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6.30.2009

Review: U2, Barcelona, June 30, 2009 

Just got back from the opening concert of U2's 360 tour. I forgot to bring a USB cable with me, so pics will have to wait until I get back home. Post is full of spoilers obviously, so if you don't want to be spoiled then go away.

Setlist:

Breathe
No Line On The Horizon
Get On Your Boots
Magnificent
Beautiful Day
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
Angel Of Harlem
In A Little While
Unknown Caller
The Unforgettable Fire
City Of Blinding Lights
Vertigo
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Pride
MLK
Walk On

Encore:
Where The Streets Have No Name
One

Encore:
With Or Without You
Moment Of Surrender

Generalities:

The stage has the same inner platform + outer walkway from the previous two tours and a giant cylindrical silkscreen. The whole thing is capped off by this really odd inverted claw thingy. The tour has this futuristic theme -- in the middle of tonight's show, the band even held a brief conference call (only part of it intelligible) with the crew aboard the International Space Station.

Review:

Performance-wise, this is easily the worst U2 concert I've been to. Obviously some of it can be chalked up to rust, but there were other problems as well.

Let's start with the good. The setlist was outstanding -- Ultraviolet hasn't been played since the ZooTV tour if I recall correctly, and The Unforgettable Fire died out after the Joshua Tree tour. Both songs sounded great. I was pretty high up in the stands, so I couldn't see if Edge was using his Fernandes or an EBow for the sustain for the UF string part, but it had a real snarl to it. Angel of Harlem was as soulful as ever, and Bono dedicated it to the late Michael Jackson and performed brief bits of Man In The Mirror and Don't Stop Till You Get Enough at the end.

The new album material was mostly excellent as well, but I didn't really understand why Breathe was chosen as an opener. NLOTH and Magnificent are much better openers and much better songs overall, and both sounded excellent. I'll Go Crazy turned into this really wack hip-hop remix that can't be described here.

Okay, now out come the knives. U2 brought back Walk On in light of Aung San Suu Kyi's recent troubles, and for some reason they thought it would be a good idea to distribute life-size masks of her face to everyone in the audience, and also to bring out a couple dozen crew members to wear them out on the catwalk during the song. I thought it was super-super tacky and hope they abandon the idea tomorrow.

Bono's never had the most refined sense of style, but unfortunately his voice and memory seemed to have gone missing for most of the night. During numerous songs Bono had to have the audience pick him up as he either skipped lines or couldn't hit them, and he repeated the first verse of With Or Without You. In addition, his voice (speaking and singing) had absolutely no bottom end for most of the concert; instead it sounded thin and nasal. Finally, the band screwed up One pretty horribly. I'm not sure what happened, but for some reason Bono didn't go into the third verse ("Have you come for forgiveness/have you come to raise the dead") as the band played on. I'm not sure how this happened, but the crowd again tried to pick him up, and I think the crowd actually went straight into the middle-eight ("Love is a temple/love the higher law"), and eventually Bono had to tell Edge in front of everyone to go back and redo the verse. At least Edge was reasonably cool about it -- I thought there was about a 2% chance that he was going to kill someone.

Despite the band's foibles and Bono's shredded voice, U2 still put on an uplifting, energizing show. Just don't expect a bravura performance from the diva.

EDIT: After listening to a boot of the concert, I figured out what happened on "One". Bono forgot the lyrics to the second verse ("Did I disappoint you") and requested a mulligan on the second verse. The band played the verse and chorus again, then launched into the middle-eight ("Love is a temple") and the band followed, while Bono thought they were going to go into the third verse ("Have you come here for forgiveness"), and it took a minute for everything to get sorted out.

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Possibly the dumbest article ever written about sports, or by a political pundit on any subject ever 

Fresh off the US's upset of Spain in the Confederations Cup semis and near-upset of Brazil in the finals, Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute manages to pooh-pooh soccer in the US. His primary argument is that it appeals to Europe and Central/South America's fruity socialist sensibilities and not to Americans because it's the sport in which the less-deserving team has the biggest chance to win.


Indeed, in the first two games, the U.S. was hammered by Italy and Brazil and only got into the semifinal match by beating Egypt and the fluke of a very arcane scoring system that soccer uses to break ties among teams.


Ranking by W-L record, then goal difference, then goals scored? Yeah, that's some pretty crazy tiebreaker scheme.


And even in this game, a neutral observer would have said that Spanish players clearly outplayed the Americans, outshooting the U.S. squad by a margin of 20 shots on goal.


Um, no. FIFA's match report lists the shots as 29-9, but later on where each player's shots are listed, they only total 19-8. Now this counts "shots", which is pretty much any attempt by a player to smack the ball into the goal, whether it goes in, gets saved, misses the target entirely, or gets blocked before it gets anywhere near the goal. The "shots on goal" statistic, which counts only goals or shots that are saved by the goalkeeper, favors Spain 8-2, as many of Spain's shots were blocked before they got anywhere near goal. In addition, any neutral observer who actually watched the game would have concluded that only 3 or 4 shots really gave US keeper Tim Howard any significant trouble. He played well, but it wasn't an unusual performance at all by his standards. Late in the game when the US had the lead, the team was happy to concede possession of the ball because Spain couldn't actually do anything with it. It wasn't much different from one of those frequent Detroit Red Wings games where the Wings outshoot the opponents 40-15 but lose because all of their shots were from long range or bad angles while the other guys scored on odd-man rushes or on shots from the slot.


For sure, there may be a number of reasons that is the case but my suspicion is that the so-called “beautiful game” is not so beautiful to American sensibilities. We like, as good small “d” democrats, our underdogs for sure but we also still expect folks in the end to get their just desert. And, in sports, that means excellence should prevail. Of course, the fact that is often not the case when it comes to soccer may be precisely the reason the sport is so popular in the countries of Latin America and Europe.


This season in the English Premier League, the worst team out of 20 won 12 out of 38 games for a .316 percentage, if you count wins as 1/2.

This season in MLB, the worst team out of 30 has so far won 22 out of 74 games for a .297 percentage, and teams routinely win games despite not getting on base as often because of the way scoring works -- HR + hit + hit < hit + HR.

It completely boggles my mind why ignoramuses (mostly in US sports media, but apparently also in other publications) feel the need to publish such nonsense about soccer. It's almost as if they feel personally threatened by a fantastic sport that they don't understand.

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6.24.2009

"A good career move" 

So said Gore Vidal about his rival Truman Capote's demise. It's also the first quote that popped into my head once I heard that Jon and Kate Gosselin were divorcing.

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