There is a natural connection between a band and their fans. From the smallest club to the biggest stadium, when they’re on stage and performing and the crowd is singing along, you can feel that moment between them. It’s different for every band, of course, that level of connection, the level of commitment, but I’d venture to say that the most successful bands are the ones who nurture that connection the most, or who are naturally good at growing the connection. It’s getting the crowd to be walking across the street to the parking lot, all singing 40 as they go, that’s what makes the difference. But there’s a further level of connection which is what I’m talking about today, and it’s one that U2 have been working on very hard for many years.
In television or theater they call it breaking the fourth wall, when an actor reacts or talks or somehow communicates with the audience directly, rather than with other people in the show. You get this anywhere from a direct glance toward the camera, to a comment to the audience that the rest of the cast don’t react to, or even an actor directly speaking to the audience. It can work really well when done in small amounts.
In the case of a band though, they talk directly to the audience all the time of course. They sing their songs along with the audience, they speak to them, anything from introducing a song to a long soliloquy in Bono’s part. So talking to the audience is not a big deal. But they can still break the plane, and in this case what I’m referring to is blurring the lines between the stage and the crowd, anything to get that connection going. It can be as simple as Bono crowd-surfing at the Roxy the other week, or it can be as complex as what they’ve been doing this tour, pulling people up on stage, handing them a phone and having them control the big screen, and broadcasting the picture to the world.
This is what I’m talking about today, that most personal of connections, allowing people into the show. I’m talking about my first ever U2 show, where I remember them pulling some guy up on stage, handing him a guitar and having him play Desire along with them. They did that on the I+E tour recently too, although it got a little out of hand. They released a recording on U22 where some guy in the crowd screamed out “Party Girl” and Bono broke off for a few seconds and sang it a cappella. For a show that is usually very scripted that’s an interesting split.
And back to I+E, Deanna made an interesting comment on Twitter last night. The band have been coming outside and meeting and talking to folks in the GA lines before the shows. Her comment was that they have been connecting with folks out there and then noticing and using those folks within the shows. Her example last night was the Mirrorball Man, who I had seen pics during the day outside with Bono, then during the show Bono pulled him up on stage to film them. Or Deanna herself, who gave Larry a copy of her book (awesome!), and then after the show Larry tossed her his drumsticks. Another picture I saw last night was that Dallas Schoo had tossed some guitar picks to some fans, whether show used or not I don’t know. But it’s the connection that matters.
I’ve seen some comments recently by Adam, saying that the band has had the feeling that they don’t need to reach out and touch the whole world any more, that they have a huge enough audience now that it’s okay if they just reach those fans. Not just commercially, but artistically. And frankly that would be fine with me. If they would tour 20,000 seat arenas all the time, and it was 20,000 true U2 fans versus a stadium with 20,000 true fans and 80,000 folks there for the spectacle, I wouldn’t mind. Of course, I’m being a little selfish here, especially since I’m the kind of person who will go to shows whenever and wherever I can. I’m not a 100 show fan, I’ll be at something like 17 or 19 or so in a couple of weeks, but I would tour with them if I could. Because even though I’ve never met them, I do feel that connection between folks like Deanna and U2 Brother. I love that about the band, the way they have brought us all together.