Benedict Cumberbatch photobombs U2 at the Oscars

So the Oscars - or 'Seppo Logies' as I like to think of them - have been handed out for another year. I didn't watch any of it. All I know is what people Tweeted or Facebooked about it:

John Travolta looks younger than when he first became famous as Vinnie Barbarino, the Sweathog, back on Welcome Back, Kotter! Not only that - he still has as much trouble learning stuff (like a possible award recipient's name), reading it off the autocue or card, and saying it out loud - as his character would have had, back then. But ask him about it now and I bet he'd still be all, "What? Who? How? When? Ahhh, I'm so confused!"


Travolta mangles Idina Menzel's name…

 


…mangles the Irish potato famine's name…

Kim Novak should have stopped having work done to her face some time ago. I know it's been years since she was the babe in Rear Window[1], but babeciousness persisted throughout her life until more recently, when - it appears - she tried to gobble the rear window… in one gulp… forgetting it was made of glass. (Let me put this bit in perspective, though: making fun of someone who refuses to grow old gracefully is, in this instance, the undertaking of someone who's refused to grow up at all; if she wants her appearance manipulated by external forces that's her business.)

 

Kim novak
What is it Kim Novak can't face?

 

An Ellen Degeneres-centric celebrities selfie  got retweeted ad infinitem. What? A roomful of celebrities? At the Seppo Logies Oscars? Are you shitting me? No way!

 

Ellen_Degeneres_selfie_twitter_bradley_cooper_jennifer_lawrence_meryl_streep_brad_pitt-462748

 

All of that pales into significance when you see this awesome image of Benedict Cumberbatch photobombing the band U2.

 

BhxJ6QkCAAAIznL

 

I can offer two captions:

"Bein'-a-dick Cumberbatch."

Or:

"Oy! U2?! Me too!"

 

 

Footnote

1 Yes, of course, Grace Kelly was the babe in Rear Window and Novak was in Vertigo; not for a second suggesting Hitchcock's thrillers or his leading babes are interchangeable. It's just gag the 'gobbling the real window' gag suits this situation so well.

 


Ground control to major faux pas

 

 

I went to see U2 at ANZ Stadium on the Monday night – the first night – of the Sydney leg of their 360° tour.

The writing that follows are the thoughts of someone who feels as if he should be fan, and wants to give deserved respect, but still doesn’t feel as if fandom and respect have rightfully been earnt. So it is, in turn, critical, praising and defensive. It was how I felt, looking back on the evening, the following day. With apologies to passionate life-long U2 fans who loved the show, I pick it up from my seat in the stadium, midway through support act Jay Z’s set…

 

After the obligatory ticket tout with the obligatory cockney accent made the obligatory offer to buy “any spare tickets” while I washed the obligatory dodgy kebab down with an obligatory flat, warm beer (choice between XXXX and Hahn Lite is not much of a choice at all, really, particularly since Brisbane punters got the choice of vodka or bourbon slurpees), I found myself up in the gods with a choice between squinting at the distant stage or squinting at the equally distant – though bigger – screen, wondering if a ticket costing $230 could ever be really worth it.

‘Compared to what?’ is, I suppose, the best way to approach the fairest answer.

The first big concert I ever went to produced a similar response, at the time, as far as ticket price is concerned, although I didn’t mind so much then: it was my first opportunity to go to a big concert, and it was to see a rather mighty and impressive act. It was a Sydney performance of David Bowie’s Glass Spider tour, at the Entertainment Centre, in 1986.

I was in Year 10, and a mate had to do the sleep-over in a queue outside a department store (either Grace Bros – which became Myer about a decade ago – or David Jones, I don’t remember which) at the local shopping centre (Warringah Mall) because that’s where the ticketing outlet was located. The outlet opened before the store, so security guards policed the desperate punters who, once allowed in, would barrel through various departments, knocking over whitegoods and racks of clothing in order to get to the ticketing counter fastest and secure the best possible tickets. That was in the days before Internet – dial-up or broadband.

