from the PopMart Live From Mexico City video
I've mentioned in the past that I really adore the studio version of 'One' (it's my official Favourite U2 Song, although in truth there are lots of others that I love just as much!), and generally speaking I don't think it works quite as well live. Not that it sounds bad or anything, but for some reason the live performances don't tend to be all that memorable. The 1995 Modena version is a notable exception, and so is this one, but for very different reasons.
As you'll know if you've bought the new DVD or already owned the video, 'One' is the penultimate song of the concert, followed only by 'Wake Up Dead Man'. Bono dedicates it to his recently deceased friend Michael Hutchence of INXS, and I don't just mean he mentions his name at the beginning - you can tell he's thinking of Michael all the way through, and the grief and guilt and pain is pouring out of him uncontrollably, written all over his face and wreaking havoc with his voice. It's absolutely gut-wrenching, to the point where I can rarely bring myself to watch or listen to it - if I'm playing Hasta La Vista Baby I usually stop the CD before it gets to that point, and it puts me off watching the video sometimes as I remember what a massive downer it ends on. So this isn't exactly going to be the happiest SOTD of all time, but the song is undeniably powerful and it does have a poignant beauty, especially with the visuals on the big screen.
Michael Hutchence died on 22nd November 1997, right in the middle of U2's North American tour, and the Mexico City show took place less than a week after his funeral. He and Bono had been close friends (his posthumous solo album would include their beyond-the-grave duet Slide Away, and later Stuck In A Moment was also written about Michael). It must have come as such a horrible shock, especially with U2 committed to their hectic touring schedule and having to do their grieving in public.
'One' seems like the appropriate song for a lot of occasions, and it's perfect for this too. Bono had already made references to Michael earlier in the show (opening Gone with a call of "Hutch! Going, going - but not gone...", and ending All I Want Is You with a passionate snippet of Never Tear Us Apart), but he saved the main tribute for this final encore. The previous song in the setlist was Mysterious Ways, and Bono sings a weary a cappella "It's alright, it's alright, it's alright..." in the pause before One starts up. It's almost like he's repeating it as a mantra to try and hold himself together as he comes to terms with his loss. The crowd of course go wild as soon as they recognise the intro, played by Edge with a backing track of atmospheric strings. Adam can be seen hugging his bass and watching supportively as Bono says a few words. "This one goes out to a mate of ours... great mate, great singer. I'm sorry..." He takes off his crazy bubble jacket as he reaches the mic stand (not sure if he's just hot, or if he doesn't want his absurd costume to distract from the sentiment). For a moment he seems kind of lost for words, and in the end he just quietly repeats "I'm sorry" before concluding: "For Michael Hutchence." That gets another roar of approval from the crowd.
Bono sings the first verse in a strong but gentle voice, with a blue guitar strapped over his shoulder. As he gets to "You say...", he raises his finger in a "One" gesture to encourage the crowd to join in, and they do so wonderfully. I love that Mexico City audience. David Mallet gives us one of his amazing overhead shots, just an ocean of tiny orange pinpricks in the darkness as 50,000 voices sing "One love, one life, when it's one need in the night"... truly beautiful stuff. Bono draws out the line "It leaves you, baby, if you don't care for it", and as it finishes, the giant screen lights up with the first of the animations. Initially it just looks like a tangled, wriggling blue ball, right in the centre of the PopMart arch. (Watch the visuals montage on the bonus DVD - it's actually lots of little people stuck together, who blast apart and sprout wings.)
I mentioned Hasta La Vista Baby earlier. For those who don't know, it's the (incomplete) audio CD of this concert, which was released as a Propaganda freebie a few years ago. I listen to it quite often (at least, much more often than I watch the video), and the performance of One regularly moves me to tears from that recording alone - but add in the visuals and it becomes an even more emotional experience, for reasons I can't entirely articulate. The animations they used for One are based on the distinctive artwork of the late Keith Haring, who died of AIDS in 1990. (The One single, of course, was used to raise money for AIDS research.) And there's just something incredibly moving about those strange, hypnotic little cartoons. They kind of translate the song's emotions into images and magnify them... I'll do my best to describe it, but it's really one of those things that's hard to put into words.
During the second verse, the first cracks begin to appear in Bono's voice - you can hear him falter as he sings "Did I disappoint you, or leave a bad taste in your mouth?". Behind him, little winged figures are flying all around the screen, before clustering together into a heart shape that remains throughout the chorus. Then as Bono sings "We get to carry each other, carry each other / One...", two glowing blue babies crawl into view from either end of the screen, growing in size as they make their way towards the centre. For some reason this particular image chokes me up most of all. I think it reminds me of how quickly our childhood and our innocence slips away... by the time they reach the edges of the giant arch, they're more like fully grown adults down on their hands and knees, and the heart in the middle symbolically shatters. A moment later, both of the human figures transform into weird hybrids with giant flowers for heads, and that really gets to me too. Some subconscious acknowledgment of mortality and returning into the earth, I suppose. (I have tears in my eyes already as I'm writing this. I hope I'll actually make it to the end of the post!)
