Monday, September 21, 2009

Bruce Vs. Bono

It's no secret to readers of this blog that I am a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. What is not as obvious is that my wife is an equally big fan of U2. She has been listening to Bono and the boys since 1983, long before their break-out Live Aid performance and the groundbreaking Joshua Tree album.

This year for our 23rd anniversary (traditional gift: rock) we went to Chicago to see U2 kick-off the North America leg of their 360 tour. Earlier in the year we had traveled not quite as far to see Bruce support his latest album. How do these two rock stars stack up? Let's look at the shows and compare.

Bruce Springsteen
Verizon Center
May 18, 2009
Soldier Stadium
September 13, 2009
Blurry Overexposed Picture

More pictures

More pictures


Bruce is growing older but not up. He still sweats out every song.U2 is the biggest rock band on the planet through shear perserverance.
Opening ActThe same act that has opened for Bruce for over three decades: 45 Minutes of Silence
Snow Patrol, a group of fresh-faced Irishmen that mug and flatter the audience endlessly. I wonder where they got that from.
Stage Presence
Bruce runs his shows like a revival preacher for the Church of Rock. He knows how and when to pick up and slow down the pace.
Bono is out to save the world one stadium at a time. Less loquacious than he's been in the past, he collects causes like other rockers pick up groupies.
Set List

Official Site
Greasy Lake

Official Site

Stage Show
Same as it ever is. A bare black stage with the E Street Band scattered all over.
Redefining spectacle. The stage was a giant four-legged arachnid that looked like the set of Deep Space Nine had landed on the 30 yard line. I joked that it looked Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars were the real act.

The midshow section where Bruce takes audience requests has metastasized into an entire schtick. The audience brings huge signs with clever pleas for their favorite songs. Bruce collects the signs he likes and then goes through them on stage before selecting a winner. This show's winner, a cover of 'Little Latin Lupe Lu' was obscure even by my standards. Later in the show he picked another one claiming to be a phone request by Obama for 'Rosalita'.
About half way through the show, the giant round video screen started doing its tricks. First it expanded into hexagons and extended to the entire height of the screen. That's tough to describe, but cool to watch. Then the screen lowers to floor level and starts spinning during 'Vertigo' inducing said feeling to the entire audience.
Amusing Anecdote
Not amusing as much as annoying. About three rows lower than us was a pair of guys with their own sign request that they kept holding up and blocking my view. They were clearly clueless that Bruce never picks requests from people in the middle balcony no matter how much they scream.
The guy next to us was telling us that he saw U2 in 1981 at bar. They got introduced as 'V2' which annoyed Bono. That guy was from Indiana. The couple on the other side of us had come from Cleveland. I'm not sure any actual Chicagoans were there.
Show Length
A little over two and a half hours.
Two hours to the second.
As much as I love Bruce, he does attract a certain obnoxious aging frat-boy crowd which is pretty varied in age but lily-white. About the only African-American there was playing saxophone.
Despite Bono's pan-global causes, there are more ethnically diverse Klan rallies. The only dark skinned person I saw was Desmond Tutu in a video bit during the pre-encore pause.
Noticeable Omissions
Bruce's body of work is too deep to please everybody but I have yet to see 'Hungry Heart' live.
While I can't point to any specific examples, they played seven cuts of the new album. I have to think there was some older stuff better than than a few of those cuts.

Proof I Was There

Other Reviews
Washington Post
At 59, Springsteen remains one of the most potent live performers in popular music, largely because he's among its most committed practitioners. He drains every bit of his creative energy whenever he's onstage -- all in the service of proselytizing the power of rock-and-roll, in which his faith is unwavering.

Chicago Tribune
The band was on its game. Not usually applauded for its sense of swing, U2 has shown an underappreciated affinity for getting down since "Mysterious Ways" belly-danced its way into discos during the early '90s. Because bassist Adam Clayton owns the best moments on "No Line on the Horizon," it was only fitting that the rhythm section ruled Saturday. Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen amped up the dance beats, and even Bono's vocals took on a more rhythmic sing-speak cadence.

A show from The Boss is always a good time. He brings the bombast with a touch of genuine concern for the common man. A three-song nearly acoustic set in the middle of the show brought tears to the eyes, but by the closing notes of 'Rosalita' the whole house was rocking.
U2 knows how to do spectacle. The giant stage threatens to upstage the band at times but was underused in the second half of the show except as a billboard for Bono's increasingly busy bevy of causes which included Iranian protesters, a Burmese political prisoner, and impoverished Africans.
There is really no losing with either of these artists. Both are journeyman rock stars that bring long lively performances full of anthemic hits even if they do have to have to play songs off their current albums. But as another aging rocker once said, "If you don't play the new stuff, you never have any more old stuff."

See either of these acts when they are in town and you won't be disappointed.


Sue T. said...

I saw U2 in 1981 as well. Last time I saw them was at RFK Stadium on the Achtung Baby tour. These days I just find the stadium shows too expensive and I don't enjoy the experience.

DemetriosX said...

Not a big fan of either of these, but Bruce has gotten steadily better over the years (and I appreciate him more as I get older) while U2 have pretty much stagnated since Joshua tree. About the only change I have seen in them is that Bono yodels more and more as the years go by. His causism is also really annoying. It seems like he wants to be Bob Geldof when he grows up.

From your descriptions, I'd say Bruce is all about content and U2 about packaging. I'll take content every time.

yellojkt said...

sue t,
I am so jealous of your deep musical connections. I hadn't even heard of U2 in 1981 and I was pretty deep into the New Wave/Punk scene.

That's a fair assessment. Relistening to the new U2 album, Bono does a lot of ooh-oohing and other rock scatting.

yellojkt said...

Nose bleed behind the stage seats for U2 at Fed-Ex Field are going for under forty bucks on scalper sights. For that money two people could go see Gaslight Anthem at the 9:30 Club.

courtney said...

I found the new U2 material much more engaging live, I'll fully admit. Having seen both shows as well, I'm giving U2 the edge. This time. Although, the last time I saw Bruce (8/23, Comcast Center, Mansfield, MA), he pulled out "Independence Day", "Jackson Cage" AND AND AND "The River", so maybe I'm wrong.

Going to see the Gaslight Anthem here in Boston next month. CAN.NOT.WAIT.

A Free Man said...

Despite growing up with their music, I've never been a big fan of U2. They're just too earnest for me. Bruce on the other hand, is a rock god. Glad you got to see them both.

A an aside, Snow Patrol is a wonderful band.

Kim said...

Surely we'll hear 'Hungry Heart' on November 20th at 1st Mariner!

yellojkt said...

Let's hope so. I'm already praying to the gods of Ticketmaster.

courtney said...

He played Hungry Heart in Mansfield when I saw him. Big audience sing-a-long.

trusty getto said...

Got main floor seats when Bruce comes here. I can't wait!