I’m a big U2 fan. Have been for 30 years, when I first heard the opening of “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and was amazed that rock music could feel so open, so freeing. I’ve been down for every album since then (including their wrongly maligned Songs of Innocence, which is a really good record and…I’ll stop now), though I only saw them in concert once, in 1992 during the Zoo TV tour.
If you aren’t already hip to it, U2 has been using Meerkat on their current Innocence+Experience Tour. Each night they pluck someone out of the audience and give them a specially rigged phone that’s hooked up to not only livestream to the outside audience but also to the huge screens they have suspended above their stage. It’s an incredible moment for that fan and brings a premium view to anyone watching at home.
As I was watching one such stream I noticed I was hearing the drums in particular live, not through the stadium sound system. And I could hear Bono actually singing just feet away from the device, again, not through the speakers. They were there. You could see them looking at each other. You could hear the actual instruments. Their movements around the stage looked less epic than they do when you watch a clip of a U2 concert on YouTube or DVD. There’s no editing, no special intro…It’s just a band. Compare that to this highly-edited clip from a 2010 show.
We talk a lot how social media allows brands and companies to really connect with the audience on a more personal level. That kind of statement has always contained a certain amount of buffalo chips since, if we’re being totally honest, social network publishing isn’t really about making everyone hold hands and feel awesome, it’s about leveraging the strengths of a tool to try and sell someone more stuff.
But this kind of moment really delivered on that idyllic, occasionally naive promise. This was the biggest band in the world (sorry Rolling Stones fans…) completely devoid of their usual pomp. All the lights didn’t matter. The sound mix was set aside. They were raw and completely stripped down. Their brand image was pulled down and what was left was…and I can’t believe I’m about to say this…an authentic connection and experience.
There are chances for real (gulp) authenticity. But they involve stripping away all the artifice from the presentation. And those opportunities are fewer and farther between than you may think.