Treachery and betrayal?
It hardly seems so. But I've been besieged with complaints, both from friends and readers who have read my rather gushing critical assessments of U2's work and significance over the years, about the ticket prices for the band's current tour, which comes Dec. 9 to HSBC Arena. The mantra goes something like this: "Dude, you say U2 has so much integrity, passion and commitment to their music and to their fans, but how can you excuse these ticket prices? They're pricing their true fans right out of the market."
All of this has created for me a crisis of conscience. U2 is, in my estimation, the most important band of its generation, which also happens to be pretty much my generation -- make of that what you will. The band has been committed to "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" band ideal for 25 years. It has consistently challenged itself and its audience with thoughtful, provocative, incredibly emotional, trend-setting music.
It has clung to the belief, much challenged in these cynical times, that rock music matters, that it can indeed, given the right circumstances, change the world one person at a time; and its members, particularly Bono, have used the riches bestowed on them to perform service in their local communities and in the broader world, following an ethic that is both Christian and idealistic, and along the way, challenging the notion that popular music is, at best, disposable and purely hedonistic.
That has always meant something to me, and it continues to. U2 represents everything I hold to be potentially true about rock music. The band has always appeared incapable of faking it.
So where do I fit this new information, concerning ticket prices for the band's 2005-06 tour?
Anyone who's married understands this notion -- you might have issues concerning your spouse, you might occasionally complain to close friends regarding annoying pet peeves, but if anyone else makes a derogatory comment about them -- well, look out! This is how I feel about U2. I'm disappointed that the band didn't pursue an avenue similar to the one traveled by Pearl Jam -- low ticket prices with the average fan's pocketbook in mind. Even with an average price of $40 per ticket, Pearl Jam's last tour was one of the most successful of that year and yielded the band a hefty payday. U2 tickets, on the other hand, range from $49.50 to $160. That seems steep, no matter how you cut it. It is, however, within the now accepted range for an act of U2's stature. Elton John, for example, asked $520 a seat for a decent vantage point on his April 5 show in Ceasar's Palace in Las Vegas. Personally, I wouldn't walk out on my front lawn to see Elton John today. Apparently, there are plenty of people who feel differently.
The problem is that fans of U2 -- the most committed lot this side of Springsteen and Dylan fanatics -- expect the band to be different, precisely because it always has been. Would-be Donald Trumps asking $500 apiece on eBay for tickets to a U2 show in Buffalo? I felt like taking a shower after learning of this.
None of this has managed to change the way I feel about this band, however. But before you fall back on the old standard, "Well, you're a music critic -- you don't pay for your tickets," let me assure you that, like a good capitalist, I like to vote with my wallet. I often go to shows I'm reviewing for free, but just as often, I go purely as a fan, laying down my money just like everyone else. Such is the case with U2. I promised my 4 1/2 -year-old U2 fanatic son I'd take him to see the band, and true to form, he held me to my word. I purchased three seats behind the stage for $49.50 each and, happily, due to the nature of the set design, these will turn out to be great seats. I will be incredibly surprised if I walk away from the show feeling ripped off.
All of this discussion appears to be moot anyway. U2's appearance in HSBC Arena is already sold out. What it comes down to is how well the band delivers, and early tour reports suggest that they fully intend on earning every dollar you give them. Amen. But still.