Is U2 nostalgia rock? Good question right? I’m going to see the band tonight (along with what seems like everyone I went to college with) so it begs the question, is U2 nostalgia rock? Are they The Rolling Stones? I think I can wonder this in my own column, it suits the parameters of what I write about.
In my mind there are several types of nostalgia rock acts. There’s The Stones and Aerosmith. You know, bands that continue to put out albums and when you go and see them live will play one or two cuts from their latest, but let’s be honest, you’re there to see “Start Me Up” and “Walk This Way” and they better play it and they better play it the way you want to hear it! The next type is, well, let’s use the Guess Who or Kansas (sorry guys).These are the acts rock has been good to but not as good. They’re still out there, still have a fairly large cult following, still record albums but are playing rib fests and baseball games. The difference in ticket price is about $75. Most of these bands only have one or two original members and are clearly doing what they do because either they love the music or planned extremely poorly when younger and now, not knowing a decent trade, still have to play the festivals to make ends meet. Finally there are the super acts, the Led Zeppelins, Genesis and Police of the world. You know, the acts that get back together for a tour here or there, make millions and millions of dollars and then don’t play again for another 10 years. There’s no new music here, there’s just nostalgia.
We can quickly agree that U2 is the first of the nostalgia acts if indeed they are a nostalgia act. They’re still putting out albums, those albums are still high on the charts, they’re still all original members, etc. But when I go see them tonight they better be trotting out “One”. I better hear “With Or Without You” and it better be played the way I want to hear it. I don’t know a lot from “How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” and truthfully, I don’t want to. I want to hear what I want to hear when I want to hear it the way I want to hear it. I spent a couple hundred dollars on these tickets, you better dance on the end of my strings puppet man!
Before we go any further, I want to spend just a minute talking my history with the band. See, I’m not the biggest fan. I don’t pray to hang out with Bono or find The Edge to be charismatic. As you probably know, I started life as a rock n roller. Metal and classic rock were my staples. In high school the only real interaction I had with U2 was when I went to youth “classes” with my girlfriend at her church and we would sing a couple of their songs. This was one of those hip churches where they tried to get the kids to sing contemporary songs to show how down with youth culture they were. U2 had spent a few years immersed in Christianity and several of their songs had a biblical worldview I guess so sing them we did. In reality, I was only there to hang out with my girlfriend and that was the only way her parents were going to let us hang out during the week (I think I was probably seen as a bad influence and one that should only be tolerated through supervised and holy gatherings if possible.) So, U2 certainly weren’t hip to me in the late 80’s. Any band you sang at church couldn’t be hip, I don’t care who they were.
U2,while apparently setting the rest of the world on fire fell off my radar until Achtung Baby. In the interim, I had been immersing myself in experimental and electronic music. David Bowie become a touchstone for me. When Achtung Baby and Zooropa was released I could see the similarities to Berlin era Bowie (my favorite Bowie era) right away. So U2 were alright with me from that point forward. In honesty, their straight ahead rock is a little boring but Bono writes a good lyric, I like delays and The Edge is a fine guitar player. When they add the electronics, that’s where I think they rise above the average band. Sadly, they’ve slipped back into their middle of the road rock which, while fine enough, doesn’t set my world on fire. They’re that Christian band all over again without the Christianity getting in the way.
So, is U2 a nostalgia act? I think the simple answer is, to me they are. But let’s be honest, any band that’s been together as long as they have is bound to be a nostalgia act at this point I mean, Motley Crue and Poison are touring together and doing a show that could have been performed in 1988 and that’s all nostalgia, even the pyrotechnics have dust on them. Soundgarden is back on the road performing their hits, Rage Against the Machine and virtually all of the acts I saw at Lollapalooza 2 are performing again and well, raging against the machine U2 had already been a band for a decade by the time all those guys were out. Yeah, my buddy Greg might not like to admit it but U2 are a nostalgia act. They’re going to put on a good show, they’re gonna get people on their feet but they aren’t going to lead a revolution, well unless you dig Spiderman and then it will be carefully choreographed revolution.