August 28, 2011

30 Songs #5 - Pisces Lullabye: How to Use and Misuse Your Empathetic Impulses

Em on the Del Playa swing, summer 1999.

Some song lyrics never really get finished. They evolve over time, mostly in live performance as public works-in-progress. I can't think of a singer/songwriter/musician who hasn't eventually changed something in a lyric (though there's undoubtedly many), and I think that's because the song has to stay alive and relevant if it's going to get played by the same person five, ten, twenty, or fifty years later. I've tinkered with tweaking individual lines or refining sections of lyrics, or even scrapping a whole lyric—title and all—in favor of something completely different. Today's song, "Pisces Lullabye," has two versions: one for the Mojo Wire in 1999, and one for Honey White in 2002.

In last week's "30 Songs" entry I copped to subjecting Emily to my songwriting compulsion not once, but twice within the same six months. The first time was for "The Shivering Sand," the second for "Pisces Lullabye" (yes, that's a deliberate misspelling. If it's good enough for R.E.M. it's good enough for me). "Pisces" has always been a pretty nebulous, open-ended thing, but the original lyric was extremely incoherent. The song itself was a late and final addition to the Mojo Wire's third demo album, ultimately released in April 1999. Here's the original recording:

That's me on rhythm guitar, and Bryn's slide part keeps it from becoming too morbidly melodramatic. The song's generally okay, as long as you don't try to figure it out—but I think that has more to do with the music than any great lyrical insights from me. The original lyric hasn't stood up very well at all—it's just too vague. I was trying to peek into/out of my girlfriend's head and see things the way I thought she might, four months after her father's death in October 1998. As with so many things, I was younger and dumber and trying to be empathetic, but it didn't take very long for that "empathy" to seem like arrogance (or stupidity)—because really, it's a preposterously presumptuous act to assume what someone is feeling in a situation like that, and then try to make art from it. And yet I did it and even sang on the goddamn thing—in my first, worst, and only recorded Elliott Smith impression (Em and I were big into Elliott back then). Here's how he's really supposed to sound:

Thanks to Emily I'd also gradually gotten over my irrational hatred of '80s-era arena Brit-rock bands like Depeche Mode, the Smiths, and the Cure—and "Pisces" borrows heavily from the Cure's "Apart" from Wish:

The title also plays on the idea that a Pisces (her) and a Scorpio (me) are astrologically speaking a perfect match. We only found out about that six months later, but it fit, and a line from a contemporary Pavement song hit it on the head so I filched them both:

I think the Mojo Wire only played the initial version of "Pisces" live twice, on 2/16/01 and 4/12/01, because it didn't lend itself to the final, pile-driving Mojo lineup of Adam/Joe/Keir/Bryn. The song went into hibernation until I could figure out something to do about it—which finally happened in August 2002 when Bryn suggested (and Bill seconded) having Honey White take a crack at it. The rewritten "Pisces" kept the same title and subject/theme, but that was about it; the words, arrangement, and melody all got a systematic overhaul for Honey White:

"Pisces Lullabye" (2002 version)

It's only one o'clock in the morning
but it's already been a hell of a night
and she can turn off all intuition
as soon as you can turn out the light

Her aching heart's in no mood to argue
and you're not the one to put up a fight
and no amount of violent desire
is ever gonna make it all right

But you can never really give it a rest,
sleep it all off, or hope for the best

When you're only staring up at the ceiling
and you gotta think of something to say
You slip on the surrounding emotion
You're trying not to get in the way

She doesn't need another reminder
and you don't want to keep her awake
You can't imagine any tomorrow
You feel like it's a world away

But you can never really give it a rest,
sleep it all off, or hope for the best

The subject matter was still slightly problematic, but this was a more complete composition. "Pisces" gained a slinkier slide riff from Bryn, a new rhythm part from Brian, softer intro percussion from Bill, and a dissonant ending on an unresolved F-sharp chord. It was a considerable improvement from a songwriting perspective (the thing finally had a chorus! Amazing!), but musically, despite Honey White's great ability for subtlety, I think the tune didn't quite get the same languid, lullaby-like treatment as the original. HW was very much in a "less is more" stage during 2002, and I think, ultimately, that adversely affected "Pisces Lullabye." Here's a live take from April 2003:

"Pisces" was a live staple for Honey White in 2002/03, but the context—keg parties, my limited vocal range—forced it to be louder and rock-ier every time. By the time we tossed off a demo take of it during the initial 2004 How Far is the Fall album session in San Francisco, the song wasn't anything like a lullaby or ballad anymore:

Yikes, that vocal sure sounds like a first take. I think I better stop there before I degrade things any further. At least for now, anyway—next week I'll have another example of a Mojo Wire tune that benefitted enormously from a serious rewrite (and serious studio time) for Honey White. Stay tuned.

