Wednesday, October 28, 2009

U2 Pasadena webcast as culture making: updated

“Fans are making multi-cam experiences of concerts. Even with trailers. So what will U2 do? When, how will they push back?”

So spoke Matt McGee, founder of U2 fan site atU2, at the first U2 academic conference on Sunday, October 4.

Surely the live streaming of Los Angeles 360 tour concert was U2’s definitive reply? (Updated: an event that became Youtube’s largest streaming event ever, with nearly 10 millions viewers. Not a bad crowd!)

What do you do when every fan is a walking multi-media unit, when your concerts are being live streamed and when your live concert sound and image is being defined on Youtube by cheap cellphone recordings?

In my classes and speaking recently I’ve been using Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. He summarises a range of contemporary stances toward culture:
– condemnation
– critique, with the emphasis on intellectual analysis of culture
– copying culture, in which a subculture develops around the imitation of forms from contemporary culture
– consuming, in which “most evangelicals today … simply go to the movies … [and] … walk out amused, titillated, distracted or thrilled, just like our fellow consumers who do not share our faith.” (89)
– creating
Crouch argues that the first four are problematic, for the only way to change culture is to create more of it.

So apply this to the live streaming. U2 could condemn, with cease and desist legal action. They could critique, making bitchy public media statements. They could do nothing, let themselves be consumed, defined, by handheld cellphones on youtube.

Instead they have created. They have experience in making live DVD, they have the best sound system in stadium, they have the cameras best placed to catch the action, they have the leverage to talk with youtube. So if they send the show out live, get watched by millions around the world, then they get to define the quality on Youtube.

Plus create a promotional goldmine. For instance, in the wash of free publicity throw in an announcement of a return to the US in 2010. Plus become defined as the band who played to the largest audience in the world. And a prediction – it allows them to put a line under the 360 tour, freeing them to release a new album in 2010, complete with new songs, more “pop” to quote Bono, and so repair the damage done by the slower sales of NLOTH.

Whichever way you look, a global webcast is quite some response to the question of fan consumption in a digital age. And Paul McGuiness is a marketing genius. And U2 are a fine example of culture-making in an internet age.

Posted by steve at 03:01 PM


  1. I think they are winning the battle because they realise the desire for this stuff and instead of letting bootleggers have it they give the fans something even better. They don’t mind people recording the concerts and putting them on-line as long as people don’t make money out of it. But, what do they do? They do it better by realising live stuff from every tour. It is a great subversive way of beating the system. Coldplay did a similar thing by giving away a live album. BRILLIANT!

    On another note Steve, a thought that has been going around in my head since the concert: Are all of the lights and stage pazazz a distraction? It is my feeling that all the glitz and glamour of the concert distracted us from what were really not that great a songs from NLOTH (live especially). Do they feel the need to create this distraction or should they have more faith in their own work and strip it back to just three chords and the truth? The best concert tour since Zoo followed ATYCLB – it was a fairly basic set – since then I think the concerts have lost something with all of their glitz and glamour. It seems to me that one could argue that all of the technology is in fact taking U2 away from their fans. I would argue Zoo TV was different, more art or culture critique that fit with the theme of Achtung.

    Just some thoughts…

    Comment by Mark Stevens — October 29, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

  2. totally agree with your first para mark.

    in terms of 2nd, this probably sounds patronising, but being there is way different from seeing it on youtube. i think the claw certainly had potential to dominate, but it used very well. my take home impression was the simplicity of lighting.

    some parts of claw do take even further the basicness of ATYCLB, eg the elipse is now a circle.


    Comment by steve — October 29, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

  3. Yeah, i did wonder what the atmosphere of the latest songs were like?

    When I view Live at Slane Castle, I find I am drawn into the concert, I can feel the energy and passion. When I watch the later concerts, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, I love them live and loved VErtigo live, but I think the band can do better.

    Comment by Mark Stevens — October 29, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

  4. Mark, check out this review of Vancouver
    – paras 4 and 5 – seeing the event on video cf

    remember also that you are were watching a live stream which could well be different from the quality and multiple camera angles of a DVD.


    Comment by steve — October 30, 2009 @ 10:47 am

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