Music DVD Reviews: Review of U2: Zoo TV - Live in Sydney

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Buy your copy from U2: Zoo TV - Live in Sydney starstarstarstarstarLabel: Island
Released: 2006

Flashback to November of 1993: U2 was nearing the end of the Zoo TV tour, having been on (and off) the road for almost two years promoting Achtung Baby and, later, Zooropa. There were two U2 shows scheduled in Sydney, Australia. The first was on a Friday and was meant to be a dress rehearsal for the band’s live pay-per-view concert, which would take place on Saturday night. The Friday night run-thru has become famous because Adam Clayton’s guitar tech, Stuart Morgan, had to fill in for the bassist. At the time, Bono said that Clayton missed the show because he was sick. It was the first and only time that a member of the band missed a show. Years later, Bono revealed that the real reason Clayton couldn’t play was because he had a nasty hangover. He also admitted that the incident rattled the band, making them wonder about the long-term impact of Clayton’s behavior. The next night, during the Saturday show, Bono wondered if it would be the last time the band performed live.

Fast-forward almost 13 years, and the famous pay-per-view show is finally being released on DVD. The Zoo TV tour was monumental in many respects. It took place around the time that the band was at both its creative and technical peaks, which is quite evident given the content and band’s performance at the Sydney show. At the same time, the band was rejecting the rootsy feel of The Joshua Tree for the multimedia overload of Achtung Baby, while still incorporating terrific tracks from the former into the Zoo TV set list. Throw in the fact that – during the show – Bono seriously doubted the band’s future, and you have the makings of a very emotional night.

To set the scene, there are so many televisions and projection screens on the Zoo TV stage that it’s easy at times to lose the band. Bono’s larger-than-life stage presence still stands out, but Edge, Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. sometimes get lost in all the action. Still, the film is cut in such a way that the viewer is occasionally reminded just who exactly is playing the instruments.

In retrospect, the main set list was incredible. When heard live, the first riff of “Zoo Station” – arguably one of the best album openers of all time – still sends chills through my spine. The first part of the set is all Achtung – the band plays six consecutive tracks from the album, only pausing to interject an interlude of “Unchained Melody” at the tail end of “One.” Normally, six straight songs from a single album would be a bad idea, but when they’re off of the iconic Achtung Baby, it’s a whole other story.

Over the rest of the main set, the band included three of the best songs from Zooropa, which was actually released during the tour. The rest of the band leaves Edge alone on stage to go through “Numb,” his successful low-energy rap/rock experiment. “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” is performed on the B-stage, which juts out into the center of the stadium. The third Zooropa track, “Dirty Day,” starts with such a thunderous bass line that it seems like Clayton is trying to re-establish himself with the rest of the band.

After three Joshua Tree tracks – “Bullet the Blue Sky,” “Running to Stand Still” and “Where the Streets Have No Name” – the band closed the main set with “Pride (In the Name of Love).” And then something strange happened. Bono donned white makeup and little red devil’s horns, taking the form of one of his alternate personas, Mr. MacPhisto. Supposedly, this character represents the future version of The Fly, the rock star persona developed during the filming of the video of the same name.

In front of a vanity backstage, he sang the first part of “Daddy’s Going to Pay for Your Crashed Car” before returning to the stage to take the band into the six-minute version of “Lemon.” Everything about MacPhisto is off-putting, and his presence is the only real misstep in the entire concert. The opening bass line of “With or Without You” brought welcome relief from MacPhisto’s ramblings, but he still managed to interject his warbled voice into the chorus. Thankfully, Bono used his own voice to sing “Love Is Blindness” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” bringing the show to a somber, yet intimate conclusion.

The two-disc DVD set comes with special features that include bonus tracks (“Trying to Throw Your Arms around the World,” “Desire,” “The Fly” and “Even Better than the Real Thing”), footage from the fan video confessional, as well as a “Numb” karaoke video. There are also three short documentaries. “A Fistful of Zoo TV” provides facts about the tour and stage setup intercut with clips from the band’s humorous interview with MTV’s Kurt Loder. In “Zoo TV: The Inside Story,” Edge takes us on a tour of the stage and talks about the genesis of Zoo TV. Finally, “Trabantland” investigates the band’s fascination with the odd East German car, which appeared in the “One” video and as set pieces during the arena legs of the tour.

Save for the presence of Mr. MacPhisto, Zoo TV: Live from Sydney is a spectacular snapshot of one of the world’s biggest bands at the height of its power. The concert takes even more meaning when you consider Clayton’s actions the night before, and the resulting uncertainty that the band faced during the pay-per-view show. Simply put, this is the quintessential U2 concert film.

~John Paulsen