Song stats:
Music by Keir DuBois and the Mojo Wire (1999)/Keir DuBois and Honey White (2002).
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, February 1999.
Appears on the following albums:
Seaside Hamlet Skids by the Mojo Wire
Live and Unprofessional by Honey White
Epic Noise Now! by Honey White
Some Reassembly Required by Honey White

August 25, 2011

"There is no reward and there never was." a book, "The Rum Diary" was not as crazy as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," but it looks like they're trying to make it that way for the film. Plus Depp is too old to play the lead (though I'm told 30 was "old" in 1959). Also looks like they're combining characters on top of aging them a bit. On the other hand, it's Depp playing a Thompson alter ego again, and he knows how to deliver those lines. We shall see.

August 21, 2011

30 Songs #4 - The Shivering Sand: Neo-Victorian Surf-Noir Love Letters

Just kids, summer 1999.

"The Shivering Sand" is special for a lot of reasons, but mainly because I have never written a song as fast as I wrote this one. The whole thing—riff, arrangement, lyric, everything—arrived in a glorious six-hour fit of inspiration one evening in August 1998. When I introduced this series three weeks ago, I mentioned that I'm not a first-thought-best-thought creative type—and that's true—but I don't think I used the best example of a comprehensive exception to that rule. "Fatal Flaws" was a great quick riff, but "The Shivering Sand" was a fully-formed song right off the bat:

That's the song as recorded by the Mojo Wire in September '98 at the Nerison house in Laguna Niguel, with a great spiraling bridge and some ice-cold surf guitar on the solo. Adam, Bryn, and Kevin play on it with me. The song's changed slightly over the years, but not by much. Here's the story:

"Shivering Sand" grew out of a slippery bass riff in C# minor that I was fooling around with one night after work. At the time I was the only one living in the Bedrock apartment on Sabado Tarde in Isla Vista; the Modesto crew had moved out in June, and Bryn, Adam, and Ryan had yet to move in, so I could make noise with impunity. I was taking two classes that summer before senior year and working part-time at the campus bookstore, so my days were pretty full. At night, though, I had plenty of time to mope around I.V. and write lonely love letters to my girlfriend Emily, who was back in Oceanside at her summer job as a pool lifeguard.

The first draft of "Shivering Sand" lyrics was actually one of those letters, scrawled in multi-colored ink—and it was one of only two songs about her that Em's ever had to endure from me (more about the other one next weekend). She's never been one of those silly rock girlfriends or wives who wants love songs written for her, but for a very brief period in our relationship I was one of those silly smitten rock dudes who wrote songs for his girlfriend, and this is what it looked like:

"The Shivering Sand"

Don't you know how much I want to get you all alone?
The walls and halls are empty and my house is not a home
I miss the way you shiver and I miss the way you tease
I miss the way you shudder when I get between your knees

Shall we stand in the shivering sand?

Don't you know how much I want to get you all alone?
The fireworks behind your eyes don't sparkle on their own
All you need is passion and some rhythm on the side
A little wave will be enough to feed the rising tide

Give me your hand, give me your hand
Shall we stand in the shivering sand?

Don't you know how much I want to get your all alone?
I miss seeing the shadows when the sun is sinking low
Promise when you come back you will take up all my time
Promise when you come back I am yours and you are mine

So yeah, it's an unapologetic little lust jingle, but there is some weight behind it. I'd been mainlining music like Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels on a Gravel Road and Dylan's Blood on the Tracks (fallout of two bad breakups earlier that year), which made everything seem a little more intense. I swiped the title phrase from Wilkie Collins' novel The Moonstone, which I was slogging through at the time for a Victorian Literature class. I didn't enjoy it—Collins' "shivering sand" metaphor was supposed to represent repressed Victorian female sexuality, in all its desperate glory—but then of course I turned around and wrote a song about that very thing (I guess I was being the angsty one).

For balance, I tried to inject the mood of detached cool from songs like Dire Straits' "Down To The Waterline" (their first album was also on heavy rotation back then), and so "Shivering Sand" helped define the "surf-noir" sound on the Mojo Wire's subsequent Seaside Hamlet Skids demo album.

