Despite its status as a
multi-platinum, arena-filling mega-band, U2 has always maintained a
reputation for caring about its fans. But when tickets went on sale in late
January for its Vertigo 2005 Tour, something went wrong.
Many of the faithful who
paid $40 to join the band's fan club found themselves shut out when tickets
went on sale via a system that ignored the special presale privileges and
issued random codes instead. As a result, many of the prime tickets wound up
with scalpers who have been peddling them for more than 20 times face value.
The group scheduled
additional shows to make amends -- U2 performs four nights here beginning
Saturday, then will return to Chicago on Sept. 20-21 -- but the band was
stung nonetheless by criticism from fans and the press.
Drummer Larry Mullen Jr.
seemed especially chagrined, and when the band won a Grammy for best rock
performance by a Group with Vocals in February, he edged its always
loquacious frontman Bono away from the mike so that he could issue a public
and heartfelt apology.
U2, KINGS OF LEON
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and
May 9, 10 and 12
Where: United Center, 1901 W. Madison
A TYPICAL SETLIST
Larry Mullen Jr. promises that U2 will perform a different set on
each of its four nights in Chicago, though the group is including
several staples in every show. Here is a representative set list
from a performance April 25 at the Key Arena in Seattle:
"City of Blinding Lights"
"New Year's Day"
"Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"
"Love and Peace or Else"
"Sunday Bloody Sunday"
"Bullet the Blue Sky"/"When Johnny Comes Marching Home"
"Running to Stand Still"
"Bad"/"Norwegian Wood"/"Ruby Tuesday"
"Where the Streets Have No Name"
"All Because of You"
"Original of the Species"
Longtime fans have always considered Mullen
the conscience and truest moral compass of the group, as well as one of the
most distinctive drummers in rock.
In 1976, inspired by the Sex Pistols and
London's punk explosion, a 14-year-old Mullen placed an ad on the bulletin
board of Dublin's Mount Temple High School, eliciting responses from bassist
Adam Clayton, guitarist Dave Evans (later the Edge), and an outspoken chap
named Paul Hewson who, even though he couldn't sing particularly well at the
time, brazenly rechristened himself Bono Vox (Latin for "good voice").
The rest, as VH1's "Behind the Music" is fond
of saying, is history.
I had a long and wide-ranging conversation
Monday with the man many consider the heart of U2 as the band made its way
toward Chicago. Here are the highlights.
was moved by your comments at the Grammys, Larry. What happened with the
ticket snafu, and why were you so upset about it?
always been a band that's depended on its audience to carry it through, and
we've put them through a lot. We've experimented on our audience, and
they've been incredibly loyal to us, so we're kind of sensitive to our
audience -- to what they feel and what they think. We came out of being
fans: We were fans of music, and we went to gigs.
The reason we charge $165 [for some seats] is
so that we can also sell a ticket for $49.50 [for general admission on the
floor] -- that's the point. We're selling the best seats in the house to
those who can probably afford them, and those who sit in those seats
subsidize the others. I think that's fair and that's the way it should be.
We're very conscious of pricing and the
ticketing and how it happens, but this time around, the tour was on and the
tour was off because of a family illness that I can't go into the details
of. The tour wasn't going to happen for a long period of time, so the only
way it could go forward was if we changed it, and it got changed at the last
minute because the decision to do it came at the last minute. All the plans
we'd made for this leg of the tour were completely canceled and thrown out,
and it was turned around in a couple of days.
The rules that applied to the original tour
didn't get changed in time, so it meant that when the tickets went on sale,
you had complete pandemonium. We ended up with this crisis situation, and
people felt that they had been had, because we hadn't explained to them,
because we couldn't, why the tour had been changed.
must hurt when you see scalpers getting tickets that were intended for fan
like I said in the note on the Web site: The idea that your loyal audience
is competing with scalpers for tickets is appalling. Unfortunately, it is
now part and parcel of what happens. There aren't laws to prevent it. But I
think what really upset me more than anything else was the assertion by
various fan Web sites who got on some kind of bandwagon where there were
accusations of impropriety by the band -- that this was some kind of
money-grabbing move and we didn't care about our fans. That's what really
upset me more than anything else.
