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U2 360° Tour, Cape Town

Last night, the Doctor and I braved the 100 000 (ish) strong crowd to attend the U2 concert at the Cape Town Stadium. And I wanted to enjoy it, despite the fact that I’m not really a fan. The concert would be a spectacle, I thought – impressive enough in execution to outweigh Bono’s predictable sermonising and his love of cliché (“Africa is the wealthiest country – your people have gold in them” being a recent example). And at times it was – the engineering feat that is “The Claw” was pretty impressive, and it was used to good effect particularly in songs like “Mysterious ways”, where they combined live action edits with some pre-recorded silhouettes of dancers, as well as another track (?) where some nostalgic footage of the band (perhaps in their Twenties, when names like “The Edge” could have sounded edge-y).

But while some aspects of the evening were impressive – notably the efficiency of the organisation and the security, the concert itself was somewhat disappointing. Mostly because the sound was very bad – muddy as hell, with a fair amount of distortion. Vocals were often inaudible, and when combined with the wall of sound approach they seem to have gone for, the tone was generally one of aural assault. Unless one was a die-hard fan, who knew all the songs in last night’s repertoire, there were plenty of opportunities for boredom – one frenetic and noisy track with bombastic (unintelligible) lyrics sounds pretty much like the next, and the previous one.

And then, of course, there was the cheese factor, and the sermonising. The predictable pictures of Mandela on the big screen, and the predictable cheers when Bono encouraged the audience to swallow the implausible assertions that they were in some mythical heart of Africa. Hello, Rainbow Nation, where it seems that 99% of the audience is white. “You have the big 5”, he says, before going on to introduce his “big 4”, ie. the members of the band, now all given animal names (Bono was a wildebees, at least according to The Edge). But we don’t have the big 5 in South Africa, do we, except where they might be trucked into some luxury game reserve, and you’re playing in a city which is oft-criticised for being as un-African as a city on this continent can be.

You know that I don’t buy into the Africa-thing, in general, but it’s clear that Bono does, or at least that he wants us to think he does. But his Africa-shtick is not dependent on time, nor on place, so I doubt that he’s given it much thought that Cape Town might be in a different universe to Accra, and various other spots that he name-checked during one of his attempts to pump up this section of the “Rainbow Nation”. And as formulaic as all that sort of thing was, it was matched by the rote nature of much of the show – he looked like he was pretending to be pumped up, all street-fighting quick-step on the stage, grabbing the microphone stand and violently swinging it to and fro, etc. It all seemed put on, like a cover band, comprised of old codgers, doing a set where they play the music of an Irish pub band from a few decades ago.

Some parts were great – I’m not intending to claim that it was comprehensively disappointing. The duet with Yvonne Chaka Chaka on “Stand by me” was good, “Miss Sarajevo” was outstanding, and I even enjoyed the brief gospel excursion with “Amazing Grace”. But note that those are all more restrained tracks – and of course this could be saying something about my musical preferences. I’d suggest, though, that it’s got more to do with the fact that, on those tracks, I was able to hear what was going on.

The Cape Town Stadium continues to look good, though. And if a messianic Irishman is what it takes to keep Billy Graham out, I’m all for it.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.

12 replies on “U2 360° Tour, Cape Town”

Well written article (by grammar that is) you clearly have no idea of live concerts, more specifically one of last nights proportions. I find most of your comments overly personal. This is entertainment and was pulled off outstandingly. And by the way attendance was closer to 70,000.

Thanks for the correction on the numbers – I was relying on what I heard on CapeTalk, but you clearly have better sources. I doubt that evidence is relevant to your defence of Saint Bono, but as far as proportions go, this would most likely be the 4th or 5th largest concert I’ve been to.

This is not a U2 fan site, and I’m not sure that anyone would expect anything less than a ‘personal’ view from Jacques. IMHO his piece is a pretty good reflection of my own ‘personal’ opinion. The sound was very poor. I initially put it down to our position in the stadium, but it seems to have been a common complaint. I’m no great U2 fan, but went for the spectacle – and wasn’t particularly disappointed. But I wasn’t blown away either – and the experience was barely worth the R850- I paid for each ticket. This has done U2 no favours in my eyes – I don’t think I’d go to another of their concerts, and there was nothing there that makes me want to buy any more of their albums – nor even to immediately re-play any of the few albums I do have. I was reminded 3/4 of the way through of how similar all of their stuff is – and the poor audio did nothing to counter that. Not quite ‘Meh’ – but close.

Dude you where clearly drunk or something! The Sound was not perfect, but shit it was awsome! Remember it’s an open Stadium, not you [email protected]#en dvd player with Surround sound at home!!!! So what they pulled off was really incredible!!!!!
And well clearly you are not a big U2 fan??? You should have rather stayed at home and someone who is a fan could have rather bought that ticket……

This concert was probably the largest big band concert I’ve been to. Not a fan of concerts, but thro an invite got to go. I do agree the sound was shocking.. If I didnt know the songs and the words, I had no clue what he was singing. As said u go knowing full well what Bono will go on about, but all that aside and knowing what u are in for, it was a great concert, well organized, but I do doubt that if it was another band less homaged than u2, the criticism would be very severe for poor sound quality at such a venue and size of crowd and calibre of artist.

joburg concert (apart from awful logistics), from a performance and production pov was pretty good. nude girls were awful – sound sucked. and there was some other arb ghanaian band first up that was really a waste of time – they really made no sense in the context and felt like a bit of a token effort.

i’d agree with jacques on the unity of africa myth. when the chips are down, africa still calls to america and china for help first. you’d have to work hard to convince me that a pan-african identity is really desirable in a continent which largely still operates along tribal lines.

the irony was uncomfortable as bono waxed to a white audience (who had paid let’s say R1000 a ticket) about how our struggle has united us as a nation. over the smell of the wors rolls, the only other whiff in my nostrils was that of white guilt.

in general, his sermonising didn’t stress me too much though. if he raises a bit of awareness about human rights abuse in x country, that’s ok i guess. you kind of know when you bought your ticket what you’d be getting.

that wall of led screens was absolutely amazing from a technical point of view. i have no idea how they got the video distortion right, or independently controlled the individual cells. that and the array of lighting and sheer scale and cost of the rig was impressive for me. you could have put any band in there and i would have been impressed.

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