When the Mojo Wire roster shifted in early '99 to include Joe Zulli on guitar, Bryn moved to drums, and "Shivering Sand" became a harder-rocking song in concert. During 2000/2001, we re-recorded many Mojo Wire songs with this lineup, and since "Shivering Sand" had evolved a bit in the lyrics department (that's actually the 2001 version above), we took another crack at it for You're On Your Own, the final Mojo disc:

When Bryn and I started Honey White with Brian and Bill, we brought this song and several other Mojo tunes with us to pad the live set. "Shivering Sand" went through the same double rebirth as every Seaside song played by the Mojo Wire and Honey White. It gained a furious tom-tom intro from Bill and a full-stop break after the bridge, and was further punctuated by a screaming, dive-bomb guitar solo from Bryn. It usually showed up within the first 3-4 songs of every gig during 2002-2003. I was still using a pick to keep up with how fast we played these songs back then, and for this one in particular I'd switch the bass tone to something a bit sharper, emphasizing the riff that drove it all. Here's a Honey White live take from 4/30/03 at the Wildcat in Santa Barbara (complete with Bryn transposing verses 2 and 3):

So an old classic was made new again, and it survived in the set until early 2004. "Shivering Sand" hasn’t been played live since then, but Honey White took a few stabs at creating a ska/reggae/swing version in 2005 and 2010:

mp3: "The Shivering Sand" (ska/reggae jam, 10/23/05)
mp3: "The Shivering Sand" (swingy version, 12/27/10)

Now that I think about it, is it a little weird that I made Adam and Bryn sing it all these years? Heh. "The Shivering Sand" is one of my favorite accomplishments as a songwriter, because I'm not a songwriter very often—I'm a bass player who writes riffs and lyrics. Thankfully, every once in a while something more arrives and the guys in the band can help me make something really special. Tune in next weekend for more of the same.

Song stats:
Music by Keir DuBois and the Mojo Wire (1998)/Keir DuBois and Honey White (2002).
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, August 1998.
Appears on the following albums:
Seaside Hamlet Skids by the Mojo Wire
You're On Your Own by the Mojo Wire
Live and Unprofessional by Honey White
Epic Noise Now! by Honey White
Some Reassembly Required by Honey White

Live video: with Honey White, 4/22/03 on Musical Cafe TV:

August 14, 2011

30 Songs #3 - Dilemma by Design: Disjointed Down-Tuned Decision-Making

Honey White guitarist Brian Wolff bends reality yet again, here at Nicholby's in Ventura 4/20/05.

Most of my lyrics have taken a long, long time to finish. It's tough for me to pin down a piece of music with one emotion or interpretation, and it's even tougher if that piece of music isn't mine. Since I'm an infrequent composer compared to my bandmates, the latter happens way more often—and while it's always a fun challenge to interpret their tunes in a lyrical way, I want to make sure it's done right. When someone does you the great honor of letting you work with their music, you have to do it justice, you know?

I bring up this idea because it was the driving force behind my lyric for "Dilemma by Design," a Honey White song that's so new we haven't even done a full rehearsal of it yet. You can get a vague idea for the song via this demo Bryn and I put together, using an instrumental take from HW's December 2010 rehearsals:

We overdubbed Bryn's vocal part in April of this year after I finished the lyric, and added "Dilemma" to the 2011 quickie/freebie "Corridan" E.P. of new (and new-ish) Honey White songs, but to date the band hasn't actually played that song as a song yet. Still, I tipped the scales and included it at this point in the "30 Songs" series because lyrically, it's an effective sequel to the previous two, "Fatal Flaws" and "Mercy Rule" (but more on that later).

The lyric may be new, but the tune itself dates from about 2003 or 2004, when Brian first sent a self-produced demo to Bryn, Bill and I. Brian had just moved from Isla Vista/UCSB to San Francisco, and was churning out tons of disjointed, experimental pieces that basically blew our minds. He de-tuned his guitar, from standard down to D, so this piece became known as "the Drop-D song." Here's what the instrumental version sounds like:

mp3: "Drop-D" (instrumental version, circa 2004), by Brian Wolff.

