U-2 Can Join the Plastic Bono Band
Imprint Fanzine by Shane McElhatton (1979-10-01)
9th Sept. 79 – U-2 play the Dandelion, a year to the day since their first step onto the local scene as support to The Stranglers at the Top Hat. The big, ugly crowd that roared for their blood at the start of their set were left at the end grudgingly accepting that the U-2 sound was here to stay.
What impressed about U-2 then remains the basis of their current appeal. Dave Edge’s acid, offbeat guitar reminds one of Tom Verlaine; Edge is probably the best guitarist in the country. The band’s trump card however is their lead vocalist, Paul ‘Bono’ Hewson. As has been said before his is the most compelling frontman in the country since Geldof, with whom he shares an ability to draw a crowd into doing just what he wants. There are no “me artist – you bozo” affections, no pain-of-genius face pulling; he obviously enjoys himself too much. Added to the amphetamine puppet dances of this early stage act are new ideas and outlooks, including perhaps some garnered from his trip to London to watch The Master – Iggy Pop – at work (with whom he shares the habit of making up lyrics on stage.) Adam Clayton is the solid, serious type laying down bass lines at the back. Drummer Larry Mullen is all flying sticks and schoolboy enthusiasm.
The group understand the difference between more speed and real power. The set is varied in pace, the sound is now less cluttered, sharper, cleaner – but never sugar sweet. Through Bono is fed the band’s energy. He is the focal point, the contact with the crowd. Clayton and Edge work unobtrusively to this formula. They never fail. The Dandelion is a big, cold, dirty venue, but up on stage there is no mistaking the presence of the big sound.
After the gig Larry and Paul are collared and dragged off to the nearest pub that will allow us in. Bono – Paul – becomes affable, serious; the initial ‘cool’ façade is quickly dropped. WE talk. How did they feel they had changed in the last year?
“We feel more in control. We let our real selves come through more, instead of forcing ourselves into moulds that don’t suit us. We used to hype ourselves to a ridiculous degree. We’re building ourselves up, holding out for a record deal that gives us what we want – total artistic control, allied with the marketing power of a big company. It’s a high price, but we feel justified in asking it. We want to sell records. We want to be big. Independent labels are all very well, but mostly they preach to the converted. We don’t want to be a cult.”
U-2 steer clear of the incestuous self congratulation that sullies much of the undeniable achievements of the independent labels, they seek to transcent as many of the narrow tribal barriers within youth music as possible. Their music has many reference points to appeal to as many fans as possible. Let’s just hope that doesn’t make their sound too bland. One U-2 fan, a member of another leading Dublin band sees their broad roots as indicating that “they don’t know where they’re at.”
Teen life and it’s attendant myths form the basis for their songs, songs cataloguing claustrophobic frustration, self delusion, loneliness. They hate/fear the never ending process of myth fabrication in society. Altho they agree that adults too are made to feel inadequate by the non-stop barrage of advertising etc., they see teenagers as being the most vunerable to the process. “Books, movies, records all perpetrate the myth – it’s great to be a teenager. Everybody’s pretty/handsome. It’s all Saturday night, disco, girls, coke. Everybody scores with everybody else. If this isn’t happening to you, you feel abnormal. You get those mornings when you wake up and feel ‘I’m ugly, I’ll never get a girl – you become a victim of the myth. We want people to think for themselves, to see themselves as being as complete and as valid as anyone else. We feel qualitied to talk about these things. We’re still teenagers ourselves. It’s all we’ve ever known.
Many songs catalogue the box-like confines of most people’s lives. The boxes are institutional mental; people surround themselves with self-delusion. “Birth, school, job, marriage, death – it’s all lade out for us. We can’t escape, we don’t want to escape. We say to ourselves, ‘this is all there is.’ These are the kinds of themes that link the songs on our new EP together, and will do the same on our first album.”
The myth-fabrication process manifested itself in a particularly vicious way for the group, at the Project the night before, beginning, while they were on stage with changes of “Paul is a prod!” – his mother is a protestant – and culminating in bottles being thrown at the stage. (Great country this eh? No racism here pal.)
The ‘street heroes’ responsible were people from Paul’s own road, “Middle class suburban kids like ourselves. ‘Friends’ of mine. I can’t understand it.” Such myths are dangerous. 2 of the bastards responsible were later helping bouncers with their enquiries, ending up in hospital.
U-2 will succeed. U-2 will be stars. They will be big because they are good musicians, because Bono is a natural star, because they attempt to deal with the drab realities of teen life at a deeper level than say, Buzzcokcs or Undertones. They are looking in on themselves, exorcising irrelevant myths, coming to terms with the music and the business ends of their profession. When this happens they will be formidable. On the other hand they might split up next week. Or stiff spectacularly.
Anyway, remember this for the present: if ears could talk, they’d ask for U-2!