THE LEFSETZ LETTER: U2 At The Rose Bowl


Have you seen "U23D"? You should! Can’t think of a better concert film. But the vibe is even better. Shot in South America, in soccer stadiums, you get the feeling of danger, of being outside the law, of being in a nation built by rock and roll.


That’s how it felt last night.


If one person had yelled FIRE, many would have been trampled. You not only had to wait in line to get into the gate, you had to wait in line to enter the tunnel to your seat. And when you got there, the sea of humanity was both inspiring and frightening. All colors, not every age. Even though the Black Eyed Peas opened, the younger, bump your hips in the club to get laid and the barely pubescent I want to be like Fergie crowd was not in attendance. This was the last bastion of the population that believed rock and roll could truly save your life. A bunch of baby boomers, but really fortysomethings. They caught on with "Boy", and "Joshua Tree" was the soundtrack to their college years.


Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

So why did U2 begin with the new album?


The Claw is far from impressive in real life. After all the hype, it seemed like something created on a whim as opposed to a military operation conceived and erected by the greatest minds in the business.


Let me be clear. It was the Claw itself that was the problem. What was beneath it, the stage, the ring, the video screen, the rotating ramps, they were MESMERIZING!


But the music was not.


Until "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For".


I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you


Tell someone under twenty one that you sat at home with the TV on all day, waiting to see your favorite video, and they’ll look at you dumbfounded. We live in an on demand world. There may be community online, but it’s inherently niche. Whereas everyone with ears, everyone who grew up with the Beatles and younger was addicted to MTV.


And sure, there were notable transcendent moments, breakthroughs that changed the business forever.


First came the Duran Duran videos. A fortune spent on them, the band became a household world.


U2 came next. With "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from Red Rocks. If the air had been clear, would the video have been as classic? To see Bono run around with that flag, in the mist, was to believe that rock and roll could triumph.


Michael Jackson danced his way into America’s heart.


But there was a parallel story. It was great that MTV became a big tent, but rock and roll did not die. We had U2 marching the streets of Las Vegas, singing "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For". An exquisite concoction of electric and acoustic elements, who can forget Edge walking amongst the neon lights strumming his guitar? This was the joy, the triumph, the power that allows Bono to talk to heads of state. U2 led an army of listeners, all based upon these records, these tracks. They believed that via music we could have a better life, a better world.


Is this still possible?


Music is not leading the way. Steve Jobs and Sergey Brin are bigger rock stars than anybody on the hit parade. Still, U2 soldiers on. And we follow, because we want to believe.


That’s what last night was. A celebration of who we used to be. With the hope that we could still be something more.


But the new album has not connected with fans. Most people in attendance seemed to be clueless. Instead of physical writhing, when U2 hit the stage to a slew of new tunes, the audience stood stock still. I was grooving during "Magnificent", I love that track, but with a million copies of "No Line On The Horizon" sold in the U.S., how many of this 100,000 in attendance had bought it?


We live in an attention economy. And U2 fucked up. They didn’t get their audience’s attention. The album should have come free with the ticket. Doesn’t matter if you make new music, you’re a has-been in the eye of the public if your new tracks don’t catch on.


So, last night the set progressed in fits and starts.


And, picking and choosing from almost every era of the band as opposed to just playing greatest hits, the audience never completely caught fire.



Let’s be clear. They were playing to 100,000. Manipulating that many is difficult. Is Bono up to the task? Absolutely! But when Paul McCartney wants to work in new material, he starts off with "Drive My Car", he gets heads exploding first.


Don’t get the wrong idea. There were peaks. "Mysterious Ways". And the ultimate crowd triumph was "Where The Streets Have No Name". But the rising hands, the unity of the audience during that number, the feeling that you were part of one large, writhing ocean, was absent for most of the rest of the show.


But you could see just fine. Bono was in fine voice. And when the ramps swung around seemingly with a mind of their own, your jaw dropped. And when the video screen expanded, dropped, you said to yourself I’VE SEEN NOTHING LIKE THIS BEFORE!


But it still comes down to the music.


I LOVED hearing "Until The End Of The World". "Achtung Baby" is my favorite U2 album.


"Get On Your Boots" had a different feel live. Less experimental, more straight ahead rock. But if you didn’t love it already, you wouldn’t be closed.


And we had the recent hit "Vertigo", but we wanted to hear "Pride (In The Name Of Love)". "New Year’s Day". Maybe even "I Will Follow". Last night should not have been an exhibition demonstrating that U2 is still relevant, it should have been a celebration of their career, a restatement of the bond between band and audience, a few more classics and no one would have gone out for a beer, everybody would have sung along, there would have been momentum, the whole Rose Bowl would have levitated.


They’ve got a chance. They can use innovative new ways to get the new music to the live audience. They can restructure the set so there are fewer dead spots, so the audience is riveted, along for the ride the whole time. Playing a stadium is different from doing your act in an arena. Even with 20,000, you can have everybody in the palm of your hand. But once you start singing to forty or fifty thousand plus, you’ve got to throw out the old rules, you’re working with a different paradigm. In other words, the stage was not enough. It all depended upon the music.


But when the music was right…

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone


Live rock and roll, when done right, strips away your regular life, school, work, even relationships. The band is on stage, you’re in the audience, and the music hovers between you, an oil, a lubricant, that allows a certain freedom, a movement that you heretofore did not know you possessed. You’re standing, moving like Gumby, not caring what others think of your moves, even if you’re as bad a dancer as Elaine on "Seinfeld".


But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for


I was looking for transcendence.


We can’t get it from sold out politicians.


We can’t get it from tools of the corporate music trade like the Black Eyed Peas.


We depend on a certain breed of artist, not beholden to anyone but themselves. Either so poor or so rich that they just don’t care.


I want Bono to lead us out of the wilderness. I want to tell you that I saw God last night.


I saw God at the Fillmore East, when the Who performed "Tommy" from start to finish.


I saw God at Flipper’s roller disco, when Prince performed "Dirty Mind".


I saw God at the Sports Arena in 1992, when U2 toured "Achtung Baby" indoors. The visual assault, with lights in Trabants, with TV screens blasting more information than our brains could process, set the stage for the music. It was a band on stage. They were a cohesive unit. Too many times last night, band members were almost furlongs away from each other. Playing to a last row that they just couldn’t seem to reach emotionally.


Good attempt.


Imperfect execution.


I want to believe.


Make me a believer.