It's a fantastic recording, but I believe it's sadly lost as a multi-track—Brian's PC imploded not long after he recorded this. It arguably doesn't even need lyrics, but again I saw it as a great challenge to write an irregular/non-linear lyric, just to see if I could meld my old style with Brian's new stuff. I feel kind of fortunate that I pulled it off, because if I hadn't I'm sure Brian would have done something brilliant with it as part of his new Neuro Farm project. If you've been following the Honey White news recently, you've heard about them already. Their debut album is very cool:

I so wanted Honey White to play "Bubble" from the above album, because it's my favorite Brian lyric of all time, but the 17/4 time signature is a pretty big hurdle for me and Bill to jump. Instead, I hope we can play lots of "Dilemma by Design" instead. Anyway, Brian's tunes are inspiring to write for ("Blacking Out," "Sweet Oblivion" etc.) because he seems to think about music and composition in ways that never occur to me as a compositionally-impaired bass player. Here are the lyrics:

"Dilemma by Design"

Sometimes she says the strangest things
So I only listen to her when she sings
But then I have to play along
And even if it's someone else's song

I could trust her because
She said just take your time,
It's all right, you'll be fine

Except I feel like I've been
Living in a world without sin
So many ways to lose your cool
So many ways to bend the golden rule

If you just take your time,
It's all right, you'll be fine

They say creation is divine
But it feels like dilemma by design
My job is so easy until
I lack the strength to go in for the kill

It looks fine now, but man oh man, this one took a while to get a handle on. I think the chorus came first—long before I'd even figured out what the theme would even be—so it sort of hung around for a long time just taunting me. Like "you'll never lash me to your type of rigid little lyrics, you bastard." But I did—and it took a fairly ugly 4-6 month period in 2010/11 to inspire that.

Why? Well, like I said, this one's about work—but inversely so when compared to "Fatal Flaws" or "Mercy Rule." Those two were loosely about the general banalities of a job (and of finding/keeping/staying interested in a job). "Dilemma" is more concerned with the ambiguous, and frequently un-envious, idea of middle management. Worse, it's about middle management screwing up a job/career I really enjoy: my past 7+ years as a professional creative. God, what a yuppie way to describe it—but of course I am a yuppie, which is just more grist for the mill here.

See, in my experience the marketing & design biz is a frustratingly contradictory thing. The balance between unbridled creativity and disciplined work is a precarious one—but I'm merely one in a long line of artists who have to deal with this reality. I side-stepped the music business version of this idea—lashing boundaries and limits to imagination—but ran into it head-on in design and web development. For better or worse, someone else is calling the shots—usually the person writing the checks—and in some cases that person often misunderstands the marketing process, as well as a designer's role in that process. Lack of respect often goes hand in hand with that. Not every client does this—indeed, the great majority of our clients respect our ability to help them get where they want to and need to be—but some are hard to work for even when you have to do it. That happens in every industry, though, so it's not like this is a unique observation.

Furthermore, it's obviously not always on the client, and it would be silly to pretend so. I've always felt weird about the ways people have to compromise when running a business; juggling finance, promotion, networking, inspiration, creativity, and the blurry line between art and commerce can be tough for anyone. I've seen otherwise smart, talented creatives fall on the wrong side of generation gaps, technological ability gaps, intuitive gaps, experience/inexperience gaps, and basic communication skills gaps. Sometimes they get right back up and sometimes they don't—and I've fallen victim to this stuff myself—but that's how we all learn, right?

But I should stop telling tales out of school before it gets me fired (yeah, right after a promotion, I know)—so let's get more figurative here, just for a bit. The "she" pronoun mostly refers to the Muse—an idea that I found fertile for other recent lyrics—but it's no coincidence that I primarily (and gladly) work with (and for) women, both as clients and colleagues. Whoops, there I go again with the real life stuff.

Anyway, all of that got poured into the "Dilemma" lyric, and that helped push it over the top into the "finished' pile. It's actually the most recent one I've finished, too—so it still may get tweaked a little here and there as we play it more often. That's about all I can do for this one, so tune in next weekend for some much older stuff.

Song stats:
Music by Brian Wolff (2004)/Brian Wolff and Honey White (12/2010).
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, April 2011.
Appears on the following albums:
Corridan E.P. by Honey White

August 07, 2011

30 Songs #2 - Mercy Rule: Chugging Candy-Coated Castor Oil

Wasting time on the people's dime, 2002.