A ticket to David Bowie cost $40 in 1986. I had friends who commented, at the time, that they had thought Bruce Springsteen two years earlier had been exorbitant at sixteen bucks. The excuse for Bowie being two-and-a-half times more expensive was that international performers were paid in American dollars and the Aussie dollar had been devalued, courtesy of Australian Treasurer Paul Keating, to somewhere in the vicinity of Monopoly™ money, as part of ‘the recession we had to have’ or something. This, our Treasurer assured us, was to aid exports and strengthen the country. To music nerds like me, it just meant that I could no longer afford to buy imported vinyl or bootleg releases on a schoolboy’s modest weekly allowance.

The forty-dollar price tag was so expensive that I had to get my sister, a uni student, to use a computer printer at uni (not many of us had home computers in 1986; it was, as stated, the pre-Internet dark ages) to forge a certificate of congratulations purporting to be from a radio station so that my strict dad wouldn’t crack the sh*ts. I so wish I’d kept that piece inkjet inscribed cardboard upon which two tickets were stapled and presented – as if they’d just arrived in the post.

Were tickets available at various pricepoints back then?  Could $40 buy you front row tickets to David Bowie’s Glass Spider tour at the Entertainment Centre? They certainly bought you tickets to Row W, because that’s where we were. And there was no Row X behind us – only a solid wall.

The princely sum of $230 bought me a seat to U2 in Row 15, Aisle 411 at ANZ Stadium. And there was no Row 16 behind us, only the solid wall. And though there were two tiers of paupers above us, I’ve no idea what those suckers paid.

Yet, try as I might, I can’t quite translate $40 in 1986 to $230 in 2010.

Not just because this is the year that the Aussie dollar hit parity with the US dollar, rendering ‘paid in US dollars’ meaningless for acts visiting Australia.

And not just because Ireland is broke, U2 are filthy rich, and both those reasons should mean U2, from Ireland, ought to be grateful and charge less.

And not even because, in 1986, $40 was only slightly more than 13 7-inch singles (26 songs – two more than U2 played last night). Depending which you bought, $40 was two-and-a-half long-playing albums.

$230 is – what? – a hundred individual song downloads on iTunes, or – depending which ones – ten albums. Unless, of course, you’re a kid. Then it’s infinite downloads because kids only ‘buy’ the files they can download for free. Mostly illegally.

Oh yeah, that's right: $230 will probably land you a re-issued version of one of U2’s albums if you’re part of the demographic being milked by musicians who have been making music for as long as you’ve been buying it, and you absolutely positively have to have a copy of the deluxe remastered, remixed multidisc hardcover book edition including b-sides, 12-inch mixes, a DVD of film clips and one more previously hitherto unreleased outtake than the last re-issued deluxe version you purchased of this album. Bringing it to the fourth or fifth copy you actually own of said album.


As I was sitting in Seat 47, Row 15, Aisle 411, I couldn’t help noting how much the U2 360° stage set – a space station, apparently, but one inspired by a crab – looked like Bowie’s Glass Spider.

The Glass Spider tour was long considered the epitome of self-indulgence. So much so that PopMart, U2’s late-90s over-the-top tour was considered by many to be their ‘Glass Spider’ tour. Being at a Sydney gig of U2’s current Plastic Crab tour was proving ironic not just for those reasons, however. I was here with my mate Damien – a life-long U2 fan with whom I saw one of U2’s Sydney PopMart gigs in 1998, at Sydney Stadium. In addition to organising this U2 ticket and the one in 1998, Damien was also the mate who did the sleep-over in 1986 in order to secure the Bowie tickets! At least, that’s how I remember it. I could be wrong.

