U2: 360° at the Rose Bowl Blu-ray Review

U2 is the biggest, most successful rock band in the world thus deserving of the biggest concert setup, literally. Hearkening back to the confluence of technology and media that was the early 1990’s ZooTV tour, the 360 stage claims the honor of being the largest concert structure yet constructed and possibly most expensive (over $750,000 per day to maintain). Without seeing it in person (which I was lucky to enjoy last fall), it’s really hard to appreciate the scope of the “spaceship” theme including four claw-like 160 plus feet tall steel legs (each with its own sound system) lending support to interconnected expanding and contracting LED screens hovering above a center stage open in all directions with bridges to a surrounding circular walkway. To put it in perspective, I’ve been in smaller clubs that would fit inside this contraption that consumes the center of your local sports arena. Universal’s U2360 at the Rose Bowl BD (filmed Oct 25th, 2009 with some 97,000 in attendance while simultaneously broadcast on YouTube) is the closest you’ll get without actually witnessing “the Claw” in its live glory.

In some ways modern concert films are better than “being there” due to utilizing multiple cameras (27 in this case) and overlaying images (putting Bono and the Edge in the same frame when actually separated by over 50 feet on the enormous stage) plus cleanly recorded acoustics are yours to control from your home theater. Unless you sneak on stage you’ll never get this up close and personal to Bono and the boys, and in this sense you get the best seat in the house.

What this BD fails to do is consistently allow the hypnotic grandure of the 360 setup to shine through. Don’t get me wrong in that this mechanical marvel definitely shares top billing with the band and has numerous moments throughout the film where its use is integral to the U2 experience (including a video message from Bishop Desmond Tutu, astronauts in the International Space Station helping sing lyrics and band members walking its outer perimeter seeming to hover in the middle of the audience). Yet to achieve moments of intimacy like you’re on stage with the band, the “bigger picture,” which came through magnificently at the actual show, is sometimes sacrificed.

We can’t divorce the technological behemoth that is “the Claw” from the performances, but unless the latter are up to snuff what good is a massive freakin’ stage? U2 delivers two solid hours of multimedia extravaganza melded with a heavy dose of their 21st century tunes but also reaching back to perform fan favorites such as ‘One’ and ‘With or Without You.’ Renditions of ‘Ultra Violet’ and ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ are standouts and while I gravitate towards their 80’s/90’s output, even recent tunes like ‘Moment of Surrender’ and ‘No Line on the Horizon’ get some great “live” energy breathed into them. Fans who look over the full track listing may note the Rose Bowl performance of ‘Breathe,’ the song which consistently kicked off the 360 lineup, is for some inexplicable reason relegated to the supplements section.

  • Get On Your Boots
  • Magnificent
  • Mysterious Ways
  • Beautiful Day
  • I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
  • Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
  • No Line On The Horizon
  • Elevation
  • In A Little While
  • Unknown Caller
  • Until the End of the World
  • The Unforgettable Fire
  • City of Blinding Lights
  • Vertigo
  • I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
  • Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • MLK
  • Walk On
  • One
  • Where The Streets Have No Name
  • Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
  • With Or Without You
  • Moment Of Surrender

With this being the 8th concert film released by the band over 30 years, you’re bound to observe some canned dialog, repeated themes and songs you’ve heard many times before and possibly even prefer alternate renditions of (though I think ‘Ultra Violet’ is definitive here). For my tastes, I’d fall back on the 2001 Boston Elevation show that relied less on technology and more consistently let the songs speak for themselves. But the 360 tour is a different animal achieving its goal of encasing the Irish lads’ music and humanitarian message in an entertaining high-tech spectacle plus its their first filmed specifically for high-def. While this won’t become your “go to” concert on Blu-ray, its a fairly captivating show and fans of U2 will definitely find something to like here. Plus you’ve got to concede that “the Claw” is a really cool use of technology even if we only get glimpses of its full majesty here.

High-Def Presentation

Filmed natively in HD, we only get 1080i video on Universal’s BD but I doubt the bump to 1080p resolution would have made that much difference. This isn’t reference quality clean, crisp high-def where you can count every pore or feel the sweat dripping off Larry Mullen Jr’s brow but rather strives for a gritty feel. Low light conditions allow digital noise to run rampant in backgrounds and long shots with less than optimally resolved black levels. Lighting is a key part of the presentation encouraging over-saturated colors to flood the visuals accentuating the emotional impact of the songs (‘Ultra Violet’ is a prime example where the stage is shrouded in a deep blue hue and Bono’s suit and microphone are bleeding mesmerizing orange threads of light). On a second viewing, I was able to appreciate the intentionally raw aesthetic for what it delivers, but the rough and tumble video quality unfortunately robs the image of dimensionality. This is part of what keeps the magnitude of “the Claw” from being appreciated on this BD as wide shots can’t adequately show the relative scale and dimensions since the depth of the image is crushed.

