Friday, January 25, 2008

More from U2 in Utah

Good interview with Bono and Edge over at USA Today. One quote:
"When the band arrived in Mexico to start the film production on the South American leg of the tour, [Bono] says, "I'm embarrassed to say I wasn't looking the best. I don't think I'm the most vain of rock 'n' roll stars you'll meet, but I had a panic attack at the thought of a 3-D, 40-foot arse. But by the time we got to Buenos Aires, I was back on track. But some of the shots I can see, I can't help thinking, 'You fat bastard …' "
There was a trailer before U23D for an upcoming Rolling Stones IMAX show. Janean commented after the show that compared to the emaciated, heroin-chic Rolling Stones, U2 seemed massive. Maybe they were massive in their own right. No comparisons required.


Is it getting better, or do you feel the same?

I'm glad to see Dell and Microsoft join together to create a PC for Product(Red). At the same time, I can't help but recall an awakening experience I had in my closing weeks as a Dell employee in late 2006. I was a peripheral member of Dell's product development team and I suggested we get in touch with the Product(Red) organization to explore the concept of producing a PC for them. We were developing several red notebook PCs at this point and it seemed like a natural fit. This was around the time Bono went on Oprah to launch the Product(Red) in the US. The organization had been active in Europe for seven or eight months at this point and I had been following it closely. The product team leads I suggested this to were intrigued by the idea and they brought it up with others, but the idea was shot down because, I was told, Bono was perceived as being too closely aligned with Apple, referring, I suppose, to the U2 edition of the iPod and Apple's use of U2 concert footage in video iPod marcomm.

So I let it rest. Fast forward a few weeks. I was in a product development meeting with the same team leads I suggested the idea to and their manager told the team that Michael Dell was interested in reaching out to the Product(Red) team to see if we could designate an upcoming red laptop as a Product(Red) product. That's a great idea, I remember thinking.

Anyway, the lesson to me that day was to trust my instincts. I may not be the most eloquent chap around, but I have some decent ideas from time to time. No hard feelings. That's part of corporate life. Of course Michael Dell's ideas are going to be easier to act on than an idea from some grunt in the product group. It does remind me of a certain FedEx commercial. Remember the one?

One of the things I was struggling with that very week was whether or not I should accept a job at Comcast Interactive Media. In retrospect it was a no-brainer, but in the moment it was a very difficult decision. There were no guarantees, but my instincts told me that the opportunities for me would be better if I made the move. 14 months on, I can say making the switch was the best career decision I've ever made. More importantly, it has worked out well for my family as well.

Back to the Product(Red) PCs by Dell & Microsoft. It looks like they may be forcing buyers into a higher-margin config and not allowing them to delete down to a more basic config. That may make sense from a branding perspective -- sell it as an aspirational product, but in this day of comparison shopping, it makes Dell and Microsoft appear to be placing profits over the charitable spirit of the Product(Red) campaign. Dell is a very charitable company and I was extremely impressed with the culture of giving back while I was there. They should bring this product into alignment with those principles and allow people to buy the lower end config and still have some of the funds go to Africa. Actually, this looks like a Microsoft issue to me. Dollars to donuts they're marking up the Product(Red) version of Vista and Dell is passing on the cost. For what? A couple of widgets and a screensaver? What's the marginal cost of that? I guess they have to differentiate or else every PC would become a Product(Red) PC and then they'd have to give money to Africa on every PC sold. That could get pricey. One of the principles of Product(Red) is that it is sustainable. It makes sense for everyone. Unfortunately, the side by side pricing comparison makes Dell and Microsoft look they're protecting their profits before supporting the charity.

I don't want to sound too negative. I think it is great that they are doing this. It is tough to get big corporations mobilized for this kind of effort and to align interests, but I think they should find some some additional differentiation points that are valuable to the consumer. Something beyond screenshots and a widget. Err on the side of compassion. Just my two cents.


Give me one more chance, and you'll be satisfied...

Here it is. By popular demand. My U23D post show analysis.