One of the dirty little secrets of songwriting is that eventually, people run out of ideas and have to come up with creative ways of repeating themselves. This isn't unique to songwriting—all creative fields suffer from it, and I do this as a rule in web design every day—but it isn't necessarily a bad or uninspired thing. Case in point, for this second "30 Songs" piece, is "Mercy Rule" by Honey White:

"Mercy Rule" is sort of a thematic sequel to "Fatal Flaws," since they're both superficially about work-related problems, both have bluesy riffs in A, and both survived as instrumental jams for a long time before getting lyrics. I once described "Mercy Rule" as one my favorite Honey White songs, and I stand by that statement. We played it at almost every show since its debut in fall 2002, and I think it showcases HW at what we do best—playing off each other in an active way, as opposed to just running through the arrangement the same way every time. This is one of the songs where I belatedly learned to do that, and it's a lesson I've never forgotten.

Like "Fatal Flaws," this tune began its life in the last century, emerging sometime in summer/fall 1998 when the Mojo Wire was still active and assembling songs for our third demo album. The first incarnation of "Mercy Rule" was actually a surf instrumental, recorded to 4-track but now sadly lost. Some may say it bore a striking resemblance to certain video game theme songs (as played below by video-game-music-cover-band The Advantage):

…that also bore striking resemblances to old '60s hits by the Spencer Davis Group…

…but I'm told that was merely a coincidence at worst and a tribute at best. It never went anywhere, even after the Mojos took a second stab at it in 2001:

mp3: "Mercy Rule" (instrumental version, 11/01), a Bryn/Keir/Joe power trio jam.

However, there were at least five songs, in various stages of completion, that didn't make the final Mojo Wire album but later got some serious play by Honey White. The tune that eventually became "Mercy Rule" was one of those. It progressed from that jittery rock take linked above into a more reggae-like piece—mostly thanks to Bill's penchant for skillful syncopation—and was filling the instrumental-soundcheck-jam role at HW gigs by summer 2002.

Lyrically, this song is probably the whiniest result of my journey into the world of the 40-hours-a-week working crowd. When I finished school in December 1999, I had an English B.A. and not much else. Since most of my friends were still in school, I stuck around Isla Vista to play music and make some money—the former with the Mojo Wire (and then Honey White) and the latter at UCSB's bookstore and then HR office. Life as a university bureaucrat quickly became a slog of dull, tedious work—by the time I landed the HR job I was bored nearly every day—and the weekly exorcisms of Honey White rehearsals at the Table Salt studio were a welcome antidote.

"Mercy Rule" lyrics:

Too lazy if I work, too nervous if I steal
Too heavy if I hurt, too harmless if I heal
Too smart to waste the effort, too stupid to appeal
To anyone to superficially unreal

So please have mercy on me, I don't know what I want to be

Too many hours later, too much is still the same
Too close to losing everything and too scared to play the game
Too good to get the credit for taking all the blame
and too thirsty for the glory to feel any shame

So please have mercy on me, I don't know what I want to be

Too noisy on location, too quiet on the set
To notice if I might deserve exactly what I get
Too casual in theory to really break a sweat
Too busy at the moment to care about that yet

The choice ain't ever up to me, it's not the life I want to lead
So please have mercy on me, I don't know what I want to be

I think my main point of view here was just trying to get across that stereotypically stifling feeling I had from wasting 8 hours of every beautiful day inside an office cube. The other thing about this lyric is that I was glad it got finished, cause I'd rather not be that narrator with that attitude anymore. I had to get it out of my system just so I wouldn't think along those lines, cause it's just so lazy, selfish, and weak-minded. Candy-coated castor oil, as it were.

I stole the first line from the title of a book I'd been reading on the ins and outs of being a professional freelance writer. Apparently, it's now also the title of a BR549 song:

Anyway, after I slapped some words on it, "Mercy Rule" slotted into the 5th or 6th position in the live set, serving as a cool-down jam after four or five jumpy fast songs. During the 2003 shows, we played it a bit tighter—a semi-syncopated shuffle with little reggae left:

By 2004 it had moved all the way up to the opening or second slot, a high-energy blast compared to the slower and more epic proggy songs of that period. Here's a take from the Wildcat Lounge in April 2004:

By the time we finally got a studio recording of it in 2004/5, we had the song down cold. Engineer Jonathan Mayer had some fun ideas we tacked on for the album version (above), like a goofy baseball-stadium organ, an underwater percussion break, and Brian dueling himself in stereo for the guitar solos. Like some other songs of ours, "Mercy Rule" could have ended after the final chorus (and we do have an edit of that), but we chose to include the final few minutes of instrumental jamming so Bryn could take his solo too. My Morning Jacket took a similar approach to "Off the Record" from their "Z" album:

Post-recording, "Mercy Rule" kept its place in the 2005/6 live shows as one of the highlights, especially as the penultimate song of our short-but-intense Derby Club set in November 2005. We did rehearse it when Honey White reconvened in 2010 after a three-year hiatus, so I expect it will be around for a good while longer.

