The Virtual Road: PopMart Mexico City

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2021-04-02)

Yesterday was the third episode of U2’s The Virtual Road, a four part series of concerts being streamed on YouTube as part of an ongoing project between YouTube and Universal to refresh U2’s online video properties. The band showed their 1997 show from Mexico City, as a stream on YouTube, premiering at 9:40pm EST. That was a similar start time to last week’s Red Rocks show, and far later than the Slane Castle show that kicked things off a couple of weeks ago. The band is airing the shows at a time that is local to where the show would have originally taken place, so expect the Paris show in just over a week to again be earlier in the day.

The performance last night started with a four song performance by Mexican singer Carla Morrison. Although advertised as starting at 9:40pm EST, the performance was delayed by about five minutes, and when it started there was a three minute countdown. The performance was not introduced in anyway, and unlike the first week where The Edge interviewed the opening act, Morrison was not interviewed. At the end of the opening act, users were automatically directed to a new URL, but we saw a number of mentions that this didn’t happen smoothly, and a few had to go back to U2’s YouTube channel to connect to the next video. U2 PopMart Live from Mexico City started just after 10pm EST.

This U2 performance was released in 1998 on VHS, and again in 2006 on DVD. The visuals from the performance has been colour corrected, and there images here are gorgeous. The DVD had always looked a bit washed out and the process by which they upgraded this video helped in this respect. The video is an upgrade in resolution, streamed at 1080p. We saw a number of people being complimentary to the upscaling work done on this particular video. This is not a simple upscale of the DVD, there are changes here from the DVD release, including the segue between “Even Better Than the Real Thing” and “Last Night on Earth” which has additional words from Bono, and a totally redone credits at the end (instead of scrolling up the screen, they now are stable on the screen and fade in and out as they change.) The performance here is closer to the version shown on the Showtime Network, which included the extra “I’m sorry” bits between songs. That version of the show did not have credits over the final song, but the credits only started after the performance of “Wake Up Dead Man” ended, and they scrolled over footage of U2 saying goodbye from the stage instead.

Viewers were strong last night throughout the show. At a peak just over 14,000 viewers were watching the stream at once. (We saw a peak of 14,200 during Discotheque.) Viewers climbed from 10,000 for the earlier songs, cracking 14,000 during “Bullet the Blue Sky” and maintaining those numbers until “With or Without You” when viewers started to drop off again. This is down from the 20,000 viewers that were present throughout the Slane premiere, but was much stronger than the 8,000 people at any one time during the “Live at Red Rocks” premiere. The video can be watched for at least 48 hours after the end of the initial airing, and is available now for anyone who wants to watch who were unable to join during the debut of the video:

For more information on the entire The Virtual Road event, including a summary of links and viewer information for all shows, you can find a special The Virtual Road page in our Videos section.

As well as the live debut of the U2 PopMart Live from Mexico City video, a few items went on sale to support the performance.

A four track EP of live songs, taken from the performance at Mexico City was released in audio format to streaming services and digital stores such as iTunes and Amazon. The tracks released included “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” and three songs from the Pop album, “Gone,” “Staring at the Sun” and “If You Wear That Velvet Dress.” Of the four, only “Even Better Than the Real Thing” has not been issued in audio form before. The EP is edited so that there is a continuous flow, with no break in the crowd noise between songs. These are new edits of the songs however, and newly remastered for 2021. As some of these tracks did not originally flow in this order during the concert you can hear some interesting artifacts in the mix. You can hear the final notes of “Discotheque” at the start of “If You Wear That Velvet Dress” while hearing the speech from the end of “Staring at the Sun” over top.

The EP was released in high resolution audio at 24-bits and 48 kHz, which is a better sound quality than CD for those who are interested. All four tracks are edited so that they flow together, with no break between songs. However on Qobuz, there is an annoying 0.05s silence at the start of each track, which breaks the illusion of a continuous live feel to the tracks. This silence is not present on other compressed versions of the songs such as those found at iTunes.

A few fans have noticed the cover of the EP has an icon of a shopping cart in the top left-hand corner. The text includes the Zoo TV logo and says “Zoo TV Presents.” This however, isn’t something new. The Zoo TV reference has been in many PopMart items going back to the original 1997 shows, and appears in ticket stubs, in posters for events etc., including in the blue style PopMart poster that this digital EP cover is based on.

Our discography entry for the EP is available here.

Merchandise for the show was also available. These items were available through U2’s USA and UK stores. Three T-shirts are available, where previous shows in the series only got two shirts. These included a green shirt with the PopMart logo, and a small “Mexico” under the logo, a white “PopStar” T-shirt, and a black T-Shirt with images of the four band members in a row. Also available is a limited screen print which is limited to 300 pieces worldwide. The print is done like an older style gig poster for the PopMart shows, with the images of the band from the album cover in a row, and city and venue information under these.

All four items are available now via U2’s website. Unfortunately these items are not available in U2’s Japan store, and fans in Japan are no longer able to order from the UK and USA stores. We hope this oversite can be fixed, but for now it continues. When Elevation in Boston streamed last fall many complained about delays on items, with some items taking months to start shipping. That does not seem to be the case with the newer merchandise for “The Virtual Road.” Fans are reporting merchandise showing up already from orders placed in the UK, even for this PopMart merchandise which just went on sale earlier this week.

Although the full performance will be available on YouTube for only a couple of days, U2 have also added some videos to their YouTube channel permanently. “Mofo“ was the first video to appear, and “Staring at the Sun“ was added last night. An older video on their YouTube channel, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me“ has also been upgraded. These can be viewed as standalone videos on the YouTube channel, and these will remain there after the full performance is removed.

The video refresh project that U2 had been working on for their commercial video clips for songs is taking a break while these live performances are done. That project will resume in mid-April. In the meantime each week the band will add some live videos from these The Virtual Road showings.

The next show will be on Saturday , April 10, 2021. The band will be showing “U2 iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE“ as the final show of The Virtual Road. The time for this show has not yet been announced, but if they are keeping with the local times that the show would have originally been performed, expect the show to start much earlier in the day than the last two. Unlike the videos shown to date, which have been upscaled to 1080p, the Paris show was filmed in high definition formats, and has been released digitally and on Blu Ray at higher resolution.

We are keeping a summary of these videos in our Video section for those who want more information about each performance.

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