(Planet Me)
Monday, October 08, 2007
U2 PopMart DVD (Live In Mexico)
reviewed here)

U2 at their commercial nadir...and their creative peak.

10 summers ago, inside a grey football stadium in North London, I was wowed and thrilled by U2's bleeding edge "PopMart" presentation. Unlike anything the world had seen before - or since - the worlds largest television screen, the worlds only 40 foot travelling disco mirrorball lemon, and the world's then biggest band were a nearly unstoppable combination. At the time, faced with the rise of Britpop and the uncertain musical climate - where U2 hadn't been famous quite long enough to be cemented as Dinosaurs of Longevity - and some poor opening shows on the tour, "PopMart" saw U2 on the commercial skids (playing to a third-full stadiums in the USA) and fighting for their lives. As a result, 2001's subsequent "Elevation Tour" saw the band stepping back from this musical limb, performing a less ambitious stage, playing and exploring with more traditional styles.

After ten years away from DVD (ideally this should have been U2's first released on the format in early 1998), "PopMart" is ripe for critical reappraisal. Set free of baffled criticism from dunderhead writers scared of intelligence and ambition, time has been kind to "PopMart". "PopMart" was a fantastic, gutsy tour. Musically the band were moving at the cutting edge of technology and a pioneering vision. The show neatly blends U2's earnest political hectoring - at that time Bono had yet to bore the entire world with his ambitions to be world leader - with a playful, and excellent deconstruction of the nature of fame, capitalism and consumerism to create an irreverent, intelligent, compelling experience.

Visually and sonically, "PopMart" has never been better. Images are sharp and concise, the sound is clear and spotless. Clearly, this is a vast improvement upon the 1988 VHS and VCD releases. The editing style is never confusing, and manages to accurately convey the sense of woah! that sharing a field with The PopMartHeadFuckExtravaganza was. In concert, the sometimes under-realized material on the "Pop" record is extrapolated to its full potential - songs like "gone", "Mofo" and "Please" are approximately several thousand times more effective and engaging than the sometimes staid and flat studio versions.

Conisseurs will plump for 2 disc DVD deluxe edition : thankfully this manages to far outweigh the fluff-and-nonsense watch-once-and-file bonus materials on the "Elevation", "Vertigo" and "Zoo TV" discs with material designed to do something more than merely fleece the faithful. There are 8 bonus live cuts from Edmonton and Rotterdam (sadly all duplicating songs on the main feature, thereby ignoring shows such as Santiago and Johannesburg that were broadcast on TV and featured songs not on either of these discs), several rather interesting backstage features and interviews, and some other random bits and pieces. There is also a frankly useless video for "Last Night In Hell". Whilst trainspotters could rightly lament the lack of "Working In A PopMart (The Roadies)" and "A Year In Pop" that are both easily available - and that there is easily space on the disc for - there is no sense of being shortchanged on the extras.

Overall "PopMart" captures U2 at the apex of their 'weird' years, providing a convincing and excellent performance in a brave and bold setting that is both visually interesting and musically exciting, reflecting the spirit of the then defiant U2 as they explored new territories. One could argue that PopMart was the last time that U2 were edgy or truly adventurous - and this DVD captures them right at the edge of their journey on the deep edges of discotheque deep space.

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