I'm a private kind of person. I love being in
the band, and it's my life. I work hard at it, but there are things that I'm
not very good at. One of them is meeting the fans and being a man of the
people -- I'm not very good at it, and I don't feel particularly comfortable
in that position. Bono, on the other hand, thrives on it. Because he does
it, it means I'm not under the same kind of pressure. People have taken that
as me being surly or disrespectful, but that's not the truth.
The reality is that behind the scenes, I take
a real interest in what's happening, with ticketing, with U2.com, with all
those things. This time around, because everything was up in the air, I
didn't have my finger on the pulse, and I was angry that I hadn't been more
in charge and actually taken the bull by the balls and stopped the tickets
going on sale the way they did. I felt guilty about that, and I felt that a
lot of people, loyal U2 fans, were being treated badly, not because of
anything that we'd done, just because the system had broken down.
band at your level is a major international corporation. Does the machine
ever get so big that you lose control?
A. When we
moved out of the clubs into the theaters, it was like, "Oh, my God, they've
moved into the theaters; it's a sellout!" Then we moved out of the theaters
into arenas, and it was, "Oh, they were so much better in theaters; they've
sold out!" Then it was, "Oh, my God, they've gone to stadiums!" Or, "Oh my
God, they're doing the Super Bowl; what a sellout!" So every time, you
always end up pissing off somebody.
As for the question of being out of control,
of course as it gets bigger, there are more people involved. We work really
hard at trying to keep our finger on the pulse, but sometimes it's just not
possible, and sometimes things fall between the cracks. But generally
speaking, decisions are made by the band, and they're made in a relatively
The iPod idea came from the band; it didn't
come from Steve Jobs and Apple. It was something we were happy to stand over
as a band. We make decisions through consensus, and we stand by them. If
people are unhappy with them, so be it. Things are not always what they
seem. We wanted to play to big audiences; we want to be on the radio. We are
greedy; we are hungry; we are never satisfied.
I think for some sections of our audience,
they wanted to keep us as their own, and we don't feel like that. We
appreciate our audience, but we want to get new people in, we want to be on
the radio, we wanted to be on the iPod commercial because it is the greatest
piece of pop art since the '60s.
It's an amazing design, and it's very cool;
we want our music on that. We asked them if we could be in that commercial.
We felt like, "Why should there be dancers dancing to a U2 song? Why aren't
U2 in it?" And it did what we wanted it to do, and we got to an audience
that we never got to before.
argument against it, Larry, is that when I close my eyes and listen to "Achtung
Baby," the images it creates in my head are infinitely richer than even the
best videos the band has ever made. Now, every time I hear "Vertigo," I
can't think of anything besides that damn commercial.
understand and appreciate that; I really do. But our job is to move forward
and bring our music to a bigger audience. When you sign on the dotted line
for that record deal, you are basically joining the commercial world. That's
what we do.
You can't deny that that's what this is: It's
part of commerce. You can hide behind this attitude of, "We don't want to be
famous; we don't want the money." We're over that. We were over it when we
started. We always wanted to be the band that would be part of breaking
through, and this just seemed like a perfectly natural progression for us.
Let's talk about the artistic ambition of the last two
albums. I was disappointed that "All That You Can't Leave Behind" and "How
to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" lacked the edge that characterized "Achtung
Baby" and "Zooropa." At the time, I interviewed the producer of those
albums, Brian Eno, who said his role was to come in and erase anything that
sounded too much like U2, forcing the band to move in new directions. The
more time passes, the more I realize how brave that was.
disagree with you; that was then, and this is now. We've always been a band
that has tried to walk away from the past and move into new areas and do new
things, and we've always done that. But we got to a stage where the band as
a band wasn't functioning. It was functioning like individuals, and the band
wasn't performing and playing in a room. We'd become so acute in our
distaste for anything U2 that it was just becoming impossible to be creative
as a band.
We took the decision that what we'd do is get
back into a room and play as a band -- to do what we do. We hadn't done it
for years, and that's what this is. It's not a commercial decision: "Oh,
let's go back to what we know, because maybe we'll get back onto the
charts." It's hard for people to appreciate that. A lot of people go,
"Bollocks, all you want to do is sell more records and you'll do anything to
do that." That's just not the case. We wanted to get back to being a band.
