Get On Your Boots, Magnificent, Vertigo, Beautiful Day.
U2 perform a surprise gig on the rooftop of the BBC Broadcasting House at the end of Chris Evans' show on Radio 2. Over 5,000 fans fill in the streets below, bringing traffic to a standstill.
The Final Word
U2 - BBC Broadcasting House Rooftop show - 27 Feb 2009
by Mark Reed, 03/03/2009
if it was about playing a free show... why not Hyde Park instead of a 10th floor rooftop?
Recently, competition for worlds biggest band has been fierce. Well, insomuch as the music industry is in freefall, the RIAA seem intent on suing everyone, and record labels seems unable to recognise that the music business is about selling music and an experience, not easily reproduced silver discs. In this market, record sales are hurting, but the industry itself is not. Instead of buying CD's to hear new music, people try YouTube and other avenues to hear new music, and they buy less because they can decide what they like first. The money people don't spend on CD's they often spend on concerts. Or baked beans. It's not as if the money just sits in pockets.
Anyway, U2 may not be the biggest band in the world anymore. Maybe they never were. But they are one of the biggest. And the concordant publicity that comes with playing intimate shows has to be carefully weighed against the ill-feeling that comes from a huge band playing a tiny place ... and the fans locked out faces placed against the glass.
An artifically limited source of supply is a covetous thing. As long as you get in. If you don't, fans can feel ignored or overlooked. For example, Paul McCartneys Russian album was a limited edition of half a million. Who sells half a million these days?
And so, as U2 try to stay at the commercial top of their game with no line on the horizon, the previous tried-and-tested approach of smallish, one-off appearances across major markets for radio and TV offers, to an extent an illusion. Sometimes its better to be a large fish in a small pond than be a large fish in a huge pond.
And so to tonight. Since Friday is "U2=BBC" day, U2 have apparently bought millions of pounds worth of publicity by appearing on radio and TV. Oddly, the BBC have 'bought' a ton of viewers and worldwide attention by partnering with a big draw.
And part of this draw is that it gets in the news. So, make no mistake, tonights 'free gig' is a publicity stunt, getting U2 and the BBC in the news. After all, if U2 wanted to play to as many people as possible for free, they'd just put a truck in Hyde Park.
Besides tonight isn't really about seeing U2, but hearing them. Since U2 are playing on a balcony on the tenth floor, seeing U2 largely consists of the following ingredients :
- Bono waving and poking his head over the parapet
- The top of Edges hat when he sings backing vocals
- Adam's grey hair sometimes
That said, though, U2, aside from the politics of liking them, the annoying Popeish behaviour of the singer, and the occasional bland edges, U2 are two things:
a) They are either massively over-rated, or quite under-rated. (Personally I think they're both)
b) they're a stonking live act.
Whilst this short, 21 minute and 30 second performance is nothing more than a glorified publicity stunt following in the footsteps of The Beatles, it's also fairly clear that one of the reaons U2 are huge is that their live performances are tight and the work of a band that is comfortable, fluent, and probably at their best on the stage. In years to come, when U2 are no longer a performing entity, the existing records and films, even the superlative "u23d" will be barely a fraction of the actual experience, because a U2 appearance is as much about the crowd as it is the music itself. In some ways, even this show, the most exciting element is not four Irish gazillionaires, but the fact that the audience are so excitably enthused that it becomes less of a concert and more of a communion, or a church-like rapture. Aside from the barely-known "Magnificent", every song is greeted with as a sort of homecoming. Even with their sometimes bland music, (though thankfully the new album is rather less predictable than the recent work), U2 have managed to evolve from a quirky post-punk outfit, via the rather obvious flag-waving years to become something that has merit despite their absolute hugeness. It would be very easy to pump a lazy record of cliches every couple of years and thrive off the back catalogue but U2 are trying their best to keep life interesting for themselves and that is an achievement in itself at their position.
Incidentally, Bono, God rang, he wants his throne back.