Film News TV News

What U2’s Deal with HBO Says About the State of Concert Movies

HBO, which previously scored with its Beyonce concert special, and U2 have announced they are partnering on two specials set to premiere in November. The first on November 7th will be a documentary going behind the scenes of the band’s current tour and “offering access to the band and team that worked with them on their current iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE world tour. It takes a look into the creation of the tour, which began May 14 in Vancouver and currently runs through November.” A week later, on Nov. 14th, HBO will air the band’s Paris concert from Bercy Arena which will actually take place on the same day. So, November would be a good time to borrow a family members’ HBO GO or HBO Now login information.

U2 is one of the best rock bands around, but they’ve become widely loathed, with one South Park episode playfully suggesting that Bono is quite literally a walking piece of shit (if you’ve seen the episode you know that I did not just misuse the word “literally”). As Salon recently profiled:

Despite [Bono’s] fame and ability to hobnob and hold his own intellectually with world leaders, he’s never quite grown out of being a loudmouthed Irishman who’s cheerfully, proudly imperfect and always having to apologize for social gracelessness. Depending on the level of fandom, this personality trait is either entirely charming or totally irritating, which no doubt explains quite a bit about why U2 is such a polarizing band. But it’s rare that Bono’s intentions are malicious, which makes the scorn he and the band receive that much more tiring

Yes, U2 is the band which annoyed the world by daring to try and give them a free copy of their latest album through iTunes. Yes, Bono now has bleached-blonde hair for some reason, the Edge fell off the side of the stage on opening night of the current tour, and they recently let Jimmy Fallon come on the stage to play “Desire” with them in Madison Square Garden. This is also the band which suffered a big personal loss when their longtime tour manager, Dennis Sheehan, passed away in May while they were on tour in Los Angeles. This is also a band who have loads of classic songs and put on good concerts (based on my one time seeing them in person and loads of audio bootlegs).

For the purposes of this site, though, what’s maybe most interesting about all of this is what it says about the state of the feature-length concert film/music documentary because it was only 7 years ago that U2 actually put a concert movie into theaters, albeit in limited release and designed for IMAX. Who could forget about U2 3D? Well, a lot of people, if going by box office.

I remember seeing that at my local theater with my best friend and fellow U2 fan along with, at most, 5 other random fans who also bought tickets that day. It was my first time seeing a concert movie in a theater, and it was a slightly odd viewing experience. At normal concerts, you don’t have to wear 3D glasses nor do you have Bono’s face jumping out at you at random intervals. Instead, you have fellow concertgoers around you dancing, singing and talking, all with the faint smell of marijuana smoke in the air. There must also be mandatory applause after every song. Not so much with U2 3D.

It only grossed $22m worldwide, $10.3m in the US/Canada, and in the time since then any concerts U2 have recorded have been released through their fanclub. That is, after all, what concert movies are – treats for the fans. Those treats are fewer and farther between lately, with the most prominent recent movies being 2013’s One Direction: This Is Us ($28m domestic), 2012’s Katy Perry: Part of Me ($25m dom.), 2011’s Justin Bieber: Never Say Never ($73m dom.), 2009’s Michael Jackson: This Is It ($72m) and 2009’s Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience ($19m).  At some point along the way, Metallica also released their experimental Metallica Through the Never ($7.9m worldwide).

None of them are as revered as something like Martin Scorsese’s 1978 classic The Last Waltz, chronicling the supposed farewell show for The Band, or 1970’s Woodstock or that weird Led Zeppelin movie (The Song Remains the Same) or…you get the point.  There used to be more of these things, although not as many as you might thing. It now feels like one of those things where the march of time has dictated that as music footage has become more accessible, with cell phones turning all of us into amateur documentarians at any show we see, a theatrically released concert film seems less special.

The older concert movies were more genuine fly-on-the-wall documentaries attempting to chronicle a moment in time or bizarre examples of drug-addled musicians pursuing confusing artistic impulses.  Such movies also predated a time when we had multiple cable channels (MTV, VH1) ostensibly devoted to covering popular music and music culture, not that such channels exist in that form anymore.  Now, concert films are more like natural extensions of global marketing pushes for the biggest bands of the moment, with the only such films making it into theaters being for younger-skewing artists whose concerts are already multi-million dollar theatrical productions anyway.  Outside of theaters, tons of bands release concert movies through fan clubs or simply let fans make their own with generous bootlegging policies at concerts because more and more bands desperately need free advertising for the quality of their concerts since they sure as hell aren’t making money off of their albums streaming on Spotify.  And if you’re U2 you try something interesting with HBO, especially since that U2 3D experiment in 2008 and Rattle and Hum in the late 80s didn’t exactly strike gold.

