Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Some thoughts on U2: "What time is it in the world?"

I had the privilege of seeing U2 in Winnipeg last evening.

"What time is it in the world?" This was a question asked (both directly and indirectly) throughout the concert. Before the band came out, the large screen displayed the current time and the corresponding time at other places around the globe, answering that question.

That question was alluded to in the video introduction to "Zooropa," when questions like "What do you want?" were asked. While "What time is it in the world?" was not one of those questions, the theme of questioning continued.

What is most interesting, though, was the asking of the question by the voice over the loudspeakers before the encore. The answer is, "It's showtime!" The band then embarked on their rendition of "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," a song that originally appeared on the soundtrack for the movie Batman Forever. The original video for that song shows an animated MacPhisto, Bono's devilish character, as the singer of the song. Bono seemed to embody this character last evening as well, at a few times during the concert.

He was MacPhisto without the horns or makeup while singing "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," but he was also MacPhisto during "Until the End of the World," where he also played Judas, the betrayer of Jesus. At the start of "Until the End of the World," the video screen displayed what appeared to be the time, "4:33." It is unclear what this "time" means. Perhaps it is a scriptural reference (one can't help but be reminded of the numbers on the cover of All That You Can't Leave Behind, J33-3, which refer to Jeremiah 33:3), though this seems unlikely. Perhaps it is a reference to the length of the previous song on the setlist ("Elevation") - also unlikely. Is it the length of that particular song? Maybe.

What it does do is link that moment with the later one. "What time is it in the world? It's showtime." That question, once we hear it, was asked earlier (silently), and an answer was given (4:33). Then darkness came out. Judas, or MacPhisto, or Bono, sang of betrayal, of sinking, and of redemption. This talk of redemption doesn't last though: MacPhisto returns later (probably at 5:30 or 6:00, of we want to push this silly time reference), less redeemed, as it is, after all, showtime.

What does this mean? I don't know, but maybe it speaks a bit to the notion of redemption and fallenness, failure and restoration. These are perilous states, as is, perhaps, the state of being at a concert. As concert goers, we are liminal, "betwixt-and-between," somewhat in a state of timelessness as well, removed from the everyday, ritualized.

The latter "What time is it in the world?" reminds one of the earlier moment of "waves of regret, waves of joy," reaching out to a redeemer. "What time is it in the world?" It is a time of failure, fallenness, redemption.

Followed by failure, fallenness and, thankfully, redemption.

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