Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: U2, U23D

In the little blurb about this blog that sits over in the right column I wrote that music has been an enduring passion for most of my life.  “U23D” is one of the reasons why.  No u23dmatter how old you get you never want to die because something like this may come along tomorrow.  I went to the show with my wife and son with every intention of watching and listening with critical faculties alert but the sight and sound was so incredible I just lost myself in the gig.  Afterwards we were sitting in an Irish bar in DC having burgers and I said to my son that the review of the film on Tuned In was going to suck because all I could say was “Wow! That was absolutely amazing!”  I’ve thought of more things to say but the bottom line is the same.  “U23D” is absolutely amazing.

“U23D” was digitally filmed and recorded in 3D and 5.1 surround sound.  It’s taken from several stadium shows performed in Buenos Aires during U2’s “Vertigo” tour and is being shown in IMAX and other theaters equipped for 3D projection.  We saw it at the Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theatre at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.  If the last time you saw anything in 3D was with those flimsy glasses with the red and green cellophane “lenses” that made some things look kinda sorta 3D and put wavy multicolored lines around everythng else, you’re in for a big surprise.  You still wear glasses (right over your regular glasses if you have them) but the red and green lenses are gone and there are no color artifacts.  Instead, the scene you’re watching simply looks 3 dimensional. 

They’ve taken a number of IMAX nature films and done some techno-wizardry so they can be shown in 3D.  I saw one recently and it was okay but it looked like an old nature film with 3D effects layered on here and there.   “U23D” was digitially filmed for 3D from the ground up.  With some camera angles and positions the effect is 3D but it doesn’t look real, with others it looks completely real.  We’ve all seen concert films where the camerman is on the stage with the band.  This doesn’t look like that.  This looks like you’re on stage with the band.  I’m not talking about some kind of “you’ll feel like you’re there with U2!” marketing bullshit, I’m talking about it actually looks like you’re standing on the stage.   At one point the camera closes in on Bono and as he sings he reaches one hand out to the audience, to you.  I had to actively and consciously restrain myself from reaching to grasp his hand.  It’s not like you’re watching a movie, it’s like he’s right there.  And that’s one of the weaker 3D effects.  There are a number of shots looking up at the band from the audience’s perspective.  When the person in front of the camera throws their arms up in the air you will think it’s the guy in the chair in front of you in the theater.  The next time it happens and you look right at the guy in front of you, you will see that it isn’t him – but you will believe the guy next to him in your peripheral vision is throwing his arms up in the air.  It has to be seen to be believed.

Okay, so it looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before.  How does it sound?  The surround sound in the theater where we saw it was spectacular – huge, precise, clear and they turned it up.  And the band was terrific.  The phrase “anthemic rock” was pretty much invented to describe U2 and they play these songs with such authority and conviction.  They have been doing this kind of music so well for so long they are masterful.  The enormous crowd is delerious and you wonder how a band can generate so much raw emotion and enthusiasm in so many people for so many years.  Watching “U23D” I had an overwhelming sense that an important part of their success is that they appear to have never lost sight of the idea that’s it’s not about them, it’s about the music and the power that the music has to bring a message of humanity, equality, unity to the audience.  One.  Uno.  They play like their goal is not to make money and be rock stars but to give the audience what they wanted when they came – something wonderful and extraordinary they’ll remember forever.  They play to knock you out and they deliver. 

Over half the set list (at least that part of the set list shown in the film) is taken from the pre-Achtung Baby period.  “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, “With or Without You”, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”, “Bullet the Blue Sky” and more.  In “U2 by U2” the band is talking about how difficult it was to get a recording of “Where the Streets Have No Name” that satisfied them and how they ended up cobblng together the final version on “The Joshua Tree” from bits and pieces.  Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. says “On the record, musically, it’s not half the song it is live.”  I read that and thought “Where the Streets Have No Name?  Are you fucking kidding me?”  Now I know what he was talking about. 

If you live in or near a city that has an IMAX theater showing “U23D” it will be easy; if you don’t, it will be harder.  Maybe a lot harder.  Doesn’t matter.  Whether or not you like U2’s music or their politics, if you love music (and why would you you be reading this blog if you didn’t), do whatever it takes to see this film.  Sit dead center toward the back of the theater.  After they get a look at “U23D” every band is going to have to have their own IMAX 3D concert film.  But “U23D” is the first, this is the one that all the rest are going to be compared to, this is the one that changed the world.


02/22/2008 - Posted by | film reviews, music, music reviews


  1. For some reason, I stopped listening to U2 after Achtung Baby. Bono described the album as the chopping down of the Joshua Tree. Cool blog. Glad to see reviews of Tropicalia materials.

    Comment by Chano Santamaria | 02/24/2008 | Reply

  2. […] released deluxe edition of “The Joshua Tree” and was absolutely thrilled by “U23D“.  With that recent history I really wanted to like “U2 By U2″.  But then I […]

    Pingback by Review: U2 By U2 « Tuned In To Music | 04/07/2008 | Reply

  3. I tried to see it in both Toronto and Raleigh. It just didn’t work out. However, I’m inspired by your review to redouble my efforts to catch it somewhere. Also, the 25th anniversary of the live at Red Rocks concert is coming up shortly. Here’s hoping for a DVD release.

    Comment by U2 Red Rocks Fan | 05/18/2008 | Reply

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