Song Stats:
Music by Keir DuBois and the Mojo Wire (11/01)/Keir DuBois and Honey White (9/02).
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, © August 2002.
Appears on the following Honey White albums:
Live and Unprofessional
Epic Noise Now!
Saturated Songs
How Far is the Fall
Some Reassembly Required

That's all, folks. Tune in next weekend for another round.

August 01, 2011

U2 360° Tour 2009-2011 Post-Mortem, Plus Belly Dancing

Yeah yeah, another U2 post—even though I promised to hold back. Plug your nose and go for it, or else click away fast.

So as I've said previously, I decided to blow off the 360° tour, after seeing a token show from the last three (PopMart, Elevation, and Vertigo). That proved to be a colossal personal mistake, but I won't dwell on that. Neither will I blather on and on about what sucked about U2 during their current "No Line on the Horizon" phase—other people have done that and I've wasted all my superficial vitriol on Obama hyperfans at other sites. This will be about the respectable side of the 360° tour, the setlist surprises and general willingness of the band to mess with a rigid stadium-level production. Also, they visited several cities for the first time, including Moscow and Istanbul. Here's a quick list of my favorite setlist surprises of unreleased, rare and old tunes (with live audio if I could find it on Grooveshark)—which differed across legs of the tour as it spanned several continents and Bono's injured spine:

"Ultraviolet (Light My Way)"
This epic Achtung Baby song had been mothballed ever since the final legs of the Zoo TV tour as it went Down Under in 1993. "Ultraviolet" usually preceded "With or Without You" on that tour's encore, and it did basically the same thing on 360°, a regular feature in which Bono sang the whole second verse an octave higher. Considering how shabby his voice had been on the 1997 and 2001 tours, that was a revelation. Undoubted setlist highlight for all of the 2009 and a few of the 2010 and 2011 shows.

"The Unforgettable Fire"
Title track of the band's arty 1984 album, which had not been played live since the end of the Lovetown tour in January 1990. The cynic in me understands that the band revived this track to promote the Unforgettable Fire album's deluxe 25th anniversary reissue in fall 2009—and indeed it did not appear in the 2010 or 2011 sets—but "Unforgettable Fire" did anchor a somewhat "ambient" section of the 2009 sets, and it fit in well with the more atmospheric pieces from the current No Line on the Horizon album.

Speaking of NLOTH, that's gotta be the one downside I'll mention. It wasn't a great album by a long-shot, but it was better than U2's previous two—and the four-song set opener from that album was gradually whittled to three, two, and then no songs at the show's kickoff. I think only two songs from that album were actually played at every show, and the album's relatively poor commercial performance virtually ensured its eventual demotion from a tour ostensibly promoting it. Still, "Breathe," "No Line on the Horizon," "Magnificent," "Unknown Caller," and "Moment of Surrender" (the unlikely 7-minute show-closing ballad) seemed to work well live. Less so were the awful singles "Get On Your Boots" and "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," the latter transmogrified into an intentionally jarring dance-mix version at every show. Allegedly the reasoning was 1) the transition from that silly song to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was supposed to disorient the crowd, and 2) it got Larry Mullen and his 50-year-old back out from behind the kit. Anyway, I'll keep going with the good stuff:

"Electrical Storm"
This lightweight tune (a bonus track from the Best of 1990-2000 compilation) was debuted in its "remix" form during the tour's first few shows (Barcelona, Nice and Milan) in the ambient part of the set. It didn't last long—only 3 performances—but was a pleasant surprise.

"Your Blue Room"
First major surprise of the non-regular-appearing tunes, this tune is from the U2/Eno/Pavarotti (!) Passengers collaboration. It's the most "U2" song on that album, and it was really cool that the band chose to debut it live (for 10-15 shows on the 2nd, American leg in 2009), but if you've ever heard the song, you'd know it wouldn't work well in a stadium-rock setting. The poor thing bombed. It was slow and boring and not at all what a casual fan would appreciate. Still, bonus points to the boys for trying. They'd get better.