Photo(2)

From up in Seat 47, Row 15, Aisle 411, the best seats I could see were on wheels. On the ground of the stadium, towards the back of the ‘standing’ area, was a raised platform accessed by ramp. It was where the people in wheelchairs, and their carers, enjoyed the show. By the time the standing area was full, this platform was surrounded on three sides by standing punters, makign it was a mosh pit in negative: raised and sparse, and square and rigid, whereas a regular mosh pit would be dense and low, its unfixed, curving edges undulating as it grows or shrinks to cater for its participants.

I decided there and then that I’d use my dead dad’s electric wheelchair to scam prime position in the cripple mosh pit at the next stadium Lou_Andy_Smurf_Outfit concert I attend. If he wants to, Damien can be my carer. We’ll be like Lou and Andy from Little Britain. I may even look a pillock and dress as a Smurf.

 

Before I move on from utterly offensive, I will continue being somewhat annoying and admit I’ve never loved U2. Never. I’ve only come to like them relatively recently.

I never wagged school with all my mates in Year 11 to see [P]Rattle and [Ho-]Hum in the cinema the day it opened in 1988. ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ aside, I didn’t care much for that semi-live album of the same name, even despite the presence on it of Bob Dylan, and the Lennon-referencing ‘God Pt II’.

Over time, I got over my pretentious, haughty snobbery, relenting long enough to own the odd CD. I have two CD singles – ‘One’ and ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ – two of the most beautiful, passionate ballads they ever recorded, in my humble opinion.

I even own one of the reissue versions of Joshua Tree. Not the super-deluxe-sell-your-children-into-slavery-so-you-can-afford-all-the-bells-and-whistles edition, and not the bog-standard edition, but one of the ones in between. I’d also go so far as to own similar – or bog standard – versions of Achtung Baby and Zooropa since they, similarly, strike me as the groundbreakers, the albums that stand out, that constitute the point at which U2 were Brian Eno’s best backing band since Talking Heads.

I should also admit – for fear that it comes back to haunt me – that I once owned a copy of the 7-inch single of ‘Angel of Harlem’. In a picture cover. Pressed on blue vinyl. And I parted with it, not recently, on eBay, when it would have been worth hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars.

No.

I purchased in the late-80s for $2.99, back when a 7-inch single gave you two songs for only slightly more than the cost of a solitary song download on iTunes, and you could physically own the source of music and even re-sell it if you wanted; let’s see you, some years from now, part with a ‘rare’ download with original artwork, pressed on coloured digital coding!

I admit, I bought it mostly because it came on blue vinyl. And I parted with it, also in the late-80s, not for an exorbitant amount of cash, rather an adequate amount of adolescent heartache. I gave my now rare and valuable copy of ‘Angel of Harlem’ on blue vinyl in a picture cover to a girl my own age, with whom I wished to make the beast with two backs. Or at least, with whom I wished to initiate an impressive expanse of pash rash. She was a U2 fan, though not a music nerd, and I somehow realise now she couldn’t love a disc of blue extruded polyvinyl chloride as much as I could, just as I realise now I could never have loved her as much as I loved that blue disc. The tone of regret is for the record, and not the woman, I let slip from my grasp.

So much for romance.

7_harlem_blue

I should also admit that I own Pop – the album where U2 embrace techno really late and piss off all but their most loyal fans. In fact, And I owned Pop before I owned Joshua Tree – clearly some purists would like to kill me now.

Point is, I finally relented on U2 in time to buy their worst album (still pretty bloody impressive by virtually other band’s standards, and – as far as I’m concerned – not as bad as [P]Rattle and {Ho-]Hum). And I went to see a show from their most self-indulgent tour.

I still remember being rained upon in shitty seats at Sydney Stadium. But what I learnt in the process is that U2 really are a brilliant live band. They were being rained upon also, albeit not as much as their fans, as they were at least able to seek shelter beneath bits of their elaborate, indulgent set. A set which, to be honest, no longer seems that over-the-top when compared to the 360° crabbulent space station. And come to think of it, PopMart was delivered ‘in the round’ as well, so this ‘360°’ nonsense is a bit of bull.

