Sound — 7
If there is one word to describe the experience of PopMart in general it is "ecclectic". You'll either love or hate the Pop album that the tour is designed around. Pop is a rather deep album which unfortunately masquerades as a German Disco. From the cries of peace in "Please" to the darkly seductive "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" the album tries to mash meaning with the dance floor. Most of the time U2 is unsucessful with this hybrid. Fortunatley, most of the album, which was rushed out the door as pre-booked tour dates loomed closer and closer, was remixed intensly for the Best of 1990-2000 collection. Are these rehashed renditions what U2 had orignally intended? That question remains to be answered, but the absensce of the sometimes overly produced synthesizers and Eno inspired wackiness lets listeners actually hear U2 the way they are used to. For the show presented on the DVD, the band is still entranced with the dance floor. They add techno influence to their earlier hits, which bodes well for songs like "Mysterious Ways" and "Even Better than the Real Thing" of ZOOTV stock, but classics like "Where the Streets Have No Name" feel strained and strange. The real meat of the concert begins with an acoustic rendition of "Staring at the Sun". The acoustic guitars give the song an almost Fleetwood Mac feel, unlike anything from the Pop album. From there The Edge plays "Sunday Boody Sunday" solo; the capoed guitar hauntingly filling the silent stadium as Edge sings the verses. The rather intimate mood is suddenly shattered as the abrasive guitar whine of "Bullet the Blue Sky" rocks the stadium. It is here that the band really gets into a groove- Edge uses the wah pedal to great effect, uprooting the song's Joshua Tree origins and catapulting it into the Pop era. The song is exhausting to watch, with Bono pouring out the sarcasm, irony, and dread on the audience in a most MacPhisto form. Then comes "Please". The song is a sort of sequel to "Sunday Bloody Sunday", another cry for peace; in fact as Bono delivers the bridge verse, Larry Mullen Jr. pounds out the snare line to "Bloody Sunday". "Please" is Pop's most powerful and forgotten song. At least the band recognizes it's importance, as the audience seems rather bored with the piece despite the intensity that Bono delviers the lyrics with. After that string of intensity, the band once again becomes enarmoured with disco scene. They descend form their humorous mirror ball lemon and deliver the obligatory "Discotheque" which any PopMart show would feel incomplete without. However, they do deliver the knockout punch as "If You Wear that Velvet Dress" fades into "With or Without You". Once again, the classic U2 shines through. The audience is equally delighted, each of them holding a lighter in the air to the point where the stadium seems to have caught on fire.
Content — 7
This concert was filmed on December 3rd, 1997, at the Foro Sol Autodromo in Mexico City. If you remember the ninties, you'll recall that this show was released on VHS and as an excclusive audio CD to U2 fan club members (Hasta la Vista Baby). Like the ZOOTV DVD, this means that the film is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, so your wide screen won't be totally filled with the eye catching visuals that PopMart throws at you. The special edition DVD includes a second disc with lots of bonus tracks. Part of the July 18, 1997 Rotterdam show is presented, but is largely forgettable as Bono performance is rather subpar. Some footage from the June 14, 1997 Edmonton show is also shown, but again it doesn't compare to the feature concert. The documentaries are what really make the second disc worth while, although I found the menus incredibly difficult to navigate. So much technology was used to make this show happen, and so many quirky set pieces are used, that the behind scenes shorts a well worth watching. From a tour of the giant lemon to an explination of the 170ft x 56ft LED screen, the technology used is impressive, even by today's standards.
Production Quality — 9
As I said before, the PopMart tour utilized a lot of technology, much of it experimental, and almost all of it new. The sythesized sound of the band, the looming LED screen, the neon glow bordering the stage, and the bright colors all reek of the 90's tech boom. The show is fun to look at, there is so much going on, so many distracting elements, which is what U2 was trying to for, the overwhelming pressure of the consumer world, a supermarket on stage. The images displayed on the LED screen in songs like "One", "Please", and "Bullet the Blue Sky" let you forget for little while about the band's stumbling steps as they attempt to escape the trappings of rave clubs. The camera work is equally creative. The stage is meant to be filmed. Cameras hung on cranes fly across the stadium, brigning the viewer from the nosebleed seats, right onto the stage, all the while surveying the neon exuberance of the massive yellow arch that crowns the stage.
Overall Impression — 7
The Pop era for many was when U2 took it too far. The brash punkiness of Boy and War and the melodic intensity of Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree was totally abandoned. With Achtung Baby and Zooropa the audience knew that U2 was making a mockery of consumer culture, but with PopMart the band embraced it to the point where fans were questioning whether or not the band was trying to be ironic or had finally given in to the Rock n' Roll lifestyle. So, from a mediocre album, we get a mediocre show. Sure, the concert has its moments, but they are grounded in the band's past hits, not the new songs that the band was touring for. PopMart doesn't hold a candle to the post-cold war genius of ZOOTV and the over all quality can't compare with the Elevation or Vertigo shows. But, it's legacy is still felt. The Elevation stage originated when designers decided to turn the golden arch of Popmart on it's side, creating the fan-filled pit we witnessed in the middle of the heart and the raving crowds that occupied the inside of the ellipse. What does U2 do with the Pop material today? Check out Elevation: Live form Slane Castle to see another acoustic rendition of "Staring at the Sun", but besides that the album seems to embarrass the band. Of course who knows what the future holds, hopefully songs like "Please" will make a reprise in later tours.