Bono, too, is struggling by this point. He makes a very personal alteration to the lyrics of the next verse: "I've come here for forgiveness... but I can't raise the dead". And if you thought you might have imagined that little waver in his voice earlier, there's no doubt about it now - he really chokes on the words and barely manages to get them out, closing his eyes to try and compose himself. (No hiding behind shades for this performance - he's utterly exposed, as he was for Please in my last review.) "I come here to play Jesus, to the lepers in my head," he continues. On the screen, the flower people grow long necks that join together into a heart-shaped knot, which then transforms into a very simplified image of Jesus hanging on the cross - his body missing from the waist down and graphically raining a torrent of blood over Bono's head. The singer manages to get through the rest of the verse, but only just. By the time he gets to "We're one, but we're not the same", he seems to be so busy fighting back tears that he's almost unable to carry on singing at all. It's completely heartbreaking to see him going through this pain, when you're powerless to help. It does fire him up to give one of his most passionate deliveries of "Looove is a temple, looove a higher law", though - you certainly couldn't accuse him of going through the motions with this one. "I can't be holding on to what you've got, when all you got is hurt."
Now the big heart is back on the screen, filled with little squirming people, while on either side there are flying saucers beaming people up. The UFOs disappear and there's an intricate sequence of the human figures - these luminous, touchingly childlike images - splitting into twins, climbing through holes in each other's torsos, joining back together and twisting themselves in knots. Bono seems to have gained some momentum and he's doing a really great job with the song now. He gets in a subtle message of support for Paula Yates (Michael Hutchence's girlfriend), changing the lyrics to "One life, with each other / Paula my sister / You're my brother".
The soaring instrumental section seems like a welcome break for Bono, who throws himself into some rather intense guitar playing with his head right down. Evidently he's gathering all his strength together for the final coda, which is the most emotional part of the whole performance - the part that's simultaneously spectacular and very, very hard to listen to. Bono sings his usual "You hear us comin', Lord? You hear us call?", but he's not so much singing the lines as screaming them - angrily, defiantly. As if he's completely livid at God for taking his friend away. "You hear me knockin', knockin' at your door?", he snarls in a somewhat threatening tone. And it carries on like that, with Bono just shouting the words at the top of his lungs until his voice starts to become hoarse. He's singing about Michael directly now: "You hear him call? Hear him scratching? Did you make him crawl?" I've never seen Bono as genuinely despairing as I have in this performance - it's impossible not to be moved by the raw, explosive agony of it all.
The last bit says it all, really. He tries to launch into the falsetto Ahhh haaa's, but seems too overcome with emotion after the first one, and follows it up with a shouted "Ha ha... ha ha" instead. He likes the sound of it and does it again - yelling out "HA HA, HA HA!" in this incredibly bitter, mocking tone. Laughing at the stony face of gloom, to borrow a line from Crowded House. Part of me loves it, while the rest of me just hates to see Bono working himself into this heartbroken rage - knowing that if he stops shouting, he'll start crying. He manages to hit the high notes for the grand finale, and it's beautiful. After all the complicated animations on the big screen, the final image is a simple one - just an enormous red heart filling the entire golden arch, softly beating in the darkness as the screams of the crowd fill the stadium. Reminding us that love conquers everything (maybe even death). And the credits roll.
It's alright, it's alright
"This one goes out to a mate of ours...
Great mate... great singer...
For Michael Hutchence."
Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same
Will it make it easier on you now
You've got someone to blame
One love... one life
When it's one need... in the night
One love... you get to share it
It leaves you, baby, if you don't care for it
Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth
You act like you never had love
You want me to go without
Is it too late... tonight
To drag the past out into the light
We're one... but we're not the same
We get to carry each other
Carry each other
I've come here for forgiveness
But I can't raise the dead
I come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in my head
Did I ask too much... more than a lot
You gave me nothing, now it's all I got
We're one... but we're not the same
We get to kill each other... and we'll do it again
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
You asked me to enter
Then you made me crawl
I can't be holding on to what you've got
When all you got is hurt
One love... one blood
One life, you get to do what you should
One life... with each other
Paula my sister... you're my brother
One life... no we're not the same
We'll carry each other
Carry each other
You hear us comin', Lord?
You hear us call?
You hear me knockin'?
Knockin' at your door?
You hear me comin', Lord?
You hear him call?
Hear him scratching?
Did you make him crawl?
Haa ha... ha ha
Ha ha... ha ha
Whoa, haaa hah