Bono at The New Yorker Festival
Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2022-10-10)
On Friday night, Bono took the stage at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in New York City. The event was a promotional event for his book, Surrender which is being released on November 1. The event was part of The New Yorker Festival, which ran from October 7-9 and featured conversations, performances and experiences from Bono, Hasan Minhaj and Phoebe Robinson, Sandra Oh, Ben Stiller, Billy Eichner and Harvey Fierstein and others. The Festival was presented by Google. Bono’s presentation was titled “A Life in Songs” and was hosted by David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker since 1998.
Tickets for the event went on sale on September 7, 2022. Two levels of tickets were available with an advance admittance ticket being the priciest ticket (for $199 you got to enter the venue 15 minutes prior to others). A general admission ticket was also available at two price levels, including a reduced rate of $30 for those under 25. Planning documents for the event list that the capacity for the event was 811 people. It was sold out within two weeks of being placed on sale.
Ahead of the show Helena Christensen was spotted in the third row, and was soon joined by Bono’s wife Ali, and his son John. There was a large contingent of people from The New Yorker magazine in the crowd, as well as a number of people who work for Bono’s organization, One.
Bono took the stage sharing, “We raise [a glass] in my crowd, when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, everyone in our house raised a glass when Kendrick Lamar took home a Pulitzer Prize. I know this is a ‘literary festival’ but feel free to raise your fists, for tonight is dedicated to our friend, and fellow comrade, Salman Rushdie, unstoppable! One of the key voices of an era.” And with that introduction, Bono kicked into a performance of “Vertigo”. Accompanying Bono on stage was Kate Ellis on cello and Jacknife Lee on keyboards and drums. Longtime U2 soundman, Joe O’Herlihy was behind the soundboard on sound for the evening.
There was electricity in the room. You could tell that Bono was excited to be back on stage, in front of a crowd, with many fans of U2 up front and close to the stage. The song was slowed down, with cello and drums making for an interesting new version of the song. Being in a theatre didn’t keep the fans in their seats, those up near the stage had their hands in the sky, and stood and danced, and sang throughout the performances.
“I’m at a place called the Society for Ethical People. Thank you for coming. Thank you for inviting me in, The New Yorker. I’ve written a book. And it turns out the most extraordinary things about me are the people that I’m in a relationship with. I met most of them the same week. That I suppose is extraordinary. I began life with my wife Ali, the same week I joined U2. One week during high school, 16 years old, and my whole life sorted…”
Bono then continued into a piece from his book, talking about moving into the stone tower in Dublin with Ali following their honeymoon. He shared “I was reading W.B. Yeats’ “The Tower” so I moved into the tower.” Bono went on to describe the home that he and Ali lived in overlooking the promenade of the seaside town of Bray. The piece was performed by Bono over a long extended intro to “With or Without You”. A very slow, very long build into the song, mostly cello and quiet instrumentals, with a sparse beat that starts as Bono wraps up his performance of the passage. The voice is the focus, and he sounded amazing. One lyric jumped out as different, “Through the stone I reach the shore, I give it all but I want more. I’m greedy for you”.
The song continued to build throughout and came to a sudden end.
At the end Bono shares that he’s “Still amazed. Still amazed to be in America. Still amazed to be in the America that I read, and now am writing about. Still amazed that a group of Irishmen can shout their mouth off at you, and for you.” He also shares “America is an idea. DNA test will tell you that you are 50% Polish, 40% Greek, with traces of Egyptian or Korean. A DNA test will never tell you that you are all American. America is a song still being written.”
The music of “City of Blinding Lights” started, and the crowd was brought to their feet, clapping along as the song starts. When Bono hits the first “Oh, you look so beautiful” the crowd in front of the stage joined in and drowned out Bono’s voice. In that moment it was clear that Bono was enjoying being in front of a crowd again. With a big smile on his face, Bono shared, “New York. The city of blinding lights”. At the end of the third song Bono mentioned he feels pretty lucky while introducing his fellow performers, “Luckily. Lucky company. Kate Ellis on cello. Lucky company. Jacknife Lee. Lucky me. Lucky me.” Ellis and Lee will also appear with Bono on his upcoming “Stories of Surrender” tour.
Throughout the performances, and during Bono’s discussion of the book segment there were pictures displayed on the screen behind Bono. The first was a hand making a peace symbol, and the fingers raised made the “V” in “Vertigo”. A second image had a drawing of the tower in which Bono and Ali once lived, which included some of the words from the book that Bono was sharing on stage. “Best to arrive at her fort defenseless to have half a chance at challenging her own almost unbroachable defense system. It’s the only way over that drawbridge”. Another image accompanied the introduction to “City of Blinding Lights” and included the beatitudes that one can hear between “Get Out of Your Own Way” and “American Soul” on the last album, as well as some of the lyrics, “It’s not a place of drum and bass, it’s not a place the pilgrims face to call her home”. That image was titled “City of Blinding Lights” with the “Lights” crossed out and replaced with “Lies” so the whole thing read “City of Blinding Lies”.
The three song performance was followed by a conversation with David Remnick. Bono and Remnick sat beside each other on stage, and Remnick directed questions to Bono throughout the conversation.
The questions included questions about the band’s earliest days together and what the performance was like the first time they were in that kitchen together. He was asked about when The Edge almost left the band during the October tour. Bono shared that when Bono and The Edge finally decided to leave the band because they felt that it was something God wanted, it was Paul McGuinness that asked them if God knew about contract law.
Bono admitted that the entire band had read the book and shared their thoughts on it ahead of the final version being written. Bono shared that Adam initially felt he was portrayed as a caricature in the book, and Bono chose to delay the book from a 2021 release to have another rewrite of the book.
Asked about the monarchy and what Bono thought of the institution, Bono laughed and joked “Elton John I’m fine with!” He then went on to share a story about his father being backstage in Modena when Bono and the Edge performed with Pavarotti. Princess Diana was in attendance, and after the show made a beeline for Bob Hewson, who wasn’t a fan of the monarchy, and he left that night saying what a lovely person she was.
Bono did mention that he had met with the Rolling Stones earlier in the week in New York. Asked about a recent story that he had serenaded Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Bono denied that the story happened. He said that if Kushner was present, he certainly didn’t remember it. Bono shared that he’s a fan of some conservatives but, “What’s happening in your country has nothing to do with conservatives it’s something else.”
Asked about how he had made it to 40 years of marriage, Bono answered that he and Ali pull each other back when they start to drift. And for their recent 40th anniversary they made a new pledge to “not fuck this up.”
Throughout the presentation fans were encouraged to submit questions via text message. The conversation ran late, so only a few were asked. One fan asked how he felt about the long time close knit community that has formed around the band. Bono said he wasn’t sure what they had done to deserve them, but he was very glad that they were there. (Although phones were encouraged for questions, it was asked that photos / video not be taken, and fans doing so were asked by security to stop or face removal.)
Facemasks were requested throughout the performance and the discussion. This was done for all of The New Yorker festival events. The performance, question and answer, and fan questions at the end took about 90-minutes from start to finish. Bono’s voice was strong, well-rested, and he and Ellis and Lee seemed well rehearsed already for these songs. Throughout the afternoon Bono was spotted in and around the theatre a couple of times, and took some time to meet with fans outside the venue, as well as signing some autographs at the venue and nearby.
Additional details about the show as well as the full set list is available in our U2 Show Archive.