Popmart: Live From Mexico City (DVD)


Island, 2007


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


You can hide your true self under layers of pride and cockiness, belying a vulnerability because appearing weak would be the worst thing in your inner circle.

You can hide a jerk under makeup, nice clothes and appearances at charity events or church, but eventually his or her true self will be revealed.

And you can hide a big-hearted band that wants to change the world under banks of hot lights, giant lemons, elaborate stage shows and costumes, but that same band will emerge as its true self underneath.

U2 wanted to be someone else in the 1990s. Tired of their post-punk roots and their anthemic stances, the Dublin foursome opted for a stance of ironic detachment from the world with Achtung Baby and the ensuing ZooTV tour, a gaudy, otherworldly sort-of satire of mass media and consumption.

The PopMart tour blew that out of the water. On the heels of 1997's Pop and reaching back to 1993's Zooropa, which was recorded during ZooTV, the tour and the album was meant to be another satire, this time at the mass consumer culture and easy entertainment escape people are infatuated with. Anyone who was at a Wal-Mart on Black Friday can attest to this.

But for all its noble intentions, U2 doesn't quite get the point across. The PopMart tour was glitzy, campy and theatrical to the max, and still stands as an iconic stage presence. A huge wall of lights serves as a backdrop to the band during the show, while a large yellow arch (McDonald's?) is in the middle with a big speaker made to look like a shopping basket in the middle. Off to the side is a huge martini glass with an olive and toothpick, and in front of that is the campiest symbol of all -- a giant lemon, dressed as a disco ball. It's off for the first half of the show, though.

The larger-than-life approach is a big part of U2's appeal, but faced with trying to outdo itself the band skidded into a wall here. The show is so over the top visually that any meaning or satire is lost; although, in a way, that could be the point -- if we are so focused on mass media and consumerism, on material goods and selfishness, we will miss the beauty of life and the things that matter.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So it leaves the music to get the point across, and this is where the show succeeds. The newer material flourishes in this gaudy setting like it was meant to, and the Mexico crowd is having a blast through the show. Those who never liked Pop or Zooropa may find a different outcome here, as the amped-up versions of "Mofo," "Gone" and "Last Night On Earth" will remind listeners what great songs were on the maligned Pop.

But, as was mentioned, a band that wears its soul on its sleeve will shine when it is being real, and it's the back catalog on which U2 really hits home. The meaning of "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" and "Bullet The Blue Sky" may be lost in this sort of Vegas setting, but the songs are powerful just the same. "New Year's Day," "I Will Follow" and "Where The Streets Have No Name" are all solid as well.

It's when the pretense of satire is dropped that the show shines. The most moving part is when The Edge and Bono walk out to a separate stage and perform "Desire" and "Staring At The Sun" -- which leads to Bono walking away and the Edge doing a solo version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," accompanied only by a gently picked acoustic guitar and the claps/lighters of the crowd. Where the original song was bombastic and angry, this version is more resigned -- as if Bono was shouting the words at the troops while the Edge was in his room crying over the loss of his brother during the fighting.

That political songs leads into the all-out attack of "Bullet The Blue Sky" and "Please," a forgotten gem from Pop that is pure U2 -- anguished cries for peace, ringing guitar, solid rhythm section, all passion and heart and a reminder of what this band is all about. It's this section alone that makes the DVD worth buying.

However, the goodwill is forgotten as, for the encore, the band climbs into the giant disco lemon, which suddenly comes to life and blinds the crowd (and viewer) as it noisily moves out into the crowd. A remix of "Lemon" from Zooropa plays as this fiasco happens; eventually, a door opens up and the band descends down stairs onto a separate stage to play "Discotheque." Things get back to normal eventually (especially when Bono picks a young woman out of the crowd and slow dances with her during "With Or Without You," though once he moves into the crowd his vocals become inaudible as he is mobbed by adoring fans.

The most telling part of the show is in the middle, where Bono thanks the crowd for sticking with U2 and building the PopMart set -- "whatever this is," he notes, with a chuckle -- and then says the band is restless, always looking for new sounds and new colors, and that "it keeps us interested and it's not going to be bullshit for you, alright?"

Fair enough, but even the band realized that it was bullshit eventually and went back to basics with All That You Can't Leave Behind and the Elevation tour. This leaves PopMart as quite the interesting time capsule, a look at a band that after 20 years was trying to find its sound, its place in the world and wasn't afraid to take gaudy, expensive risks in doing so. Stripped to its core, U2 is an amazing live band, and one wishes PopMart would reveal this, instead of obscuring the band in needless glamour. Still, this is a show that any level of U2 fan will enjoy.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2007 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Island, and is used for informational purposes only.