 

Back to the gig. It began with further synchronicity since U2’s appearance – with Oprah, I’m told by someone sitting close enough to the stage (whose ticket also cost $230!) – was preceded by David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ playing over the speakers. I know, they thought it was a case of ‘space station=space oddity, we’re as awesome as David Bowie’. I couldn’t help feeling ‘Crabbulent Space Station=Glass Spider… it may take a while living this one down.’

U2 really are an awesome band. Musicianship was excellent. They were tight as ever. If they were miming, they still mime flawlessly. Bono’s vocals were faultless at least to my ears. The use of the screen – which was also ‘in the round’ – was well-integrated, sometimes showing images of the band as they were performing then and there, at other times intercut and overlayed with pre-recorded imagery. The limb mandalas – swirling patterns made up of hands and arms – during ‘Mysterious Ways’ were particularly cool. Or ‘trippy’, had I been in a different age group or socio-economic demographic. Even without age- and genre-specific chemical enhancement (apart from warm XXXX beer), every song and its accompanying sequence of imagery and light show pattern was delivered spectacularly enough to transport you out of your sh*t seat in a concrete stadium, into… wherever it is you drift off to when utterly enjoying fantastic music accompanied by spectacular imagery. Until, of course, the pontificating started.

Desmond Tutu banging on like a caricature of himself proved significantly less engaging than the limb mandalas, for example. In his clip, he insisted that all the African kids we’ve saved – by buying over-priced tickets? By making further donations to Amnesty International? – could now grow up to be doctors and scientists and poets and writers and musicians.

Aw, c’mon, Desmond, face it: some are gonna grow up to be prostitutes, drug manufacturers, arms dealers and politicians. They have to, otherwise what are the poets and writers and musicians – the politically aware ones especially – gonna use as inspiration? The Amnesty International interlude was a bit dreary. I’d like to believe that being enough of a fan to pay $230 per ticket to a bunch of multimillionaires who don’t pay tax in their own bankrupt country, could actually make the sort of difference that gets Aung San Suu Kyi released from house arrest in Burma. I would love to believe that. But I just don't. But even if I did, it feels like U2 are preaching to the choir and patronising everyone else. If I believed that, would I need to be reminded at this point in a concert?

Perhaps U2 actually have fans who are dumb enough to need that sort of heavy-handed message. Perhaps there are people hip enough to love U2, rich enough to pay that sort of money, and still be ignorant about the world. It almost doesn’t matter to me, though, because I can forgive all of Bono’s didactic posing when it comes back to bite him on his leather-clad arse. And it came back spectacularly, early in the night.

 

Towards the end of ‘Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’, Bono broke into lines of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’, in honour of another self-important Irishman, Bob Geldof, whom, Bono said, was “in the house”. (Indeed. Bob’s playing the Lyric Theatre at Star City this week.)

From there, Bono played another of his ‘the audience will love this’ cards. When performing to Aussies, Bono likes to pander to his Antipodean fans by commemorating a fallen Aussie son, his mate Michael Hutchence.

And so he did.

WHAT?

Bono, you fool, use your noggin. Hutchence stole Geldof’s wife, remember? And she later ‘overdosed’ (or ‘suicided’ – your call). Shortly after Hutchence’s own tragic demise. By ‘suicide’ (or ‘misadventure’ – your call). So you’ve just acknowledged Geldof’s presence and in the next sentence, paid tribute to the man who cuckolded him and made his life a misery.

Ground control to major faux pas.

Bono realised. The words were barely out of his mouth when he stumbled for a second. ‘Where are we?’ he said. Rather than back down, he proceeded into an awkward introduction to a song about “having an argument with himself” or somesuch. And no wonder the awkwardness. The song was ‘Bad’, but this version contained lines from the songs ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Need You Tonight’ – two classics from Kick. That was the album that made INXS internationally successful: it helped them crack the UK, the culmination of which led to selling out Wembley Arena. No subsequent release Hutchence had a hand in ever made quite as much of a splash – until that one in November 21, 1997, from the wardrobe door in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Double Bay, of course. By 21 November, 1997, Bob Geldof would have identified more than ever with ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Need You Tonight’. Of course, by that stage, there’s no way he’d ever be able to listen to them. Onya, Bono!