After "The Joshua Tree," we chopped it down
with "Achtung Baby" and then "Zooropa," and then with "Pop." They were great
things, and we're very proud of those things, and we will do that again. But
there's a certain stage where you've actually just got to go back to what
I think on this record, the Edge is on fire.
I couldn't disagree with you more about what he's doing. Of course there are
references back to the past, but I like that. I like getting into a room and
playing with the band and doing those things we used to do. I think what
Brian Eno brought was invaluable, and Daniel Lanois as well. But we've got
to move on, we've got to change, and we've got to take references from the
past and bring them into the future. And that's what we've done.
U2 never wanted to be a band like Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones, which
basically became massive money-making oldies shows.
A. And we
won't! With respect to you and your colleagues, when it's time for U2 to get
the bullet in the head, we'll do it ourselves, thank you very much! But
we're greedy, and we want to push boundaries. We want to do things that
nobody else has done before, and we will do whatever we have to do to
achieve that. We're never satisfied. We never feel like we've made our
greatest record. We always feel we can do better, we can be better, and
that's constant. After every record, we sit down and go, "OK, what was wrong
with that? What was right with it?" And next time around, we fix it. We
constantly do that, and that's why U2 survives.
There's a very deep unhappiness in U2,
because there's a sense that we achieved great success and became a really
big band, but we were never a really great band. There was
always that thing that we were given all these accolades, but we didn't
really deserve it. We got it because we managed to do very well live, and it
was all about being big. Being big means s--- to us. It's being great that
we want, and that's what we strive for.
That sense of satisfaction destroys so many bands. But
you're saying that with U2, it's exactly the opposite.
the exact opposite: We are not happy. [Laughs] It's like, "How can you be
unhappy when you're selling out a tour and your record's doing well?" But
it's not that kind of unhappiness. It's a creative dissatisfaction.
We want to do better, we want to compete on
the highest level, and that means competing on radio, and competing with
people like Britney Spears and all those pop artists who are at the top of
their game. The songs that are written for them are pretty spectacular, and
we want to compete with that. Why else do this? There's no other reason.
None of us need to do it, we're all financially secure, and for a lot of
bands, that's a huge turn-off. "I've got the kids now, I've got the money,
what do I need this for?" This is revenge for us.
do you care about competing with Britney Spears? You grew up loving the Sex
Pistols, and they didn't care about competing in that world.
A. I'm not
sure about that; that was a huge commercial idea. For [Sex Pistols manager]
Malcolm McLaren, it was all about that: getting the money and doing whatever
he had to do to make it controversial. There's little difference between
that and Britney Spears taking her clothes off. It's the same instinct. It's
all about selling records and getting the cash.
There is no such thing as anything in the
music business at its purest form. It's all cursed by commerce, and you
can't get away from it. I don't want to be in a band that's treading water.
I want to have my 17-year-old niece or nephew say, "I love that new single."
I really want that, because I don't want to be relegated into, "That used to
be relevant, it's no longer relevant." If that's not possible, then we will
So why is it important? It just is. It's too
easy to accept second best. To compete at this level takes huge brain power
and a lot of work, but it's what we do, and we thrive on it. There's nothing
like when a 17-year-old comes up and says, "Hey, man, I think what you're
doing is cool." It might sound absolutely childish, but those are the things
that make you want to continue on. When you look at your audience and see
the huge variation from students, college kids, and all the way up.
We're Irish, and when we started out, we were
always sort of the runt of the pack. Everybody else was cooler than us;
everybody else was better than us; they were all better musicians than us.
We were always that band.
We came to America and people embraced us,
and they have been embracing us ever since. There's a certain responsibility
that goes with that, and it's, "We've got to do this. We've got to remain
relevant. We've got to make great music." That's a challenge, and we thrive
And is it still fun at the end of the day?
really is, and in a way that it hasn't been for 25 years. The band is
playing better, and Bono is singing better, and there seems to be a real
freedom in what we're doing. Sometimes onstage, it just feels excruciating,
because you're trying to hold it down, and you never know what's going to
I don't feel like that now. I'm enjoying the
shows, and it's just got a different level of maturity. It's a lot less
tense and not trying so hard to be perfect. If you make a mistake, it's OK.
I listened to a CD of the last show, and there are a lot of fluffs, but it's
OK. There was time when we were all striving for that perfection, and now
it's, "It doesn't matter; it's the spirit of the show."