State of U2: Podcasts, Book, Rehashed Songs, Letterman, Vegas Residency

Let’s talk about the band maybe we should call U2.0 or U2.2

There has been a well-coordinated confluence of activity from the band’s machine, run by the four lads from Dublin.

  • Podcasts have brought familiar voices to our ears (Bono on Brene Brown, The Edge on Rick Rubin).
  • A trove of the band’s 40 most intriguing songs has been revisited as Songs of Surrender.
  • David Letterman recruited Bono and The Edge for one of his signature tasteful interviews, “A Sort of Homecoming” available at Disney+.
  • The band is hunkered down rehearsing for a forthcoming Vegas residency, opening a new venue called Sphere but without their drummer, a first.
  • And we have a doorstop autobiography by Bono, an Irishman never at a loss for words.

The book by Bono is entitled Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story and covers plenty of ground, riffing on the same number of re-recorded songs also recently released.

There is a telling paragraph about how the band agonized over a $23 million offer from a car company to use “Where The Streets Have No Name” in a commercial. Or another paragraph about how Bono forgot his wife’s birthday early in their marriage and gifted her “The Sweetest Thing.” When she asked if the song was really hers, she insisted all royalties go to Chernobyl Children International, which they still do.

Bono writes with flair and aplomb, occasionally getting too wordy by half. Bruce Cockburn comes to mind as another artist who prominently grapples with the conundrum of being a Christian in a modern world filled with terror, sadness and grief.

Throughout the 576 pages Bono has a sense that he always wants both ends of any spectrum. Here is how he describes his favorite drummer, Larry Mullen:

He is the most rock star and the least rock star that anyone could be. He likes and he doesn’t the life that comes with it. There’s something deep and primal in the relationship between a drummer and a singer, the oldest and most primitive of communications, the rhythm and the melody. Tapping and birdsong. 

It will be fascinating to see how Bono and the rest of the band fare in Vegas without Mullen. U2 is arguably the biggest band with the longest intact lineup, unchanged since their formation.

Another example of Bono’s sense of opposites is “All I Want Is You,” in which his wife is the protagonist: “it became one of our most enduring songs and the opposite of pretty much everyone’s reading of it.”

Or a few pages later after selling 14 million albums, winning a boatload of Grammys and their manager admonishing the band: “it would be a shame to look like a band too stupid to enjoy being at number one” Bono indicates “I also had a fear that when you think you’re at the top is when you find you’re at the bottom.”

Or this observation: “the best deceit of all is authenticity.”

Or his strategy of “militant pacifism.”

And his observation about rock stars: “insecurity is our best security.”

As to the recent 40 rehashed, er revisited songs in many cases they reflect the conundrum the band explored in their “iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE” tours. In nearly every case the newly recorded songs are softer, which allows the lyric message to take a tighter spotlight. The Edge moves to the piano more than in the original versions, and generally Mullen and Clayton have muted their engine room rhythm section.

“Out of Control” was an early rave up, but here it is rendered in a more diminished piano-driven ballad. The track is indicative of what has transpired with most of their arena anthems in the new album.

I admit that at first I had trepidation and was crestfallen to think the band had run out of inspiration, such that revisiting past songs was a necessary stop gap. But having read more about how Da Vinci carted around his portrait of Mona Lisa for several years before finally handing over the commissioned work, and then my diving deep into the rabbit hole of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series of studio outtakes, I began to appreciate how artists never really consider their work finished. Indeed, my Mom will occasionally pull one of her watercolors out of the frame to give it a touch up. Through that light I have come to better appreciate Songs of Surrender.

So much of Bono’s book is about if and how the band will continue, so there was undoubtedly much thoughtful discussion about this fall’s Vegas residency. The band has always painted on a wide canvas, whether in front of the cutting edge interactive video technology of the ZOO TV tour or underneath the U2 360 stadium rig, so it is no surprise they were tempted by the latest venue in Vegas.

The Edge reports:

The beauty of Sphere is not only the ground-breaking technology that will make it so unique, with the world’s most advanced audio system, integrated into a structure which is designed with sound quality as a priority; it’s also the possibilities around immersive experience in real and imaginary landscapes. In short, it’s a canvas of an unparalleled scale and image resolution and a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We all thought about it and decided we’d be mad not to accept the invitation.

The Edge and Bono contemplating the stage without Larry

Indeed, fans will be treated to a 16K x 16K LED display inside the main venue bowl that wraps up, over, and around the audience, creating a fully immersive visual environment. Sphere Immersive Sound is touted as the world’s most advanced concert audio system, able to deliver crystal-clear audio to every seat in the house. Expect full sensory overload with seats that rumble and provide a cool breeze. The whole shebang is called “U2:UV Achtung Baby Live At Sphere” and gets underway later this month.

As expected, an over the top preview video is on offer from the band, see it here.

This will be quite a show, stay tuned.



Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.