Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Best U2 Songs You've Never Heard

According to my sources (and I have many of them), there ought to have been a new U2 album out about now. The U2s have been fairly punctual about getting a solid album out every four years or so, with a tour following about six months later. I know this, because at this point my little biological rhythms have adjusted to expect these things at regular intervals.

But for reasons known only to God and Bono, they've decided to delay their album until next spring, so I'm trying to make do until then. In the meantime, let's have us a playlist! In lieu of any new material, I present a list of little-known gems you've (likely) never heard before, unless you've taken an extensive amount of road trips with me in the past eight years or so.

Since the vernerable playlist-sharing site muxtape.com seems to be well and truly gone, I'm happy to do this the old-fashioned way and send a copy to anyone who wants one. Yay mail! Let the geek-out begin:

1. Big Girls are Best: A product of the Pop sessions, this is a dancey little number with saucy lyrics about why real women have curves.

2. Lady with the Spinning Head: I'm pretty sure that this was a prototype of "The Fly" from Achtung Baby (the guitar solo is a giveaway), but it stands on its own.

3. Walk On ("America: A Tribute to Heroes"): You've probably heard the original single from All That You Can't Leave Behind, but this version was part of a telethon to raise money for survivors of 9/11. Recorded live 10 days after the attacks, Bono and company turn a self-empowerment song into an ode to their adopted city of New York, and wrench a million guts in the process. Fun fact: Aussie pop star Natalie Imbruglia on backing vocals!

4. Dancing Barefoot: Sexy little cover of a Patti Smith song, originally featured as a B-side to Rattle and Hum's "When Love Comes to Town."

5. If God Will Send His Angels (Single Version): An overlooked track on the undeservedly maligned Pop album. The trouble with Pop is that is was finished a bit too quickly, but there was some good stuff there. This single version is a bit more polished than the album version, and is really lovely. It builds slow, but give it time. You'll be glad you did.

6. Always: Clearly a precursor to "Beautiful Day," but with some nice Bono aphorisms. He's good at those.

7. Sunday Bloody Sunday (Live from Sarajevo): So here's the story: It's 1997, and the city of Sarajevo has spent the better part of the previous four years getting the shit kicked out of it during the Bosnian war. The war is over, but the people are still reeling. U2 bring their PopMart extravaganza to town in September, providing the people of Sarajevo with their first excuse to party in years (U2 would repeat this form of rock therapy during their epic post-9/11 shows in NYC, but that's a blog in itself...). In the middle of the show, Edge steps out on stage and does a lovely, fragile, stripped-down version of their classic anti-war anthem all by his lonesome. Not a dry eye in the house.

8. Slow Dancing: U2 and Willie Nelson! And it really, really works!

9. Stand By Me (with Bruce Springsteen): Oookaaaay...so it goes off the rails a bit during the ad-libbing towards the end, and the sound quality is more than a little dodgy, but it's freakin' Springsteen and freakin' Bono, doin' what Springsteen and Bono do. I think this is from a 1987 show in Philly, but don't quote me on that.

10.The Ground Beneath Her Feet: This appeared as the last track on All That You Can't Leave Behind everywhere...except the U.S. It's based on a Salman Rushdie novel and was featured in the little-seen Wim Wenders movie Million Dollar Hotel, co-written by Bono, and starring Mel Gibson (yes, you read that right, check it). But despite that confusing pedigree, it's quite a pretty little love song. Phew! I haven't had a good U2 geek-out like that in some time. That should hold me until tickets go on sale.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Vegas and LA

I just got back from a long weekend out in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. I don't get out that way much, and with all due respect to my west coast friends, LA is not really my bag. The side venture to Vegas was kind of my present to myself for having to go out to LaLaLand for my cousin's wedding. I'm a Northeast Corridor chick. It can't be helped.

Which isn't to say that there's nothing of merit out there. Counterintuitive though it seems, a quick dose of Vegas can be good for the soul. It's one of the last places where everything is designed to make you feel really damn good about yourself, if only for long enough to convince you that there is no better way to pass the time than to wantonly throw away cash. I've got five minutes before the airport shuttle comes? Whatever shall I...oh hel-LO $5 roulette! God forbid I stand by idly for three seconds! This makes perfect sense! Whee!

Enjoy it while you can -- the hotel staff are super nice to you, everybody wants to give you booze or sex or both, and all the casinos pump out cheesy power pop that makes you feel like you're in a montage of some good-time 80s movie. If you haven't ever strutted down the Strip while you're all dolled up even though you have nowhere to be (though nobody knows that), while EMF's "Unbelievable" blasts out of the Monte Carlo, I highly recommend it. It's good for the ego. And if you've just won a big, bad $21 during 75 minutes of cheap roulette, all the better. Strut like it's $21,000, baby. Just strut.

The trick is to get out quickly. You don't need to spend more than a night or two there before the beer goggles come off, and you need to think about getting the hell out of Dodge. Vegas is a one-night stand of a town, and I love that about it. Wham-Bam-Thank ya, MGM Grand. Off to LA.

We met up with Mama and Dadoo Shep, who seemed to think that it was a good idea to immediately rent a car upon landing at 6pm, and drive across the desert to LA. We weren't driving, so this seemed okay to us. I was a little bummed that I couldn't see Death Valley in the daylight, as it really is like nowhere else in the country, but it's still pretty striking at night. It's all imposing mountains that come right down to the road, and loooooong expanses of nuthin' punctuated by scrub and Joshua trees. I liked the Joshua trees a lot. Even when they're just silhouetted they look like something from another planet. Really, the whole drive is like being on the moon.

It took five hours to get to the Simi Valley, just outside LA. For all my bitching about the City of Angels, Simi Valley is gorgeous country. The Parents Shep really did well here, as they found a lovely $60/night hotel with a beautiful pool surrounded by gardens and hummingbirds, and hosting a surprising number of guests who liked to have very loud intercourse. Which is all well and good, except when it's seven AM, and they feel compelled to do so several times in a row. That's when it stops being impressive and starts being annoying.

Even my cousin's wedding was lovely. My cousin Stephanie is what some may call a "free spirit," and others may call a "damn hippie," and I'm pretty sure she'd be delighted to be called either. She and her friends basically arranged the whole show, which was held at a yoga/Kabbalah retreat in the mountains, and the wedding featured a standard bearer and fire dancers. If that sounds awful, I don't blame you, but you'd be dead wrong. They pulled it off beautifully, and you could really feel that these kids were ecstatic to help marry off two of their own. Feel the love.

So I softened a bit on the west coast this time out. I'd still choose NYC over LA any day of the week, no question, but it was a great little visit. I even caught up on my reading. I usually tend to read things by folks who have been dead for a minimum of 100 years or so (what can I say, I'm a sucker for a good governess story), but this trip I upped my hip quotient by finally reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson and Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman, both of who write like I wish I could. I then negated my hip points by tearing through most of Watership Down on the trip back because, well, because I like bunnies, dammit.

One last note: It bears mentioning that the MGM Grand is known for having photos of movie stars all over the place, including the suites. Which sounds harmless, until you realize that we had the most ghoulish picture of Star Trek's Patrick Stewart leering directly at our bed. You try getting your sexy on under the pervy gaze of Captain Picard. Go on, try. Just print this sucker out and have at. Not so easy, is it?