U2: PopMart

U2 Popmart Tour

Popmart

Pop Art
The Popmart tour program includes pop art
by Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring,
Andy Warhol, and Howard Finster.

The album Pop and the subsequent Popmart tour were seriously underrated.

It always bugs me when people complain about musicians and say they like so-and-so's old stuff, not their new stuff. That was a big argument that heated up for U2 with Achtung Baby! and it was even louder during the Popmart era.

Taking the contrarian view, albums like Pop (and even more so, the Achtung Baby! companion album, Zooropa) got me hooked on the excitement of following this particular band more closely than the run-of-the-mill fan. As a moderately creative individual myself, I understand it's so much more exciting to explore new territory than sticking with the tried and true. Indeed, that exploration makes the older stuff feel even more comfortable even as the horizons expand.

Pop's music works and it works well. One of U2's tricks for judging the value of a song is to strip it down and play it acoustically. If it works acoustically, they can layer on the other sounds.

That test works admirably well with this material. Staring at the Sun is a live favorite - and now performed almost exclusively as an acoustic song for Bono and Edge. Please is another terrific example. (More recently, a collector's edition of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb includes a video of Bono and Edge performing Vertigo as an acoustic song and it's fantastic.)

As for other tunes, Discotheque still works as a sonic orgy while If God Will Send His Angels tones down the volume while pumping up the heart.

Lara Croft
Lara Croft in the
Popmart tour program.

I think it was Larry Mullen Jr. who commented that most bands wouldn't have survived what U2 went through with Pop and the massive production of Popmart.

I remember checking into a hotel in Vancouver, BC, and even the hotel clerk took the opportunity to rip on how crazy I was to travel all that way to see the show. Of course his criticism was based strictly on what he read in the media.

Whatever, dude. Your hotel wasn't that great, so try sticking to what you know and focus on your own backyard.

Anyway, the show focused heavily on its namesake: pop culture. Even Lara Croft made a cameo appearance on the ginormous Popmart screen. That was long before Angelina Jolie put on Lara's combat boots and tight shorts for the first time, which is to say, that was also long before U2 supplied Elevation to the Tomb Raider soundtrack and paired Edge with Lara in the song's movie tie-in video.

And, quite simply, the show was a blast to see live. The energy and the experience don't translate well in the live concert video from Mexico City. I sincerely wish a different performance would be released, perhaps from Rotterdam, which figured heavily in the Popheart EP release.

There's nothing like singing The Monkees' Daydream Believer as a karoake, follow-the-bouncing-ball sing-along with U2 taking the lead and tens of thousands taking part. That song, by the way, works as an inside pop culture joke for those who read Bill Flanagan's outstanding book documenting the ZOO-TV tour, At the End of the World. In that tome, the band made reference to playing around like the Monkees.

The Dates

  • 1 May 1997 - Denver, Colo. - Mile High Stadium
  • 31 May 1997 - East Rutherford, N.J. - Giants Stadium
  • 1 Dec. 1997 - Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada - BC Place

Random Trivia from My Head

It's 14 years later at the time of this writing, so I might be incorrect with these bits, but...

  • U2's formal Popmart tour announcement was held at a K-mart in New York City.
  • The band's own lofty ambitions were undermined when their TV special for the kickoff of the Popmart tour in Las Vegas scored dismal ratings. That's the kind of fodder that'll get the press licking its chops.

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