Welcome to U2’s next chapter.
Last month, we were treated to a video of The Edge struggling with a big Starbucks order, while Bono offers his brand of support.
“You can do this,” Bono says, before trying on sunglasses.
Sure, it was a comedy bit for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” pretending that the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers behind the biggest tour of all time would actually serve as DeGeneres’ assistants for the day. But it’s an idea that would have seemed unthinkable only years ago. (The best part is where Bono and Edge have problems finding out what soup is in the commissary, and DeGeneres says, “The Goo Goo Dolls would’ve had the soup figured out by now.”)
For decades, U2 carefully cultivated its image as the biggest rock band in the world — serious men addressing serious issues with serious music. But times have changed.
Though U2 has always prided itself on its connection to audiences in concert, in this age of social media, the band now finds itself reaching out, both onstage and off. The rollout of the band’s new tour, “Experience + Innocence” — which stops at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, June 9, for the band's first Long Island appearance in 26 years, and at Madison Square Garden for three shows in a few weeks — and the concert itself seem designed to make U2 more approachable.
Something needed to change.
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Though “Songs of Experience” (Interscope/Island) managed to snag No. 1 during Christmas week last year, aided by bundling the album with tickets for the current tour, its predecessor “Songs of Innocence” was U2’s lowest performer since breaking into the American mainstream with “The Joshua Tree” in 1987.
Bono even joked about it in the “Ellen” video. When the barista asked him why he was wearing a nametag, the frontman responded, “Our last album got into a bit of bother and this is in case you’d forget.”
While “Songs of Experience” is a far stronger album than “Songs of Innocence,” it still didn’t generate a major hit — not even “American Soul,” which features hip-hop’s current King Midas, Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar. The lovely single “You’re the Best Thing About Me” did manage to hit the Top 5 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart, though, the band’s best showing in years.
So U2, never ones to shy away from a challenge, went on the offensive — a charm offensive. They deployed bassist Adam Clayton, who generally prefers to remain in the background with drummer Larry Mullen Jr., to help explain both the albums and the tour.
“For me, ‘Innocence’ is about great things happening and grabbing them with both hands, and ‘Experience’ is about great things happening and knowing which ones to grab,” Clayton says in a promotional video for the tour.
It’s an upbeat way to describe a show that combines both the band’s personal stories and its political beliefs. At earlier shows, the band paired its classic “Staring at the Sun” with images of neo-Nazi rallies and fighting in the streets. At the tour’s opener in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month, Bono asked the crowd to “pray for the regeneration of the American Dream.”
As Clayton said, U2’s argument is that there are plenty of positive changes happening on all the time. The band is simply trying to direct where fans focus.
And in this new era of U2, the band plans to use every method at its disposal to do that.
“[It] goes back to the very early stages of U2 when we would stage dive to break the fourth wall, trying to get to our audience and touch them,” Bono told CNN about the use of technology on the tour. "When you get to play theaters and arenas, the back of the theater got further and further away. We had to find different ways to get to the back; hence these satellite stages ... and video reinforcement as video art and trying to communicate. It’s all, for me, the same thing of trying to wrestle with your audience in a very physical way.”
U2 says it is trying to extend the connections they have with each other to its fans.
“It’s kind of more like a family than a band,” Edge told DeGeneres.
“A dysfunctional family,” Bono adds.
However, he quickly explains how this band of high school friends remains intact four decades later.
“Genuinely,” Bono says, “they kind of saved my life. As a teenager, I kind of felt I had no reason to exist until I found them.”
And now, he and U2 are ready to figure out existing in this new era — one where their complicated reason to exist also includes comedy.
EVEN BETTER THAN THE REAL THING
New technology is playing a huge role in U2’s “Experience + Innocence” tour, as the band looks for new ways to enhance the show for fans.
THE BARRICAGE The 100-foot-long steel cage, with LED screens on both sides and a corridor that allows the band to move inside the video projections on the screens, made its impressive debut on the previous “Innocence + Experience” tour.
AUGMENTED REALITY If you download the U2 Experience app to your smartphone, during certain points in the show augmented reality, or AR, versions of the set can be seen if you look at them through your phone. For “Love Is All We Have Left,” a giant AR version of Bono will sing along with the actual Bono onstage.
SOCIAL MEDIA Fans who post a video of themselves singing “Women of the World” on social media with the hashtag #womenoftheworldtakeover might become part of the virtual choir of voices that sing the song during the show. The song, which is part of the ONE Campaign’s “Poverty Is Sexist” initiative, hopes to draw attention to the 130 million girls in the world who aren’t allowed to go to school. — GLENN GAMBOA
WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, June 9, NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale; also, June 25-26 and July 1, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan
INFO $110.50-$331; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com