I attended the U2 concert in New Orleans on September 14, 2017, a stop along their Joshua Tree tour that celebrates the 30th anniversary of the album’s release. The concert was everything you’d imagine from the iconic band. The band’s greatest hits are ideally suited to serve as arena rock anthems. Songs start modestly and build to a dramatic crescendo, provoking frequent “hair standing up on your arms” moments – Simple chords, a distinctive sound punctuated by the cutting riffs, harmonics, and delay effects of The Edge’s guitars and Bono’s vocals, and a stage presence that demonstrates that the band is comfortable in their skin as the greatest rock stars of their generation.
The musical excellence is greatly enhanced by the impact of technological advances of the concert experience. The stunning graphics canvassing the screen that traverses nearly the entire width of the Superdome floor provide a sense of the greatest live music video ever seen and heard. The band has the resources to take those technical capabilities to another level, superimposing live shots of the band members visually enhanced over pre-recorded graphics ideally suited for and meticulously synchronized with the music.
Add to all of the above, the backdrop of the Louisiana Superdome – a venue of last refuge for desperate Hurricane Katrina survivors, the band’s participation in the post-storm revival as well as their obvious affinity for the city and it’s musical influences, and you have the recipe for an unforgettable entertainment collaboration between artist and audience.
As I left the stadium and approached the bottom of the ramp near street level, I looked up at the mammoth building structure that seems even more colossal against the backdrop of the downtown structures that punctuate the Superdome’s surroundings. I watched as the sea of contented fans filtered out onto the streets. I couldn’t help but think what it must be like for the band members to drive up to a venue of this magnitude knowing that enough people to fill the building to the rafters are willing to flock to see them. Success at this level is a unique combination of talent, charisma, hard work, dedication, faith, luck, and other elusive intangibles.
It’s also a tremendous responsibility and privilege to attain success at this level in such a high-profile profession. As fans and as citizens, we can only hope that the musicians who achieve that level of fame and success serve as deserving stewards of those rewards.
The return of the New Orleans Saints NFL football team to the Superdome in 2006 after the horrific events of Katrina was as cathartic an experience as any of the post-storm recovery activities. While a halftime concert might seem merely symbolic to outsiders, the citizens of the city can attest to the impact of the moment and the affinity for the anthem “The Saints are Coming” crafted by Green Day and U2 for that night. I couldn’t help but look up at the ceiling of the Superdome occasionally and think back to the darkest days when rain and a glimmer of light penetrated the weather torn panels of the roof. It gave the concert a sense of triumphant return to the city – so much so that a friend described the night as spiritual in nature.
The Edge conceived the founding of Music Rising, an effort to ensure the replacement of musical instruments destroyed in the storm to those in the Gulf Coast region. The organization continues to this day, administered by the non-profit Mr. Holland’s Opus, as the mission has expanded across the country to those affected by natural or economic disasters.
But the band’s concern for humanity is of course as global as their musical acclaim. Bono is one of the most well-known and accomplished philanthropists and social activists that the music industry has ever known. His ability to reach out to a diverse group of leaders of religious organizations, government, business, entertainment, and media has garnered him recognition as an effective agent of global change. His understanding that polarizing criticism rarely brings about the long-term, effective reforms that partnerships and outreach can achieve has distinguish him among celebrity social activists. Though too numerous to mention, some of the issues that Bono and the band have taken on include world hunger, HIV/AIDS, women’s rights, third world country debt relief, disease, and fair trade.
You’d think that those tackling such daunting issues might convey a somewhat pessimistic tone. Yet U2’s message articulated by their leader throughout the concert was one of hope and possibilities, prefacing a signature song among many with the message, “There’s nothing that we can’t accomplish, if we work together as ‘One.’”
The band U2 defines what it means to be rock superstars aware of their impact as global citizens and consciously attempting to live up to that responsibility. And New Orleanians as much as any population are thankful for and connected to their generosity, sincerity, and devotion.