New & Unreleased Songs:
This was THE bizarre-yet-cool surprise of the 2010 European shows: the band debuted several new songs live (and very shaky at times). The results were mixed but for U2, who has often been lashed to production marks and other setlist straitjackets, this was definitely a big deal. The songs were: "Glastonbury" (big fat rawk song written especially for the band's would-be appearance at the festival of the same name—until Bono hurt his back), "Mercy" (outtake from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, appeared on "The Complete U2" iTunes box set) "North Star" (another Atomic Bomb outtake, apparently written for Johnny Cash), and "Every Breaking Wave" (a No Line outtake). The first two were full-band rock-out arrangements, the latter two just Bono and Edge. Also appearing was a lackluster instrumental called "Return of the Stingray Guitar" (?!?) that tried and failed to open the shows with a bang, and "Boy Falls From the Sky," a one-off full-band performance of one of those silly Spider-Man musical songs. It wasn't very good, and structurally resembled another lost classic:

"Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me"
The only good thing about "Batman Forever," this unabashedly over-the-top prog-monster was a regular fixture on the 1997 PopMart tour, where it lurked deep in the encore, and hadn't been played since. The encore was where it showed up in 2010, though, replacing "Ultraviolet" (laser-jacketed Bono and all) for 90% of the shows in 2010 and 2011.

This semi-instrumental (the only lyric is the word "Rejoice") from the forgotten October album was brought in during the Oz/Kiwi leg in late 2010. It's actually pretty cool; Bono had been using a regular part of the set "MLK" to "Walk On" to talk about the imprisoned Burmese leader An San Suu Ki, and agitate via Amnesty International for her release. She was, of course, released from custody in November 2010—and so the band replaced that bit in the set with a reason to "rejoice." It stayed in the set until the tour's end—and was played many more times than it ever had been in 1981, the year of its release.

"Even Better than the Real Thing"
A Zoo TV and PopMart staple, "Real Thing" had sporadic appearances during Elevation in 2001, and then not much else until 2011—when it came back big as the set opener in South America and then the USA. Rearranged with a robo-disco beat and the slide guitar solo first, it was an instant jolt of energy, especially since the 2010 shows had struggled to come up with a kickass opener (the aforementioned "Stingray Guitar").

Major, major surprise—like "Real Thing," added in South America early 2011 and retained for the USA shows—the woozy title track from U2's experimental 1993 album had been attempted and then quickly abandoned as a bad job during Zoo TV. This time, however, it worked well (despite being shortened by a verse) in the slot that used to belong to "The Unforgettable Fire." Like that song too, though, "Zooropa" was probably trotted out to promote the upcoming re-release of its parent album (along with Achtung Baby) later this fall. Even so, it was a whiplash-inducing WTF of a surprise, and became a set staple until tour's end.

"The Fly"
Not exactly a stranger to U2's live shows (it regularly featured on Zoo TV, Elevation, and Vertigo), my favorite of all U2 songs was debuted way late in the tour—June 2011 in Anaheim. Coincidentally, that was the show I blew off and didn't go to (as I've said before). Whatever. Anyway, the song lost none of its skronky fuzzy freakiness—but again, I think it was unveiled for two reasons: the re-release of Achtung Baby and inclusion in the band's Zoo-themed festival set at Glastonbury 2011.

Now, it goes without saying that the rest of every 360° show was generally filled with what you'd expect: insanely expensive and probably excessive light/sound/stage production coupled with their overplayed, bombastic (and sometimes awesome) '80s hits, a few token '90s hits and several bland '00s hits. Considering all that, and the sheer length of this tour, it's a goddamn miracle that the above songs were played at all. Come to think of it, the weirdest aspect might just be that "Bullet the Blue Sky," their perennial guitar-freakout live workhorse monster, wasn't played at all on this tour. Not as strange as if "Streets" or "Pride" were dropped (though the latter was for long stretches at a time), but still. Live U2 without "Bullet" took some getting used to.

Anyway, that's that. I promise to get back to my own stuff. Finally, here's the entry for this month's 20-years-of-Achtung Baby, track 8 ~ "Mysterious Ways" (which also showed up frequently in the current tour set):

Watch the belly-dancer. You are getting sleepy. Okay, maybe that's just me. Time to hit the sack.

Update: Ho Lee Sheet: "Baby Grows Up"

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