With the tour starting May 14, The New York Times was given some impressive access to the rehearsal space and the band.
Within that they have defined the mandate of Songs of innocence:
“Songs of Innocence” has a dual and sometimes contradictory mandate. It aims for mass pop impact with songs full of individual, local details and memories. U2’s confidence was shaken by the response to “No Line on the Horizon.” Despite the international barnstorming of the “360°” tour, “No Line on the Horizon” didn’t yield the hit single that U2 has always prized: songs like “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” that merge popularity with an implied sense of high-minded solidarity.
And here is something that I wish they’d get away from. The need for an album.
The band remains nonplussed by what Bono now calls the “difficult birth” of “Songs of Innocence.” At the time, band members say, it seemed like a way to reach listeners as directly as possible. “Just to puncture public consciousness at this time is really, really hard, so we were trying to think of ways that would get our album through to people,” the Edge said backstage. “The prospect of putting it out and have it just disappearing down a rabbit hole, which seems to happen to so many albums now — that would be soul-destroying.”
If that doesn’t seem a bit strange, I wonder if they get the difference between getting music to listeners and listeners connecting to the music. It’s hard to tell. And then, of course, the infamous bike accident that sent things off course once again:
But further promotion for the album was derailed in November, just before U2 was about to start a weeklong residency on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and announce the tour it had been planning since 2013. That was when Bono had a bicycle accident in Central Park that fractured his eye socket, his shoulder, his elbow and his left hand. “I really used to think that my head was harder than any surface it came in contact with, and I don’t anymore,” Bono said backstage. “I didn’t come off a Harley-Davidson. I came off a push bike and smashed myself to bits. There is no glory here.”
Onstage in the coliseum, Bono worked the space with the assurance of a longtime frontman, often using his left hand to grasp the microphone or to point a finger skyward. But he is still recovering. “It feels like I have somebody else’s hand,” he said backstage. Pointing to his curled fourth finger and pinky, he said, “I can’t bend these, and this” — he pointed to another part of his hand — “is like rigor mortis. But they say that nerves heal about a millimeter a week, so in about 13 months I should know if it’s coming back.” He gestured to his forearm and elbow. “It’s all numb here, and this is titanium,” he said. “The shoulder’s better, the face is better.”
And there was a change from the “two nights two different shows” concept:
The initial idea was to work up two entirely different concerts, but U2 worried about leaving out staples or having fans think they’d gotten the second-best show. As of last week, it planned instead to have a relatively fixed first half and a varying second one — separated, for the first time on a U2 tour, by an intermission. The band is also planning to work the entire room. Running nearly the length of the coliseum floor was U2’s triple platform: a large rectangular stage (a strip of which could light up as “I” for Innocence), a smaller round stage (“e” for experience) and, between them, a walkway that’s wide enough to become a third stage, sometimes sandwiched between LED video screens. “Here they are in an arena, and we want to land them in the audience’s lap,” said Es Devlin, the production designer, who has also done tours by Kanye West and Lady Gaga.
What U2 tour would be complete without technical innovation. This time though, some of it has to do with the sound quality:
The tour’s most striking innovation isn’t immediately obvious. U2 has moved its sound system to arena ceilings: an oval of 12 speaker arrays that sends the music downward evenly everywhere in the arena. When I walked all around the coliseum as the band played, the music was uniformly transparent and strong, the volume constant from front to back. “If you’re trying to blast sound the length of the venue from the stage, the venue sometimes wins and you get mud,” the Edge said. “With this, you don’t have to have it so loud — you’re getting good quality sound from something that’s much closer to you than normal.”
And some interesting staging info:
The band calls the walkway the divider stage because that’s what it does midway through the concert — turning into a barrier that separates the audience completely. The division is part of the concert’s underlying narrative, a passage from innocence to experience inflected by Irish memories. “Songs of Innocence” is U2’s most specifically autobiographical album; its titles include “Cedarwood Road,” where Bono grew up, and “Iris,” named after his mother, who died when he was young. At the start of the concert, the band is illuminated by a lone swinging light bulb, as Bono was in the room in 10 Cedarwood Road where he started to play music. There’s another idea as well, Bono explained: “After all the scale and sculpture of ‘360,’ to begin the next tour with only a single light bulb.”
And some news on the next album, Songs of Experience:
New producers have been joining the band in Vancouver, including Andy Barlow from the electronic group Lamb, who cued up some of the U2 tracks in progress like “Red Flag Day,” “Civilization” and “Instrument Flying” as Bono enthusiastically sang along with himself. “We’re keeping the discipline on songs and pushing out the parameters of the sound,” Bono said. “They’re very basic earthy things, irreverent. They’re not lofty themes. One of the things that experience has taught us is to be fully in the moment. What’s the moment? Pop music.”
You can read the full story (thanks to Michael for the link) U2’s Flight To Now – Turbulence Included.
And a bonus! The plane for the tour was spotted being fitted in New Mexico: