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U2: Rattle and Hum Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 February 2007

Image Known in part for their music and Bono’s haunting vocals, and for their political stance and humanitarian aid, U2 has had amazing longevity for a band that almost never got out of their native Dublin, Ireland. But after they got started there was simply no holding them back as they rushed to well-deserved fame and success.

In 1976, fourteen-year-old Larry Mullen, Jr. announced that he was forming a band, and he attracted fellow high school students that ended up becoming U2. There were more at first, but they dwindled down to the four core members that became U2. They had different names at first, briefly the Larry Mullen Band, then quickly progressing to Feedback and The Hype. By 1978, they were on the road to at least a semi-successful music career.

The name U2 is believed to have been gotten from the spy planes Gary Powers and other American pilots used to fly over Russian airspace during the Cold War. However, there are a lot of other stories about how the name came about. Bono has said that he doesn’t even remember where the name came from.

For the first few years, U2 lingered at the point of never being discovered. They were a success in Ireland, but the rest of the world didn’t seem to want them. Even a show in London failed to put butts in the seats. They released an EP called “Three” but it failed to do anything outside of Ireland.

In 1980, U2 released their first international single, “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” with their new recording label, Island Records. With that success, they released their first album, “Boy” later that year. 1981 saw the release of “October”, an album steeped in Christian faith that reflected the group’s personal beliefs and questions. “War” and “The Unforgettable Fire” soon followed, and so did U2’s interest in politics and fundraising events. By that time they were filling huge outdoor stadiums. But the stage was just getting set for 1986 and “The Joshua Tree” and the “Rattle and Hum” video experience.

Paramount has repackaged and remastered the U2 “Rattle and Hum” video documentary that followed the band throughout the tour. “The Joshua Tree” concert tour went a long way to putting the band on the radar screens of the rest of the world.

In some ways, “Rattle and Hum” is an insufficient documentary of the tour. None of the band members are particularly expressive or talkative when being interviewed. These interviews were shot in Dublin, in abandoned warehouses, showing the roots of these Irish musicians. Candid shots of them walking the streets of the neighborhoods where they grew up seem to work the best. A lot can be inferred about their early experiences based on what was around them. They also tend to remain the focus of the bits, with no sign of friends or family. If U2 wasn’t already famous at this point, you wouldn’t even get a real sense of them from these pieces.

However, all of that changes when the band members are on stage in front of audiences. There they come alive, working together to provide an intense performance no matter where they are.

Bono is arguably the showstopper. He has a mesmeric presence on stage that attracts the eye of the audience. His physicality enhances the songs, piling on the emotion and attracting the audience’s eye. More than that, his voice is haunting and lyrical, as finely tuned as any instrument in the band. Perhaps its part of his Irish ancestry, or perhaps it’s just the work Bono puts into his vocals, but there’s a palpable melancholy sadness that lingers in his words.

The Edge is the magician of the bunch. His lead guitar playing is so different from anyone else’s. He delivers a unique sound that helped propel U2 to the top. The resonance he brings out of the lead guitar underscores the music and makes it stronger, more significant. On stage, he plays the clown to a degree. He seems to be the most relaxed and fun-loving of the group.

Adam Clayton’s bass guitar playing sets fire to the faster paced songs and even livens up pieces that would normally be more sedate. He carries an intensity with him that never fades. He appears determined in each of the sequences to bring something more to the song than he had the last time.

On the drums, Larry Mullen, Jr. drives home the percussive side of the music. His sticks flash as he strikes the drum and stays on top of the beat. He’s a blast to watch. But the most telling part of Larry is his emotional nature. When the band visited Graceland while on tour, he gets overwhelmed while visiting Elvis’s grave, telling the interviewer that he wished Elvis hadn’t been buried in the back yard like that.

The Blu-Ray edition of the concert tour features sharp black-and-white imagery, and the color of the stadium concerts is vivid. The black-and-white sequences stand out because they seem sharper-edged and the concert experience somehow looks more tangible. Maybe it’s because the band never really comes to the audience and maintains its distance, and black-and-white makes that easier to accept.

Over all, the scenes are pretty straightforward. They’re shot all throughout the tour, showcasing different songs at different concerts. Mostly they feel the same, performances that are put on again and again, but there are sections where the documentary really shines.

The band opens with “Helter Skelter” which rocks the house and fires up the surround sound system. Then it marches stolidly through until “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. U2 went into a small Harlem church to capture the sound of the choir singing to back up the piece, and the experience is electric. You can feel the joy that was in the band members as they recorded that session.

The session done in the Sun Records studio where Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis got their starts is great, and the band members seem just as awed as any fan to be playing there. One of the best sequences in the concert, though, was “When Love Comes to Town”, performed with B. B. King. Slices of the initial meeting and arrangement of the music as well as the practice and the actual concert are seamlessly done, providing for a terrific viewing and auditory sequence.

“Where The Streets Have No Name” haunts the listener, and the concert footage of that song is stark and resonates with a sweet emptiness, as does “With Or Without You”.

But the song and performance that stand out the most is “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”. The band had just found out about the bombing in Enniskillen that left 11 people dead. Bono talks directly to the audience, and the emotion pours out of him. You can hear the awe of the audience as they’re uncertain at first how he’s going to go with it. Then he takes a stand, squarely against the Revolution between Ireland and England, stating that it’s time for the violence to be over it and that no one should take pride in their part of it.

There are no special features on the disc worth mentioning. Of course, since the documentary was first produced in 1988, there have been too many changes to be easily accommodated. The band has reinvented itself, as well as the band members, so it’s actually better to let the concert footage stand on its own.

“Rattle and Hum” is a finite piece of time in the history of U2. The band members of U2 have gotten more successful together and independently, but many fans are going to remember them for the songs and performances on this Blu-ray disc. For those that haven’t seen “The Joshua Tree” tour or the “Rattle and Hum” documentary, this is a disc worth picking up and exploring.

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