Janean and I went to see U23D on Wednesday night at the IMAX in King of Prussia and it was a lot of fun. I was struck by the differences between seeing them live and seeing them in 3D in a theater. There is no comparison to actually being there -- not even close. The sights, smells, anticipation and sense of community that come with a live U2 show cannot be rivaled by a passive theatrical experience. I don't think anyone ever expected it to be on par with attending an actual concert, but the press hype made it sound almost as good. I guess those journalists haven't been to an actual show. Watching the band up close in 3D made me long for the actual live experience.

Echoing one of the reviews I read, some of Bono's stagecraft seems out of touch with a theatrical experience (hugging the camera/audience or waving his arms like a bird) but I didn't notice anything that contrived in the live show. It just works live. In the theater it brought some snickers. Which is another thing -- when you've been waiting for hours for a good seat on the floor of a live show, surrounded by people who have done the same, everyone is fully invested in having a phenomenal experience and there is no snickering. Not so in the theater. That was a bit of a buzz-kill.

Am I being too harsh by comparing this movie to their concerts? Maybe. But as immersing as it was, the irony of this show is that by trying to draw me into the moment, it pushed me into a mental state where I was comparing it to other moments. Perhaps I'm quibbling. Oh, one more thing. I wanted to yell and clap and cheer, but I would have been the odd man out in the theater. I bet if I had, a few others would have joined in, but the convention of the theater kept the fans in their shells.

As I watched the film, I remember thinking that I wish the closeup shots of the stage were a bit longer. As a long time U2 fan who has read several books about the band, I'm very interested in the minutiae of what it takes to make these shows happen. The shots of Larry's drum kit were very intriguing. There's so much detail there, so much complexity in setting up the kit just right. He had a half bottle of orange drink sitting by him in a few shots. You could see where he puts his extra drum sticks. Seeing the stage close up was a real treat. In everything I've read, Larry is the anti-Bono. Where Bono is impulsive and loud, Larry is methodical and reserved. But we see so much of Bono and Larry usually waits in the shadows or behind his kit. It was refreshing to see more of him up close. Just one example.

The set list was great and the sound was impressive. This is a fun show and everyone should see it. Best. IMAX. Ever. Just not better than the real thing.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Like a Preacher Stealin' Hearts at a Travellin' Show

Regular Faraway, So Close readers (hi mom!) will know that I grew up in North Salt Lake, Utah. Extra astute readers will recall that as a young lad my only way to experience U2 was through vinyl and the pages of Rolling Stone. Rarely would Bono and the boys set foot anywhere near the Wasatch Front. So I move away and what happens? They premiere a film at Sundance. I posted recently about my concerns that this would be yet another 3D gimmick. Well the initial reviews are out and apparently THIS FILM TOTALLY ROCKS! And this from a typically jaded and disaffected cadre of music journalists. So I guess it ain't bad. Here are a few links:

In addition to a content commentary, Wired takes a technical angle.

I would have loved to be there for the Q&A.

Bono pays a complement to Salt Lake music & radio & says they'll be back.

Several articles, including this one from The New York Times, commented on people in the real audience joining with the virtual audience in raising their cell phones, probably during "One."

Janean and I bought our tickets for Wednesday night's show at 9:30 on Fandango. Now all we need is a sitter! Since I saw the Vertigo tour three times (once in Dallas and twice in Tokyo) and Janean didn't get to see it at all, I'm excited for her to be able to partake.

Want more details, such as showtimes? Go go or the U23D website.

(Photo credit goes to Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Liberty Bell Smiles

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Here Is What Is

If my friend JT Ramsay has taught me anything*, it's that I'm not a music critic. Still, I have to say that I'm very impressed with Here Is What Is, the latest album by frequent U2 collaborator Daniel Lanois. He released the album online last month and Janean got it for me for Christmas. This is a really amazing album -- much more dynamic than other things I've been hearing lately.

* Let the record show that JT, who can't stand U2 OR Arcade Fire, hasn't taught me much. ;-)

Your Huddled Masses

What to do on New Year's Day? Clean the house or go to New York City? This is one of the advantages of living in Philadelphia -- we're less than two hours from New York! So the house is a mess, but we had a great time with the kids visiting Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

Unfortunately, we left the good camera at home, so all we have are photos from the iPhone.