‘Pop’ and Circumstance: U2’s PopMart on DVD*
By Tracey Hackett, Contributing Editor
Long considered a master of live performance, U2 might also now be called a master of ‘pop’ and circumstance with last week’s re-release on DVD of its 1997 PopMart Live from Mexico City concert video.
The audio-visual feast of the limited edition DVD production begins with its packaging. The cover features the same familiar kickboxing Bono in front of a McDonald’s-esque golden arch on an iridescent background as the VHS format released in 1998. But the two-disc set also includes an extensive sleeve note, featuring colorful, kitschy photos and graphics that bring continuity to the PopMart theme, the reprint of an article by Danny Eccleston for MOJO Magazine – and best of all, a (not quite larger than life) pop-up band member.
In describing the PopMart stage production, Eccleston writes, “The presentation satirized global consumer culture as much as it wondered at it.” The same philosophy could be applied to the packaging of the DVD set itself.
As for the Mexico City show it documents — filmed on Dec. 3, 1997, at the Foro Sol Autodromo — the band’s performance is proof that the message and entertainment value of its music transcend cultural, political and linguistic borders. Although U2’s presentation of “Mofo,” “Last Night on Earth,” “Wake up Dead Man” and other songs from the Pop album can be described as nothing short of monumental — thanks to stage props like a giant olive on a 100 ft. cocktail stick and 170 ft. Technicolor video images of pop culture artworks by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Haring and others — the band’s true power is perhaps best reflected in the performances of its more classic songs, such as “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Desire.”
The audience interaction is so strong during this portion of the concert, in fact, that at one point, a smiling Bono acquiesces his own voice to the hum of 10,000 others whose collective singing is louder than his own. The God’s-eye-view of the event, of watching the entire audience give expression to the show’s energy, is breathtakingly memorable.
Live performances of some U2 classics — like “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Bullet the Blue Sky” — often take on a quality of enduring timelessness, and the Mexico City show doesn’t disappoint in its presentation of those songs. The concert’s single greatest achievement, however, might perhaps be the seamlessness with which material from the Pop album is sewn together with those classics. Songs still popular from the band’s earlier Zoo TV tour and Achtung Baby album serve as the transitional thread that binds it all together.
Songs like “Lemon,” “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” and “Mysterious Ways” could create a difficult juxtaposition with such standards as “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You,” but all of the gilded glamour and techno-flash that was the PopMart tour somehow create a successful all-inclusiveness that is captured on the Mexico City DVD.
Of course, it could be argued that the PopMart tour was all about difficult juxtapositions anyway. The stage design — which provides continuity to the Pop album design — seemed created specifically for the purpose of allowing armchair critics to accuse the band of selling out to high-profit consumer culture, yet lurking underneath the surface glitter and glam were songs with deeper, darker lyrics than U2 had ever before (or since) released, such as the haunting opening to “Wake up Dead Man,” as a man who feels alone in the world pleads with Jesus for answers that seem to never come.
The song from Pop that perhaps best captures the recording’s seemingly incompatible contrast is “Playboy Mansion,” but it is disappointingly absent from the Mexico City set list.
Almost making up for that absence, however, is a spine-tingling solo performance by the Edge of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Eccleston writes in the DVD liner notes that the presentation is “exquisite” because it is “suddenly stripped of troublesome, ambiguous machismo.” What he fails to mention is that the Edge, in his understated introduction of the song, notes that it was among the numbers the band had recently performed at its historic concert in post-war-torn Sarajevo.
Among the many extras on the limited edition DVD set is a documentary about the Sarajevo show
, as well as documentaries about the technology behind the tour and about the 40 ft. self-propelled mirrored lemon that transported the band to the B stage for its encore performance. Bonus live footage from Rotterdam and Edmonton is included, and there are bonus videos of “Staring at the Sun (Miami Version)” and “Last Night on Earth (First Night in Hell).”
“Our job is to blow our own minds, as well as everyone else’s,” Bono says in the liner notes.
The limited edition DVD is certainly capable of doing that — just by the sheer volume of video it contains. It was probably more difficult for U2 to figure out how to make it seem cool to drive a lemon.