 

Still, by the end of the two-hours-plus show, you’d have to be a bigger boofhead than me not to have enjoyed it. So many good songs performed well, including ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’. The first encore began with ‘One’. The second began – well, the second one began with a cute, trippy, short animation involving two aliens in a saucer, discussing the show as they fly home – the space station theme again. We got some more ‘Space Oddity’ before the second encore began with U2’s contribution to the Batman Returns soundtrack, ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’. Yes, even as a non-fan, I’m chuffed to get a relatively obscure soundtrack single as part of the set. That’s because I’m a nerd.

I did think the evening ran a bit long, but only  because, whenever I was drifting off enjoying it, I was brought back to earth by tedious, sanctimonious preaching. That’s when I wasn’t getting exhausted by perpetually squinting at the stage.

And yet, now I have to admit: the preaching works.

I can tell you off the top of my head that after Aung San Suu Kyi, there are still 2203 political prisoners in the world we need to set free. I’m not sure if paying Bono $230 to tell me about it in between songs is the way to go about securing their freedom. But if it is, guess what: once I've paid $230, I don’t particularly want to be preached to between songs by anyone, let alone Bono. Unless, by ‘preaching’, you mean ‘being intimately caressed’, and by ‘between songs’, you mean ‘for several hours’, and by ‘anyone let alone Bono’, you mean ‘a high class courtesan who is particularly adept at intimate caressing’.

 

The ticket price also covers transport to and from the venue. How much of a ‘transport levy’ are we being slugged with? Doesn’t matter. Having a designated bus go from the venue to my neighbourhood is much nicer than having to squeeze on pre-existing public transport that hasn’t taken a mob of concert-goers into account.

And I certainly got value for my money.

Remember how I suggested you’d have to be a bigger boofhead than me not to have enjoyed the show?

That boofhead entertained me from the seat behind mine, all the way home.

She voiced her disappointment in the evening as vehemently as I have here, though with less humour, logic or intelligence. And it wasn’t the ticket price that got her down; nor the preaching. It wasn’t a lousy seat. It wasn’t even the flat, warm XXXX beer.

No.

Her problem was that U2 didn’t play ‘New Year’s Day’.

“I’ve seen them three times now,” she said. Ad infinitem. For the entire journey. Each time adding, “The other two times were better. They played ‘New Year’s Day’.”

I was happy enough to try and filter out the drone of her voice, but she proved hard to ignore when backing up opinions with ‘argument’.

“U2 not playing ‘New Year’s Day’ is like John Lennon not playing ‘Imagine’,” she argued.

No.

No it isn’t.

‘New Year’s Day’ doesn’t carry nearly the weight, in U2’s career, as ‘Imagine’ does in John Lennon’s oeuvre. Lennon had to come the other end of the Beatles and produce a song that cancelled out the weird middle bit of experimental albums with Yoko Ono, as well create a song that was an anthem or a hymn of some sort. ‘Imagine’ succeeds in doing that. U2 never had to overcome a past legacy followed by a weird interlude; their songs that stand tall, just do so, with no one song towering above the others as ‘Imagine’ towers above so much of – let’s face it – the little that he subsequently did.

And furthermore, by the time Lennon recorded ‘Imagine’, he’d all but ended his career as a performer. He only played a handful of gigs before a five-year ‘retirement’ followed by tragic murder before he could resume touring again. So chances are he only played ‘Imagine’ two out of three times. Still, I’m sure given the choice between early death and sharting up an ignorant, lippy bird on a long bus ride, Lennon would have happily played ‘Imagine’!