Now, for no reason other than how many times I’ve written about Batman elsewhere on this site I’ll close with the music video for U2’s Batman Forever song “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”:

Source: THR


  1. I think I have seen U2 two or three times in concert. I really enjoyed them on the Popmart tour but didn’t really enjoy them when Kanye West opened for them – I got there late and missed Kanye and I was in a general admission area where the view was terrible.

    I have never seen a concert movie at the cinema but own a fair few. I prefer live audio over live video. I prefer music documentaries over concert videos.

  2. The animus pointed at U2 is strange to me too. There must be some sense that Bono’s righteousness is seen as self-serving or cloying (though I don’t think it really is) and U2’s albums have not continued to evolve like they once did from album to album. They’ve kept changing, but not exactly going in good directions. The exception of late is the most recent album, which is really good but also not entirely new stylistically. I like that they went back to the punk/rock pop sensibility with this album. It works, for me, much more than the ethereal, discotheque-lite or whatever that seemed to dominate No Line on the Horizon and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. (I’ll admit that I may have given those albums only the briefest of chances, but the verve just didn’t seem to be there. I’m glad it’s back on this latest release.)

    1. The anti-U2 sentiment does seem largely centered on continued annoyance with Bono specifically. Plus, the idea of being the biggest rock band in the world or aspiring to be seems so antiquated now, and as you pointed out their new albums have not been nearly as popular as their older stuff. When I saw them in the No Line on the Horizon tour they had the black Eyed Peas opening for them, and there were loads of people who clearly only came to see them, leaving before u2 even took the stage. I have actually liked the most recent u2 albums, although over time No Line has been whittled down in my memory to just 3 or 4 good songs. I like the newest album better as a whole, although I have not really listened to it that much.

      1. I personally love Bono, warts and all. I actually find his bizarre mixture of selflessness (“Let’s save the world”), rock star bravado and self-effacing Irish humor endearing. The way he handled the free album on iTunes debate was signature him, but it ticked off a lot of people, as if he was not apologetic enough. All the internet outrage is overblown though because as best I can tell their concerts still sell out wherever they play.

      2. I love Bono too but I feel the last few U2 albums have been a bit “meh”. For the better, he has changed rock stardom – these days, so many bands and musicians have a section on activism in Wikipedia.

        I really hate Coldplay as they have always followed in the footsteps of U2, even hiring Brian Eno to produce, but with blander music.

  3. Bono and U2 are sound. Me and my peers used to go to see them regularly here in Cork in The Arcadia ballroom on Sarurday nights. I and most Cork people my age (I’m a year younger than Bono) will never forget the free open air concert they put on in 1985 in The Lee Fields as part of Cork City’s 800 Birthday heat celebrations. OK, they’re from Dublin, but then nobody’s perfect. Plus the small, indie punk band that I liked when I was an awkward teen went on to become the biggest band in the world. That in itself makes us immensely proud.

      1. The joke Bono has always said is something like when U2 first started they wanted to play like The Velvet Underground, Sex Pistols and The Ramones and any other number of great punk groups (or godfathers of punk), but they were so bad at trying to play conventional rock songs that they somehow came out sounding like U2. Plus, if you define the punk rock ethos as doing whatever you want on your own terms then that has largely defined U2’s career, even as they ballooned into the biggest rock band in the world. Still, they kept their home base (and recording studio) in Ireland, and they did crazy shit which they didn’t have to but clearly wanted to, like making the ZooTV tour some post-modern commentary on pop culture excess and the inanity of television.

        U2’s always been a really weird band, though, forever stuck between Bono’s rock-God ambitions and Irish humility and self-deprecating humor. Beyond that, are they a punk band? New Wave? Dance? Classic Rock? Rock? I always just think of them as U2. They were never good enough to sound like someone else, but they most definitely sound like U2.

      2. I always question when people call something that is mainstream as “punk”. An acquaintance of mine was in love with Miley Cyrus and kept calling her attitude so “punk” because she *seems* to do things on her own terms and manipulate things on her own, DIY etc. I doubt think she ever did the four guys in a rented van thing like the Minutemen. I could picture U2 doing that because it wasn’t really until their third album “War” they broke the U2 market.

        I label U2 as just “Rock” in my iTunes. Primarily their albums have been rock with exceptions such as Zooropa and Pop.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: