love this band, and maybe I will some day. Fans will recognize that I take the name of my Blog from one of the songs off of “The Suburbs”. In the meantime, here’s a well written article about them and their win. (And for the record, I am dropping the “The” in front of Arcade Fire. And I am going with ebooks over e-books, so there.)

Win and Regine of Arcade Fire

I really enjoyed the Junos last night, maybe because I was happy with who was winning. The highlight for me included the tribute to Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and The Band sung by Sarah Harmer, Blue Rodeo, The Sadies, Serena Ryder and Sarah Slean. I also thought Daniel Lanois stole the show with his low-key introduction to Neil Young as he received the Allan Waters humanitarianism award. Lanois shuffled onto the stage with his notes written on the back of a creased piece of lined music paper. He started by saying “OK, what are we doing here now? Oh yeah. Neil Young.” I didn’t realize he was so funny, and it was the first time I saw him since his terrible motorcycle accident last June, and it was gratifying seeing him back to full form. Coincidentially, I just finished reading “Soul Mining, A Musical Life” by Lanois, telling his story. I like how it was written without the aid of a ghostwriter, and you can tell. There’s nothing fancy about it, just him telling some stories about his own musical philosophy and work ethic. It’s not a tell-all book, but he does tell stories about some of the big names he’s collaborated with over the years, including Brian Eno, Bob Dylan and of course U2. It’s a book by a musician, written for musicians, and some of it was over my head. It felt like spending a day following him around as little pearls of wisdom were dispensed without coaxing. The great thing with Lanois is that he doesn’t really impose his sound on others. Listening to Lanois’ own stuff, you don’t really hear it on other’s records. He’s a bit of a musical chameleon who is able to take a good band and make them better. Or maybe not better, but he is able to bring out something deeper out of what is already there. I liked the story of recording “Where the Streets have no Name” during The Joshua Tree sessions. I had heard this story before, but never from Lanois’ point of view. The timing and key changes are quite complicated, and the band was having a difficult time keeping together. Daniel Lanois stood at the front of the studio with a chalkboard and a pointer, like a grade-school teacher, with the different chord changes and time signatures mapped out. He’d point to a chord when it was time to change. Bono, normally in control, was humbled and eventually called uncle and told everyone “Just tell me when to come in.”

Lanois and U2 working on "No Line on the Horizon" in Morocco

Still, the Junos couldn’t escape some mis-steps. Each time they came back from commercial, we were shown clips of various musicians and celebrities over the years reminding us how great a country is Canada. Do we really still suffer from such collective low self-esteem that we need Yoko Ono to tell us how we inspired “Give Peace a Chance”?

And there there’s Justin Bieber.

We couldn’t escape him, obviously. The little guy wasn’t even in attendance; he was on tour in Europe. This didn’t stop his presence from being felt. He participated via Skype in the opening skit with host Drake, and he won the people’s choice Juno and some other one. Each time there was a pre-recorded message from the Biebs giving a shout out to all the fans. This had me thinking: Did the Biebs know he won ahead of time, or did he record acceptance videos for all his categories as a precaution? I guess it doesn’t really matter. These aren’t the Oscars, after all.

The Junos ended with a crazy performance by Chromeo, a Montreal based group that were a lot of fun. This year’s Juno’s really went in the right direction: performance heavy and award light. I’d like to see them take it even further and give out all the awards the night before, and have the broadcast be a massive 3 hour concert and celebration made up of a cross-section of as many nominees as possible. Wouldn’t that be fun? You could have Contemporary Christian/Gospel nominees teamed up with Blues nominees, you could pair up classical and electronic and do something cool. Spoken Word nominees could read snippets from their work over top of musicians from the Instrumental category? Why not? And who wouldn’t enjoy hearing the Children’s Album nominees do a number with Arcade Fire?

Come on fan base! The three of us can make it happen!


Filed under blogposts