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Reality's an edit: U2's claw directs the audience experience

When reality is an edit: U2's claw directs the audience experience

by Evelyn Tsitas

U2 has been around for nearly 30 years, and Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. are not as young as they once were. The band's 360 degree tour makes an ingenious allowance for the aging rock stars; with the giant claw diverting attention away from the fact that while the images pulsate, gyrate and vibrate above the stage, the musicians on the actual stage do not.

It is easy to remain mostly static, the slightest movement of the arm or leg emphasized, when it is projected out into the crowd on a screen.

This is just as well for Bono, who underwent back surgery mid year. The setback meant that many of U2s 2010 tour dates for North America were rescheduled for the summer of 2011, where 360 degrees will kick off in Denver from May.

According to reports, some 3 million fans across the globe have seen U2's 360 degree tour, many paying up to $350 a ticket to see their rock idols live. But with the phenomenon of the claw, the reality of a "live" show in the traditional sense is called into question.

Touted as most elaborate stage setup in the history of music, the claw, more than 160 feet tall, not only allows fans to see the stage and the band from anywhere in the venue – even high up in the bleachers – it also directs their live music experience in a way that traditional screens do not.

In Melbourne, where the Irish band's Australian tour kicked off down under on 1 December, the claw projected so far up into the roof of Etihad Stadiumthat the roof had to remain open to accommodate it.

I have a clear memory of a young Bono, prancing and owning the stage like a hyperactive Sex God, during the band's 1984-1986 Unforgettable Fire tour. Bono, lithe and limber in tight black jeans, set my young heart – and loins – on unforgettable fire. Despite my student budget seats, I could see and feel Bono's pure, physical energy and talent as it roared from the stage, thrust far into the crowd, and created a legend.

Fast forward to 2010, and I have front row seats, but I can barely see Bono. He is a tiny, carefully moving ant from where I sit. No problem. Just like the blimp from "Bladerunner", the claw hovers over us, projecting images, flashing graphics and text and enhancing the prosaic reality of a live concert.

>From the moment U2 marched on stage, heads turned as one and the audience gazed up with reverence at the claw. No one actually looked at the tiny figures in real life. They were irrelevant, anyway – what was being projected onto the claw was more dynamic.
In Peter Ludlow's 1997 book "High noon on the electronic frontier: conceptual issues in cyberspace", we are told that "If information is a relationship, then proximity to an artist and the real thing is the dividing line between the virtual and reality." That's a passé view today with the claw.
What is the meaning of the Arabic script artfully embellishing the photos of the fateful march in Northern Ireland 1972, which resulted in 13 unarmed civil rights demonstrators being shot dead by British Army paratroopers? U2 sang "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and the audience sang along – no one commented on the meaning of the supplementary Arabic text swirling over their heads on the claw.

After all, reality, as Grateful Dead lyricist and cyberlibertarian John Perry Barlow wrote, is an edit. "People are willing to pay for the authority of those editors whose filtering point of view seems to fit best."

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Evelyn Tsitas is the co-author of the parenting book Handle With Care. She is a doctorate student at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: evelyntsitas@gmail.com

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