And yet, had John Lennon toured extensively, Yoko Ono would have still been shrieking from within a bag for half the show; that would have made an ignorant, lippy fan such as the one sounding off behind me to get up and leave before the encore in which Lennon would have played ‘Imagine’… and so it would have been to no avail.

But perhaps I’m being too rash. Perhaps the lippy bird would surprise me and stay for the entire show out of  respect for Yoko’s art – despite it’s often being somewhat impenetrable, particuarly to ignorant, lippy birds – and Lennon’s love for his missus – usually resented by ignorant, lippy birds. But if the she staid to teh end of the Lennon/Ono concert, I expect the woman behind me would still be on the bus home from the gig, complaining. Although, this time around, it'd be because Yoko failed to squeal anything from Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions. And the last to Lennon/Ono shows were perfect, because she had squealed something from Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions.

But still, annoying lady behind me, bemoaning the lack of ‘New Year’s Day’: U2 may have neglected your favourite song, but they came close to it by playing a much better song: ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’. That's like John Lennon not playing ‘Imagine’ but instead playing ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ or ‘Give Peace A Chance’, which would please a genuine fan even more than ‘Imagine’.

“It’s not about the music, it’s about the songs,” the woman insisted, elaborating: “Like MasterChef. You can cook as fancy as you like, make it look as good as you like, but in the end, it’s all about the taste…”

No, no, no. Surely that metaphor of MasterChef being about the taste rather than the exotic ingredients and the plating means exactly that it’s about the music, and not the songs. Foolish woman. And yet, she was right about something, I couldn’t help realise as she continued: taste

“…they should have played ‘New Year’s Day’.”

Yeah, but they played ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’. And they even did ‘Miss Sarajevo’ from the Original Soundtracks 1 album (when U2 and Brian Eno were recording, as equal partners, under the ironic name Passengers; who was carrying whom on that one?) If you don’t rate that song choice, noisy, annoying lady behind me, you’re a bigger pretender than me, going to see U2…

They don’t rock out,” she reasoned; “their music rocks out.”

I don’t even know what that means. Is it a criticism or a compliment? Doesn’t matter – she was back to the original refrain:

“I mean, two out of three…” she said. “No ‘New Year’s Day’…”

Christ How long? How loo-oo-oo-oo-ong must you sing this song?

Then she dropped this gem:

“I would rather U2 played ‘New Year’s Day’ than listen to that last hour…”

Right, that’s it! How very dare you!

The show went for over two hours. The second half with its two encores was clearly better than the first half, and the first half was not much short of brilliant, even if the supreme entertainment of one sanctimonious Irishman inadvertently offending another sanctimonious Irishman didn't take place until the second half.

But I'd prefer not to have listened to the last hour. Because the last hour consisted of the bus ride with the stupid woman behind me bleating incessantly about not getting to hear ‘New Years Day’.

 

Addendum

By the time I finished writing and posting this, I was informed that there were forty-dollar ‘general admission’ tickets available on the second night that would have availed more intrepid concert goers access to the inner circle, close to the stage. Of course I’m annoyed. But I’m still glad I got to see the band live. Especially on the night of the major faux pas. Thanks Damien.


Scion Ferry Also Roxy’s the Vote

Unfortunately, Brian Eno didn’t rise to the challenge with an adequate campaign bleep for Reg Keys and the Right Honourable Tony Blair was returned with a landslide. (Blair’s campaign song, as it happens, was the Eno-produced U2 song ‘Beautiful Day’.) But Eno wasn’t the only person connected to Roxy Music trying to give the Prime Minister grief.

Otis Ferry, son of Bryan, by all reports a bigger knob-twiddler than Eno and Blair put together, is dirty with the Prime Minister on account of the outlawing of fox hunting. He was arrested for lunging at the newly re-elected PM.

While the return of Blair to No. 10 Downing street might not bode well for Otis’s cause, at least there is a bright side: another term of Jon Culshaw’s impressions of the PM on Dead Ringers.

Have a listen to Blair’s victory speech.