Perhaps it was just the time when I went to see “U2 3D” (noon on a Sunday), but the audience seemed to skew a bit too mature for my comfort — hairlines that had not receded so much as suffered a follicular holocaust. This is the crowd for a rock concert?
Then I remembered that the last time I saw U2 live was quite literally half my life ago. The Sugarcubes, who were still together, opened for them, as did the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. I saw the eternal roadie hold my “One” T-shirt and U2-branded condoms and snicker, and in short, I needed a nap.
Such thoughts braced me to see that age has likewise caught up with the band, but if it has, they're hiding it well. “U2 3D” is one hell of an energetic concert film, but it's more than that: It's a piece of pop art, and a damn good one, too.
Going to a 3D film, one expects the usual gee-whiz effects, mostly Stuff That Sticks Out, and there is plenty of that — mic stands and guitar necks right in your face — but that's just the thin edge of it. This film is the first to fully grasp the potential of a three-dimensional canvas. Graphics are layered one on top of the other to form tableaux, shots of the giant pixellated backdrop screens hang in transparency in front of the band, as if floating over the audience. Letters fall down to the stage like some hallucinogenic Sesame Street rainstorm. The real world fades seamlessly into animation and back again before you realize you'd left the crowd.
When that's not going on, the effect is used subtly enough that after awhile it begins to feel less like a 3D movie and more like a visually well-layered and textured film, which it is. It's not quite like you're there, but it's as close as you're going to get sitting in a theater, and I personally found myself wanting to jump up and down with the crowd as if I were among them.
The set list is a mix of the new and the old going back all the way to “War,” and the band plays with nearly as much frenetic enthusiasm and earnest activism as they did 20 years ago. Bono's still playing the crowd as ever he did. Little is diminished from what it was. Overall, it's one hell of a show, unmissable even if you're just a casual fan, and it will likely stand as a landmark in the band's career.
If only the 3D glasses were Bono goggles.