Audio defaults to uncompressed PCM stereo but the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is more immersive with crowd noise in the rears that really comes into play when Bono lets the audience take over on vocals. The cleanly delivered music emanates through the front 3 channels with surprising amounts of bass, guitar and drums sharing the center with Bono’s vocals. In fact you could argue that the surround mix is “center heavy” and even LFE response isn’t overwhelming as a good bit of the bass frequencies are directed into the main speakers. You better have a beefy middle speaker as your average home theater in a box setup may not deliver the fidelity and separation of dense sound elements desired. Depending on your tastes, you may find the stereo mix with low frequencies bled into your subwoofer to be better balanced though I’d give the 5.1 a notch up for being more involving while still wanting a larger soundstage for the instruments.

Beyond the Feature

Most people probably aren’t checking out a concert BD for supplements but what we get is split between a really good 35ish minute HD feature on the 360 setup and a hodgepodge of 18 clips/videos running over an hour of which the majority have lowly SD quality that really made me appreciate what the Blu-ray visuals bring. The bigger deficit of the mixed videos is the lack of “play all” option with the added frustration that you can’t skip between them and each kicks you out to the main menu when done. Its a tedious effort to get through them all (as you have to go back into the extras menu 18 separate times) which only the most dedicated of fans will succeed at. Included is a 22-page booklet with photos from the show plus production info, and the case lists “ROM content” as Edge’s Tour Photo Gallery, Screensavers, Desktop Wallpapers and Weblinks which you’ll need a BD drive in your computer to access.

Squaring the Circle: Creating U2360 (34:43, HD) – Details the design, inspiration, economics and practicalities of the 360 tour setup. Time lapse footage of the construction is mixed with sound designers/engineers talking about how the acoustics work and the band is shown with artistic and technical designers including the architect of the expanding/contracting LED screens. This is the first tour since Popmart where every location (Europe and USA) gets a similar setup balancing the outdoor arena feel with the technical 360 design. The psychological impact of the 360/circle setup is delved into including how the crowd can get closer than ever but you want to be further back to hear and see it in all its glory. Also this is one of the most expensive touring setups ever, costing so much that the tour didn’t break even till well into the second leg.

U2360 Tour Clips (~16 min) – Eight clips, each averaging 2 minutes, from Dublin, Milan, Chicago, Poland, Toronto and Barcelona showcasing people in the street, fans from around the world, camera men, band members, show consultants and montages of the 360 construction. Bonus Track – Breathe (Live at Rose Bowl) (5:32, HD) – The opening tune to the show not used in the film. Berlin Time Lapse Video (4:09) Time lapse footage of the setup, actual show and tearing down of the stage. European Tour Opening – Barcelona (7:03) Montage of setup, fans and the band. Makes you appreciate how long true fans will wait out to get close to the band as the general admission line queued up well over a day early. North American Tour Opening – Chicago (10:02) Same as previous (but in America). Videos: Get on Your Boots (3:25), Magnificent (4:25), If I Don’t Go Crazy (4:14), If I Don’t Go Crazy (live) (3:50). Making of Get On Your Boots Video (2:12). Making of Magnificent Video (5:25).

Lastly BD-Live access is included and promises performances from later shows on the tour scheduled to run into 2011.

Not afraid to make a spectacle out of their live performances, U2 deliver the ultimate in multimedia entertainment with the biggest stage in rock music history, and Universal Music allows you to take it home with U2360 at the Rose Bowl. I’d love to say this is the most awesome BD concert released, but it just isn’t the case. Even though you’ve heard ‘Elevation’ or ‘Vertigo’ enough times already, the band always strives to entertain with great stage presence and performances above average across the board. Its mitigating factors like the center heavy audio and rough HD visuals that while by no means ruining the film limit its potential to convey what the technologically innovative 360 tour is all about. Still a worthy concert BD to check out especially for fans of high-def music.

– Robert Searle

Shop for U2: 360° at the Rose Bowl on Blu-ray at Amazon.com.

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